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Barista Stories: Lisa Zancanella of Foyer Espresso Bar & SO Coffee Roasters

Meet Lisa Zancanella, an amazing coffee globetrotter from Verona, Italy who also made Porto and Athens her homes. She is involved both in the Portuguese coffee scene as the co-owner of SO Coffee Roasters, in Greece as the co-owner of Foyer espresso bar and in Italy as an active and inspiring Brewers Cup competitor!

Lisa grows her coffee knowledge every competition season and always incorporates her personality in her championship performances. She always makes them personal and finds new things that excite her in coffee. As she says herself “Coffee is never just a beverage”.

Barista Stories are sponsored by PUQpress.

Lisa, what is your first memory of coffee? 

My most vivid memory is the aroma coming from a moka pot. I remember having this constant presence at my home. It was simply always in the air and I still associate it with being at home.  

​​​​​What inspired you to pursue a career in the coffee industry, and how did you get started? What did you do before coffee?

After finishing school I moved to Spain for a few months but an injury to my lower back brought me back to Italy. Unfortunately, it was November and I had to wait a few months to enrol at university. So I started my first-ever job, at a coffee shop, unaware that the owner, Cristina, was a professional coffee taster.

I loved seeing her every morning calibrating the different coffees and explaining their differences. I started doing courses to learn more about it and I simply couldn’t stop digging. Soon after I moved to Porto and started SO Coffee Roasters a year later. 

Lisa, you’re a co-owner of a roastery in Porto, owner of a café in Athens and you’re from Italy… You’re quite an inspiring globetrotter and businesswoman! Can you tell us about all your ventures and roles?

I moved to Portugal at 21 because Italy made me curious about coffee but I couldn’t see myself able to grow professionally there. After one year, together with Joao and Pedro, we decided to open our own roastery/coffee shop first in Porto and then adding Lisbon. Learning about coffee together, organizing public cuppings and events with professionals whom we admired the most and wanted to learn from. After five years I decided to move to Athens, Greece, where almost immediately together with Giorgos and Makis we moved and opened Foyer espresso bar in a new wonderful location. It’s where we try the best coffees and gear I can dream of, with other passionate professionals.

What kind of experience do you want your customers to have when they visit your place and drink your coffee? 

I love it when the regulars come in and immediately ask us which origin they should get today (at Foyer we rotate every ten days the coffee and the roasters). Seeing them trust us and our taste, and most importantly, our ability to choose what we think they might like is absolutely the most gratifying part. I hope this is how all our customers feel entering the shop. 

What is your favourite part of the day at work, and why?

It might sound weird, but since we pre-dose and grind at the moment our coffees, I love it when I’m passing by and I suddenly smell the aromas of a coffee they just ground. In general, I love the early morning when everyone is still a bit sleepy and we make coffee with no rush, we prep all the coffees we serve and we discuss the upcoming origins. 

How do you stay motivated and inspired to keep improving your coffee-making skills?

Competing is surely a big motivation because every year we discover some new research or practices that we often end up incorporating into our coffee shop workplace. 

Truth to be told, Giorgos, my partner, is the most geeky and coffee-obsessed person I know so we are always trying out new brewing methods or coffees. I would say improvement and discovery are part of our routine, both at work and when competing.  

What are in your opinion the biggest differences between the coffee industry and communities in Greece, Italy and Portugal? And what do they all have in common in your opinion?

I found Portugal and Italy to be surprisingly similar. Both countries consider coffee as part of their culture, so it becomes extremely difficult for them to accept that from one day to another someone might tell them that they had drunk bad coffee all their lives. 

Coffee is a family thing, is personal and that’s the challenge. Not impose a new coffee tradition of new origins and beans but incorporate them, proving how we don’t want to replace them but simply show that different options are possible.

In Greece, the culture is more rooted in iced coffees so implementing espresso and filter is easier because they don’t replace anything. In terms of community, I think Greece is more compact, mainly because most of the specialty coffee activities and events are happening in Athens. There is also more “coffee championships” imprint, we are always helping each other out and trying new coffees together. The community in Italy is more spread across the cities so whenever there are events or competitions the best part is always to find each other and catch up. 

Overall they all have growth in common. I have the feeling that in each of these countries, specialty coffee isn’t at its peak yet, and that’s exciting. We can all sense a lot of passion and hunger to bring something new and keep exploring.

What kind of community do you hope to build around your places, and how do you plan to foster that sense of community?

What we have always been doing both in Porto and now in Athens is to create a sense of community that goes beyond just brewing and serving coffee. Everyone working with us has an amazing personality and thriving passions, We try to incorporate them in the workplace, whether it is with creating new dishes, paintings, collaborations… 

A coffee shop is a community place where coffee bonds and brings us together. Usually, competition seasons are my favourite ones, because all our customers are very curious and happy to try samples of coffee, discuss and often spend entire afternoons in our training room with us. They often bring their home equipment and compare it with the gear we have, brewing all sorts of coffees.

You have some nice achievements and experience in championships. Can you tell us more about them? What drives you to compete? 

I competed for pure curiosity. I was lucky enough to have Patrik Rolf coaching me in my first year with the “April Athlete” project and that allowed me to get in contact with other competitors from literally all around the world, share ideas and connect over coffee. 

Since then I kept competing, always trying to bring in those 10 minutes on stage what I love about coffee and what I love outside of it. All my presentations are personal, what excites me the most is the research for great coffees while discovering common experiences with farmers and connection with our personal life. Coffee is never just a beverage. 

What is in your opinion the most important thing to have in mind when you start to compete in coffee championships? 

One simple word: Listen. We decide to compete assuming that we know everything about brewing already, thinking we know how to approach a competition preparation… Well not really. We need to break down every basic idea we have of coffee brewing, and start to question even the most obvious practices. Why do we heat the water to 90 degrees? Why do we hold the kettle so high or so low? 

Never take anything for granted: listen and try. We call it “competition season” at Foyer because we research and train for about 6 months before the first regionals. That’s the point, we need to question every year what we have been doing the year before, revisit it and make it better. 

What coffee challenges are you looking forward to? Any new projects or collaborations?

Surely competing again in the next Brewers Cup, and start approaching the roasting process on my own. So far it’s the only element of coffee I haven’t dug into deep enough.

Quick Fire Questions for Lisa Zancanella:

Would you serve filter coffee with milk if asked for it?

Of course. My job is to recommend – not impose – the best coffees. However, anyone should feel free and unjudged to drink coffee the way he/she wants. 

Do you ever take sugar with your coffee?

Guilty. I used to when I was drinking coffee in school.

Espresso or Filter coffee?

Filter. And creamy cappuccino – my Italian roots take over here!

Milky or Black?


Slurp or spit?

Slurp baby!

Do you aim for Sweetness, Acidity, or Body?

I aim for balance and sweetness in general… although I love brightness above everything. 

Cake or Pastry with your coffee?

A slice of lemon cake.

Favourite piece of barista equipment?

The Barista Hustle’s needles: I started using them three years ago for my Brewers cup and I now cannot brew without them.