Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 July 2019

Day in the life: World’s most expensive tongue comes to Dubai

Costa Coffee's chief coffee taster spends up to four hours a day sampling the black stuff and has had his tongue insured for £10 million.
Gennaro Pelliccia gives a presentation to a select few inside of the Burj Al Arab. Lee Hoagland / The National
Gennaro Pelliccia gives a presentation to a select few inside of the Burj Al Arab. Lee Hoagland / The National

Gennaro Pelliccia studied mechanical engineering in university but it was a part-time job as a barista at Costa Coffee in London’s Gatwick Airport that set him on his path. Over 23 years at Costa he has risen to be the global brand’s chief coffee taster, and the company has insured his tongue for £10 million (Dh58.6m). He resides in London with his wife, Andrea, and their children, Fabiana, 8, and Daniele, 5. Mr Pelliccia, 39, was interviewed at the Burj Al Arab while in Dubai to train staff and meet customers. He describes a day in his life:


My alarm will typically go off at 6.30 in the morning. For breakfast I will always have a bowl of porridge with manuka honey and a drizzle of raisins. It’s very, very important that I have the right energy levels first thing in the morning. Apart from my own personal regime, there’s also the family regime involved, which is the most enjoyable part of waking up. It typically takes me about an hour to get ready, have my porridge and then, in all honesty, to do my hair.


I drive to the office, typically leaving home between 7.30 and a quarter to eight, and I’m normally in the office for about quarter past eight.


I go to the back of reception, where we have a traditional espresso machine, and I have a chat with the [machine’s] cleaner. And while we’re chatting and saying hello, I’m just checking that the coffee that’s coming out is correct, because the first cup of coffee for me is the most important in all honesty, it’s the one that really sets my day off. I’ll typically have an espresso, a very short espresso, a typical Italian ristretto. A ristretto is a shorter version than an espresso. The less you extract, the purer, the richer, the more complex the flavour of the coffee. So somebody who really enjoys their coffee will typically have a shorter shot. The biggest mistake that people always make who haven’t been trained, when they’re asked to make a strong coffee, they’ll fill the cup up as high as possible, as much as they can get away with, and then pour milk on top. But what you’ve done there, you’ve actually polluted and you’ve diluted the extraction. A true Costa ristretto will be a short, 20-millilitre extraction. It doesn’t sound like very much liquid, but it is a complex, aromatic, lingering brew.


I’ll then go upstairs to the office, log in, and being quite a process-minded person - a bit of the engineering kicks in - I like to have my inbox clear. And then just writing up a bit of a plan for the day.


It’s then on with the white coat to go into our laboratory, which is where I spend most of my day. There’s three guys who work in the laboratory with me, the laboratory manager, the quantity manager and the laboratory assistant. Every morning, five days a week, the first thing we do is espresso tasting. We will taste the production of the previous days. We’re checking the process. We could typically be taking six, seven, eight espressi which have been taken from different times of day. [We do that using a spoon, there will be slurping, spitting the product, very much like a sommelier]. I have a .925 sterling silver spoon, which I have here with me. I carry it everywhere I go. It’s always the same volume of liquid that’s going to my mouth, it’s about 30 millilitres. It’s soup-spoon shaped. And the reason it is solid silver is because it’s the best metal to dissipate the heat as quickly as possible, so you don’t burn your tongue, for obvious reasons. If we kept burning our tongues ...


We’ll then have a break, and the break is simply fresh air, maybe a dry biscuit, and water. Just very, very neutral.


We have very very strict protocols, we only taste in the morning from about 9.30 up to about 11.30. From a physionomical point of view, that’s the best time of day really to taste. Your body has woken up but it’s still quite relaxed, you’ve not quite engaged in the full day. You’re in a very good state of mind, and I find that state of mind is one of the important ingredients when you’re tasting, because when you’re perceiving flavours and aromas, you’ve got to have your mind clear. Another thing that’s paramount is drinking water throughout the day. It’s important to keep your saliva, your mucuses always moist.


There’s a slot between half past two and half past four, where your body is almost in as good a condition as it was in the morning. What we then do in the afternoon is we check all the origins that have arrived into the roastery - so the Colombian coffee, the Vietnamese coffee, the Brazilian coffee, the Nicaraguan. All the samples of all the individual raw coffees that have arrived will then be prepared, roasted prior to that, and we will then be drinking the infusions. Infusions are the single-origin coffees that have been roasted. The objective of that quality control is to ensure that the coffee is free from any defects, and that it has the key characteristics that you’re expecting from that origin.


There’s a lot of computer work to be done inputting that data, finishing off the emails.


What I’ve started doing more recently is at about five o’clock I go for a jog. Our roastery is right in central London.


And then the journey back home. The kids are coming out of the shower and my wife Andrea is in the kitchen. Kick my shoes off, wash my hands, start prepping. My daughter tells me everything she’s done that day. Daniele’s the first to come to the door, but he’s very regimental about it. ‘Hello Daddy,’ then he’s back to drawing. He’s very process-minded like Daddy. My daughter is the creative one, which freaks me out. She’s just taken up [high] diving.


We’ll sit down for dinner.


Then it’s clear the table, get the kids off to bed. The whole bedtime is a routine in and of itself.


The rest is just me and my wife!


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Updated: October 18, 2014 04:00 AM