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Ernesto Illy International Coffee Award: More Than Just Coffee

Ahmed Legesse of Ethiopia recognized as the “Best of the Best” coffee in the first annual award gala at the U.N.

Some contender coffee blends (Ph. Twitter @ttrayco)

Andrea Illy explained there is one particular aroma, linked to a compound in the green coffee bean in Ethiopia, that, 20 years ago, his father Ernesto discovered was also a key component of the best scent existing in the world: Chanel No.5. “People don’t know that in one cup of coffee there are over 1000 aromatic compounds..."

tazza-illyA commitment to quality and sustainability was celebrated, appropriately in the Delegates Ballroom of the United Nations on November 1 at the first annual Ernesto Illy International Coffee Award, hosted by the the Illy family, with Master of Ceremonies Gordon Elliot, TV personality and producer of The Chew. Extending the prestigious Brazilian Quality Award, created by Ernesto Illy in 1991, to all major coffee producing countries of illycaffè – Brazil, Columbia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Honduras, India, and Nicaragua – this international award aims at building together the future of coffee by bringing together coffee growers with coffee lovers.

And the winner is… 
The announcement of the ‘Best of the Best’ sparked a wave of excitement because first place was tied between Honduras and Ethiopia with an equal Global Equality Score, but Ethiopia took the top rank in the category of evaluation of Aroma Intensity of Espresso.


The ‘Best of the Best’ winner, Ahmed Legesse, with Andrea Illy (left), Francesco Genuardi and Max Pogliani

Andrea Illy explained there is one particular aroma, linked to a compound in the green coffee bean in Ethiopia (linolenic acid), that, 20 years ago, his father Ernesto discovered was also a key component of the best scent existing in the world: Chanel No.5. This new knowledge brought a chuckle from many in the room, but we all recognize that scent. Illy continued: “People don’t know that in one cup of coffee there are over 1000 aromatic compounds but out of these 1000 aromatic compounds, only 20 come from the green bean and for some reason the Ethiopian plant is able to express its (the linolenic acid’s) full potential only in this particular land and the secret is still not clear how the same plant in this region of Ethiopia is able to deliver so much aroma to make it the best of the best.” A full list of the 27 finalists, and a description of 1st place coffee aromas and flavors are available on the Illy site.

From the 9 producing countries, the three best coffee lots were identified by the illy Quality Lab in Trieste (Italy), and all 27 finalists were honored at the gala, with travel to New York supported by United Airlines, which just this year upgraded to illycaffè on all their national and international flights. All 27 recipients, from bronze to the coveted gold, anxiously awaited to learn how their coffee ranked, and celebrated their award with guests representing a cross-section of coffee lovers: together with Consul General Francesco Genuardi and Italy UN Ambassador Sebastiano Cardi, were also UN delegates, Ambassadors from the growing countries, a group of top NGOs, representatives of the media, the civil society and the business community.


Gordon Elliot speaks to judge Luigi Taglienti

At dinner, sitting across from one of the jury members, Luigi Taglienti, Michelin-starred chef of Lume, who also prepared one of the exquisite desserts, Black Truffle and Tiramisù (prepared with illy coffee, of course), provided me the perfect opportunity to chat with him about his experience as a judge under the mentorship of illy quality director David Brussa and author Mark Pendergrast, who wrote on the history of coffee and how it transformed our world. Espresso coffee was born in Italy, as was the caffè (Italian coffee bar) in 17th century Venice, yet coffee is now an American staple, the U.S. being the world’s biggest coffee consuming nation.

Finding Humanity with Coffee
illycaffè is about more than just coffee. The past, present and future of illy demonstrates a foundation in coffee, its three virtues – pleasure, health, sustainability – and its dedication to quality and excellence. Andrea Illy shares his grandfather Francesco’s dream, “to offer the greatest coffee to the world because he fell in love, literally, so when he came to Trieste from Vienna, he decided to pursue his dream and we continue to nurture this dream, to pursue it and became a core mission of the company – he elaborated – which is the Latin lovers of goodness and beauty all over the world, with the best coffee nature can provide, enhanced with technology and also the art of beauty.”


Andrea Illy with Gorden Elliot and coffee producers

The first family of coffee’s mission, passion, obsession are coupled with strong ethics (named the 2015 World’s Most Ethical Company by Ethisphere Institute), and are committed to improvement of quality of life, transparency, sustainability (economic, social and environmental) and people development. Working hand-in-hand with coffee growers, those equally obsessed with quality, to achieve Francesco Illy’s dream, illy offers training, creates incentives aimed at quality and respect for the environment, rewards growers for sustainable production through guaranteed profits, and creates a community and culture of excellence based on the exchange of knowledge and mutual growth. These pillars create a relationship that is personal and long-lasting, and this was clearly evidenced by all those present at the award gala.

A final reflection: the essence of humanism of illycaffè made this an indelible experience. There was no fanfare in the event, the award presentations were brief, the genuine pleasure for people and coffee emanated from the illy family (both personal and corporate) and their guests. I was moved during the ‘sneak peak’ of video presentation that is the culmination of the #thanks4thecoffee project launched for international coffee day (October 1) this year. The video was available for public viewing on November 16, 2016, holding true to the words of Max Pogliani, Illy CEO, who informed me to stay tuned. Also in the pipelines, with announcements forthcoming, are different initiatives on sustainability and education. These projects, aligned with their mission, set this company apart, investing not only in the product but everyone involved in the process – growers, pickers, roasters, consumers – with the same level of respectful humanity.

Illycaffè S.p.A., a company present in over 140 countries, is the soul of Italy’s culture and embodies the values of beauty, goodness and the constant pursuit of perfection. Beauty can be defined as both pleasure to the senses and excellence in quality: the art of beauty, as well as the beauty of Italian culture and language (illy brand products use Italian both nationally and internationally – from iperespresso to illy issimo to espressamente illy) are symbolic of  illycaffè. “The perfect coffee – states Andrea Illy – engages the senses and satisfies the soul.”

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