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tct 9: coffee scene – alex galantino of la bottega milanese

tct 9: coffee scene – alex galantino of la bottega milanese

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You could say Leeds wasn’t ready for La Bottega Milanese, when Alex Galantino first opened a tiny space on The Calls in November 2009. But preparation wasn’t Leeds’ strong point that winter.

“We opened on the 9th, and we had non-stop snow, a foot and higher, until January,” said Alex. “We spent the majority of our days helping people up from the pavement and pushing cars, and a couple of months in I looked in the mirror and said, ‘What have I done?’”

What Alex had done was take a leap of faith; another one, like the leap that first brought him from Milan to Leeds. “What moves the world around? Money and girls. So it was girls, on this one,” said Alex. After meeting a group of girls on a lads holiday to Greece, Alex and his mates came to visit them at university in Leeds in the mid-nineties, and to spend three months working and learning English. “I still have the ticket,” said Alex. “The 18th September was my ticket to go back. I didn’t go. The kind of person I am, I thought, if I go back home I’ll just do what I was doing before; so I said to my mum and dad I’d come back at Christmas. Sixteen Christmases later, I am still here. For as much as they know, I’m still officially on holiday!”

For the first ten years Alex fulfilled the other half of life’s bargain, working in IT, despite being trained in graphic design. “That’s where the money was, but I became very bored with the corporate world. I’m a creative at heart, I like making things, and I wanted to be stimulated creatively.” While he was studying Alex had worked making coffee in the Galleria in Milan, and by combining creativity with coffee he could satisfy his desire to be making things, and his desire for a decent cup of coffee in Leeds.

“There wasn’t a trend in 2009, but it’s a beautiful world, with the design of the shops and how you serve your coffee, and about latte art and the things that touch into my creative side. And I have got a slightly technical mind and I love learning, I get a kick out of technical stuff and in coffee there are as many layers of the onion as you would like. The kind of levels that coffee is being discussed and brewed and put across at in the artisan world is incredible.”

Photograph by Shang-Ting Peng

Photograph by Shang-Ting Peng

The knowledge and the effort took Bottega from The Calls to The Light, creating jobs for about a dozen people – “People from everywhere in the world, every walk of life; we’ve turned some very good, very raw people into really good, professional baristi.” And looking at the coffee scene that has grown up around Bottega since 2009, Alex knows that he can’t afford to stand still; and that he wouldn’t be happy if he did.

“I am always looking for challenges,” he said. “I’m not the kind of person who stops and pats himself on the back. That’s probably not such a good thing because you never get to stop, look back, and say you’ve done good. But I’m ambitious. And the double edged sword of being ambitious is that you’re never content. I have itchy feet for other projects; I wake up in the middle of the night thinking I could do this, I could do that. So god knows what we could be doing in a couple of years.”

When Alex talks about Bottega, though, it’s of a long term relationship. “In Italy you will go to a coffee bar, and you will be a regular of that bar almost like you are a fan of your football team. You will stick to a bar like some people stick to a hairdresser for ten years, because of so many things.” It’s been four years so far for Bottega, but that community is what they’re building. “People come here because they like being here, they like the people, and they like what we do. There are many layers that we throw at people, to stay with us and share what we love doing.”

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This article originally appeared in The City Talking: Leeds, issue 09


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