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Edition Four Feature
  • Author Joshua Elias
  • Photographer Bobbi Fabian
  • Location Santa Ana, California

The Story of Da Vinci’s Café au Lait

With his coffee-centred experience pushing thirty years, Peter Giuliano—current Director of the SCAA Symposium—has in the past been a barista, a buyer, a roaster and throughout it all, an educator. Tracing the story of a wonderful personality, we chat with Giuliano and learn the ways in which this caffeinated beverage has shaped his life. 

Peter Giuliano plays the fiddle, the accordion and a selection of other instruments. If you’ve had the pleasure of speaking with him, you’d probably know that already. Radiating an infectious and unintimidating enthusiasm, he is the kind of man with whom discourse flows effortlessly. Giuliano has just tucked his kids into bed as we sit down with him; our conversation begins with a reference to his past studies in ethnomusicology: “I still play Sicilian music and Eastern European music but also soul music and stuff like that. I love it.” Considering his musical formative years, Giuliano could easily have travelled a different path. As with coffee, the topic of music appears to light a flame of ardour within him. However, Giuliano seems happy to keep music as a hobby. “I’m grateful that I don’t do it as a career, you know? Most of my friends who wound up doing it for work, I go and see them perform now, thirty years later, and I see that it is a tough life to be a working musician. I feel grateful.”

Giuliano was first introduced to the arena of the café as an intellectual meeting place whilst he was studying at college. He explains, “I liked the political meaning of the coffee shop. I was a ‘literature guy’ and the coffee shop I went to was connected to a serious bookstore. It was the type of place where people would sit around and talk about books or music or stuff like that. I was enchanted by it.” Purely as a patron, Giuliano would frequent his local café often, never really turning his attention to the product he was consuming. That was until one fateful day, he was handed an apron. “Somebody didn’t show up for work and the manger from the shop asked, ‘can you work right now?’ I decided to skip class and work a shift. I’ve worked in coffee since then… I often think about that moment: if I’d done the responsible thing, said no and gone to school, I don’t know where I would be right now. Actually, I do know where I would be—I’d be a musician somewhere. I frequently think about how grateful and fortunate I am to have made that decision.” 

I was a barista first and then I was a coffee teacher, then I learnt about roasting coffee and buying coffee, then somewhere in there I learnt about business. Then I dedicated twelve years to being the best coffee buyer I could be and travelling. I couldn’t have been a good roaster without being a good barista first...
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