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Illy’s recipe for happiness

From the January 2018 issue.

Illycaffé Chairman Andrea Illy takes his grandfather’s vision to offer the best coffee to the world a step further by vowing to help make a better world through coffee.

Andrea Illy

In its second annual Ernesto Illy International Coffee Award competition in October, illycaffé presented José Abelardo Díaz Enamorado with the prestigious award. After rounds of blind tastings, the competition’s independent panel of judges designated the coffee beans grown on the Honduran farmer’s plot in the western region of Erandique as the ‘Best of the Best’. Enamorado and his wife have been growing coffee there since 1966.

And for the first year, the competition included a ‘Coffee Lovers Choice’ award for the coffee tasted and selected by hundreds of guests at the New York City Food & Wine Festival, which took place the weekend prior to the competition. The consumer vote named Juan Carlos Alvarez’s coffee from Costa Rica as the winner.

Enamorado and Alvarez were among 27 of the top farms from the nine countries that illycaffé directly sources its beans from to make the unique blend the Italian roaster is known for. In addition to Honduras and Costa Rica, illycaffé also sources beans from Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia, Guatemala, India, Nicaragua and Rwanda.

The Ernesto Illy International Coffee Award came about after 25 years of working with, and recognising, Brazilian coffee farmers for high-quality coffee with the Brazil Quality Award for Espresso Coffee.

That quality award came about after Ernesto Illy’s travels into the depths of Brazil to find the highest-quality beans and share with growers the lucrative opportunities in the burgeoning premium coffee market.

“Because quality beans were [difficult to source] and illy was growing, we started stimulating coffee growers who were used to producing coffee as a commodity,” explains Andrea Illy, who is the third generation of his family to lead the company. “[We told them], ‘You can do much better and we are going to buy your coffee for premium prices and award you for it.’ ”

At that point in 1991, illycaffé started purchasing 100 per cent of its green beans directly from its Brazilian growers.

To further the collaboration and loyalty of its farmers and ensure the consistency of its coffee quality, illycaffé rolled out two supplementary initiatives over subsequent years. In 1999, it launched the University of Coffee to provide coffee education to growers and others in the industry. Then, in 2000, it launched the Illy Club in Brazil, a program that provides training, resources and educational events for the community’s more than 600 Brazilian coffee growers.

Following an “incredibly positive” response, the natural next step was to expand it at the international level. In 2016, illycaffé brought the various components of the Brazilian quality award to the global coffee industry, from educational seminars to an international club to hosting a competition for the highest quality beans. That year, at the 25th annual Brazilian competition in April, Illy announced the first Ernesto Illy International Coffee Award, which would take place in October.

The Brazil Quality Award for Espresso Coffee still takes place every April in order to continue motivating Brazilian growers to strive for their best while “maintaining the tradition we started 25 years ago,” Illy tells Global Coffee Report. “The Brazilian award teases the international one since it happens in April and the three finalists automatically get to participate in the [international] competition in New York in October.”

Through this international competition, Illy says, “we’re helping coffee growers fulfill a dream of visiting and getting to know the consumer market, while helping the consumers – the other stakeholder – in their dream of knowing more about coffee and hearing the narration personally.”

Fostering pursuit of these stakeholders’ dreams is, in effect, fostering pursuit of founder Francesco Illy’s dream of offering the greatest coffee to the world.

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