Leaving to Never return: the story of Ciccio

Francesco Anastasi, called by his friends ‘Ciccio’, was born in Messina and graduated, in 2014, at UNISG with a thesis on: “Swordfish fishing in the Strait of Messina: myth, sustainability, and future”.

Ciccio was born in Italy and grew up to be passionate about the sea, yet one day he left for Colombia, driven by the dream of a better, cleaner, and fairer coffee. He left to never return, like in Giusy Ferreri’s catchphrase that we all sang for a whole summer…

Everything was born from the idea of bringing the ‘Finca’ closer to the consumer, in a very human way.

The image of the hero farmer, after all these years in Slow Food, is difficult to dismantle. But Colombia has characteristics that might limit him as a producer, at the same time, he is waiting for the National Coffee Federation to start working on improving the quality of coffee. If the Federation is not willing to open a space to talk about diversity and quality, there is a possibility that coffee will no longer be the main crop anymore. Currently, many producers in Colombia have switched from processing coffee; uprooting the plants and replacing them with avocado, tangerine plantations, or building lots. 

Why does this happen? In many cases, coffee production is no longer sustainable: the work to adapt to the new growing conditions is too costly, and the low prices at which coffee is sold mean little profit. In fact, 61% of coffee producers do not cover their costs.

Over the years, the Federation has always been promoting new varieties or hybrids (like Colombia, Cenicafè, Castillo) resistant to a fungus that provokes the Coffee Leaf Rust, with the goal of standardization for the international market, but compromising the diversity that this incredible product can offer.

The domestic price of coffee is linked to international quotations and does not always reflect the real costs incurred by Colombian producers. Another critical issue is the coffee harvesting methods, which are very similar to those used to harvest tomatoes in Italy. The workers in Colombia are paid per kilo, making it their objective to collect as many coffee beans as possible in the shortest time, sometimes to the detriment of quality (high percentage of green beans).

The labor force itself is increasingly a critical issue. This is hard work that few want to do, and those few, often, are not trained enough. The workforce is difficult to recruit. With the arrival of the Venezuelans, the situation had slightly improved only to regress when the COVID-19 pandemic hit (and people returned to Venezuela).

The climate is changing, the seasons are changing. The “BOSS” of the Fincas is now the climate: the organization of the work, the strategy, it is all modified every year trying to adapt to climate change. 

There has to be quality work on the plant, on the harvest.

Coffee is a plant. A fundamental point, during the harvest, is to wait for the cherry to ripen in order to appreciate the various taste notes in the cup. More and more producers are roasting their own coffee, even smaller ones with less international connections.  Finally, the producers in the country are starting to sell their coffee to local shops, so Colombians can now drink Colombian coffee, good coffee.

Colombia actually has always produced quality coffee but the best coffee was for export. The Federation prohibits the export of coffee with defects. 

Coffee drinking culture in Colombia, sensory-wise, has never been developed. The quality of coffee, for Colombians, has been improving only in recent years, in the big cities quality coffee shops are beginning to grow; more and more attention is being paid to quality in Finca, harvesting, and processing.

The mentality of excellence is gradually changing: privileging quality in general and not only its recognition abroad. 

Ciccio and Gabriela -Ciccio’s wife- are trying to create a path, parallel to quality, culture, and information about coffee.

This is how the Santaromero project was born. 

In October 2021, Francesco and Gabriela moved to Colombia to look for sustainable coffee producers and select a Good, Clean, and Fair coffee for everyone, from producers to consumers.

A great opportunity for everyone and first of all for Colombians.

Ciccio’s decision to live in Colombia was essential for him to understand the daily reality of the Finca, and to have direct contact with the producers. This path of knowledge is for Ciccio and Gabriela a way to share with others through their Instagram profile (@santaromero) and a Podcast, Coffee in a BeanShell.

And, last but not least, the beauty of the name chosen by Ciccio and Gabriela: Santaromero.

A story that is as old as Colombia’s coffee, is a tale of a Jesuit priest, Francisco Romero, who, after confession, would ask sinners to plant coffee instead of reciting Hail Marys… A practice that would won over a long time ago even by a Colombian Jesuit Bishop who decided it was right to spread it throughout Colombia. 

Ciccio da Messina picked up Francisco Romero’s baton.

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