Inside the mind-boggling popularity of tiramisu
Matt Haw speaks with the founder and CEO of the Tiramisù World Cup, Francesco Redi, about the phenomenal popularity of coffee-based desserts and how businesses can tap into the market.
From breweries to distilleries, hot sauce manufacturers to cheese artisans, coffee seems to have infiltrated every corner of the culinary world. Even coffee critic James Hoffman, known for his disdain towards the idea of adding coffee to everything, has given in to the trend: the hollandaise in his café’s eggs benedict features, among other things, a shot of espresso.
While coffee has made its way into a variety of dishes, desserts are arguably where it is truly at home. Italians have long relished the affogato, while the coffee and walnut cake has become a classic in other parts of the world. Mokatines, meanwhile, demonstrate how the addition of coffee can elevate a dish to new heights.
However, few would disagree with tiramisu’s claim as the ultimate coffee-based dessert. Meaning “pick me up” in the dialect of Treviso, the Italian city where it originated, tiramisu is a delectable combination of eggs, sugar, Savoiardi biscuits, mascarpone, cocoa, and coffee.
Since its introduction in the middle of the 20th century, it has gone on to win the hearts and stomachs of populations the world over, spawning countless variations. Its popularity has even spawned its very own tiramisu-making competition, which launched in 2017 to widespread delight.
Yet while tiramisu has enjoyed the limelight of late, its attention speaks of a wider trend that has seen coffee desserts become not only become more popular but also better quality and increasingly lucrative. Unsurprisingly, this is having an impact on the wider coffee industry which is now impossible to ignore.
Why are coffee desserts suddenly so popular?
Francesco Redi has the enviable job of CEO of the Tiramisù World Cup. Now in its seventh year, the four-day event pits hundreds of amateur bakers in a battle to produce the best tiramisu. They are judged by an expert panel based on five criteria, including aesthetics and the balance of ingredients.
The competition has drawn far-reaching publicity and boosted the humble dessert to unprecedented heights. According to Francesco, Google searches of tiramisu are twice that of the popular Italian wine, Prosecco, and have sparked countless conversations across social media.
“Back in Treviso, I was asking people what they think about tiramisu,” he says. “Everybody told me that their mother makes the best in the world, or that their grandmother, grandfather, aunt, or dog makes the best.
“Then I started browsing Twitter and I saw that you can count more than 100 hits regarding tiramisu every hour in different languages with different recipes. Everybody says ‘this is the best tiramisu in the world’.”
Francesco was inspired to create the Tiramisù World Cup which he resolved should be held in Treviso, the dessert’s birthplace. As expected, it quickly attracted widespread interest from a number of budding competitors, all willing to put their skills to the test. In 2018, it followed up with a junior version of the competition for those under 18.
Francesco believes that underpinning its popularity is its versatility – it can be made as simple or as complex as you like. So long as there is a balance of espresso together with the other ingredients, there are no hard and fast rules. Hence why there are so many variations, from Argentina to Japan.
“Making tiramisu is not difficult,” he says, “but making a truly exceptional tiramisu is an art. It is the best way to ‘eat’ coffee.”
How can coffee businesses capitalise on coffee desserts?
For the coffee industry as a whole, the soaring popularity of tiramisu is only a good thing. For many, it serves as an introduction to the possibilities of coffee beyond just a drink, while for others it does the reverse, showcasing the importance of high-quality coffee.
The Tiramisù World Cup currently uses an arabica blend from Hausbrandt, invariably prepared on the Moka pot – a staple of Italian households and a callback to the origins of the tiramisu in the family kitchens of Treviso.
However, Francesco explains that as attention increasingly falls on the quality of coffee used in desserts, businesses should seek coffees that function specifically as a component.
“The quality of ingredients is essential,” he explains. “And for sure the coffee is decisive in the making of a great tiramisu. You have to know more about it, the blend, the preparation, and its conservation because you have to use it when it’s cold.
“What I always stipulate to coffee experts is to propose a coffee blend that can improve or innovate the tiramisu’s flavour.”
This presents a unique challenge to specialty roasters. Businesses that can come up with a coffee uniquely tailored to coffee desserts will have a distinct advantage in this growing market.
For tiramisu, specifically, this would be a coffee that pairs with high-fat mascarpone, sweet biscuits, and bitter cacao. In essence, it would need to facilitate the all-important balance of flavours – making the tiramisu greater than the sum of its parts.
The ascent of coffee-based desserts in 2023, propelled by the burgeoning influence of the Tiramisù World Cup, promises to widen the appeal of coffee and extend the reach of specialty coffee across the globe. It is a movement undoubtedly set to reshape the culinary landscape and foster greater appreciation for the versatile bean. Watch this space.