About this time ten years ago, I bought a Handspring. It was beautiful, a metallic red clamshell that said "I'm creative and organised", as all my professional accessories should. No gadget since has given me the raw pleasure of entering an item on my to-do list then, having completed the task, crossing it out with the Handspring's silver stylus. But I still love my gadgets. I now organise my life with my iPhone, I read books on my Kindle, I remove leg hair with an epilator and I zap pimples with my Zeno. (Too much information?). Basically I like my machines.
My Dad bought a Handspring on the same day I did although his was an elegant silver version. I think I inherited my gadget-love from him. An oft-told story in my family says that my Dad was accepted to study Industrial Design at RMIT in Melbourne based on his penchant for taking machines apart and putting them back together again. He did this to understand how they work. Another popular story is that my Dad's siblings chipped in to buy my Dad the parts to a Model T Ford for his 21st birthday, from which he built himself a car. Of course my mother's oft-repeated and exasperated response to my father's stories is that my Dad bends the truth for the sake of a good narrative. I would say he more often abandons the truth entirely, so I leave it to you loyal reader to decide how much you believe.
However I do know from direct experience how well my Dad understands machines. He's like a machine whisperer. It's something Il Fidanzato Latino understands too. I so badly wish they were here in Italy to explain the exact mechanics of my new obsession, the Vittoria roasting machine at Lady Cafe.
I've spent two mornings with lovely Vittoria and her owner Massimo Bonini in the workshop of Lady Cafe, and I think I've found my new Handspring. I stand on a ladder so I can watch the beans fall from the top container into the roasting drum. The hatch that allows the beans through also has a mirror, so I can see the sparks fly as the beans tumbled in the rotating roaster. There's a little window on the front too, showing the beans transformation from pale green to dark-chocolate brown, and a kind of spy hole that lets you pull a few beans out to check their progress. Massimo watches Vittoria closely, listens, smells and senses when the beans are perfectly roasted. Then he opens a larger hatch under the roaster and the incredibly fragrant coffee wooshes out and into a large drum. Vittoria turns the beans slowly and continuously for a few minutes so all the skin, stones and other non-coffee-bits fall through the sieve underneath, leaving only freshly roasted coffee. She's a beauty.
Sadly, when it comes to Vittoria roasters, they don't make them like they used to. Really. The Spanish company that bought the Vittoria name have changed the machine. The modern versions use hot air blasts of up to 400 degrees celcius to roast coffee, whereas the lovely Vittoria is powered by gas, and roasts at a gentle 120 - 150 degrees.
But Vittoria's true beauty lies in, well, her beauty. Unlike modern machines that look like they should be moulding car parts, Vittoria is a grand dame whose combination of elegance and efficiency make me, like Massimo here, want to climb into her drum, curl up and fall asleep whilst breathing the comforting aromas of many years of roasted coffee.