A new concept in international chain coffee shops has opened its first British site in the basement of Harrods, with eyes on development into top shopping malls and prestige instore sites elsewhere in the UK.
The chain is Ca'puccino, in which the Italian founders are trying to show that a market exists for true high-end coffee bars - the ones which stay true to the real Italian café experience, and combine coffee, Italian sandwiches, and gelato, the distinctive national ice-cream.
The Ca'puccino chain has gone deep into Italian roots, by devising a Grand Tour of Taste, a menu concept which takes its ideas from to the country's regional dishes. As a result, the coffee menu is not the standard espresso/cappuccino/latte one, but is comprised of coffee-based speciality drinks based on regional items previously created in Napoli, Torino, Sorrento, and Sicily, all at £5 per cup.
Also on the Ca'puccino menu is the Professor's Coffee, a recipe from Napoli which uses espresso and two flavoured creams - one is a hazelnut, and the other is believed to be a whipped cream with sugar and a coffee content, but the chain's barista refuses to give precise details. The founders of Ca'puccino say that although many cafes in Italy have attempted to recreate the traditional formula, this is the first faithful reproduction of the original drink.
The concept was devised by Giacomo Moncalvo, who has already opened sites in high-class shopping centres in Genoa, Rome, Florence and Milan. His entire staff, from founder downwards, are all in their early thirties or younger. His coffees at Harrods are made by head barista Mariano Semino, who is a cappuccino-making champion in Italy, and whose speciality is making flavoured creams with which to 'spike' his espressos.
The patisserie is also made from regional specialities; Pastieria Napolitana uses ricotta cheese and candied fruit, and Tortina Caprese is almond flour, butter and cocoa. More regional dishes are recreated in sandwich form - the Cagliari is based on a Sardinian tuna and tomato recipe. The Ca'puccino chain's ice-cream contains no powders or colourings, with a slight sideswipe at other Italian 'artisan' gelati which are alleged to do so.
At Harrods, the café design is based on coffee and milk colours, which the founder says 'is designed to give customers the impression of entering a soft, creamy, enveloping cappuccino'.
"Italians are very good at small food businesses, but not at chains," explained a company spokesman at the UK launch. "Giacomo Moncalvo's great idea was to stay true to the great traditions of the Italian café, the coffee, panini and ice-cream, and bring it to countries which have been colonised by Starbucks.
"It is very important to us that the British public do not make any parallel with the other chain cafes here. Ours is a rest-place, not a 'next, please' place!"
By Ian Boughton