The name, Illy is universally associated with high quality coffee.  The company logo shares the colors of Trieste, red & white, where the company was born and where its headquarters still reside. I had the opportunity to tour the facility last week, and, I have to say it is a very impressive operation. Founded on a comittment to making the finest coffee, the Illy process is meticulous, exacting and focused on maintaining the highest standards with regards not only to its coffee production but its role in the industry and the community. It makes paying a higher price for coffee a pleasure not just for the taste but also for the benefits of ethical, sustainable and responsible market practices.

The history of Illy caffè is a love story, inextricably linked to Trieste. Hungarian born Francesco Illy (nee’ Illy Ferenc), the company’s founder, arrived in Trieste after World War I. Here he studied economics, and went on to find work in Vienna and Hungary, only to return to Trieste, “the city he loved and where he married the woman he loved and founded a business he loved in cocoa and coffee”.  He launched his business in 1933 eventually deciding to concentrate exclusively on coffee. 
In 1935, Francesco invented the first automatic coffee machine which substituted compressed air for steam: the Illetta, the predecessor of today’s espresso machines. Illy was also the first to develop a system for the vacuum packaging of coffee beams and ground coffee; the cans were filled with inert gases instead of air pressurization. Illy coffee was soon “exported” outside the immediate Trieste area, and was eventually sold all over Italy. His method remains the standard for preserving and enhancing coffee’s freshness during transport and storage.

After the World War II, control of the company passed to Ernesto Illy, the son of Francesco, who started a research laboratory responsible for numerous inventions and patents. Ernesto, a scientist and researcher, established cooperation agreements with universities and research centers and promoted premium coffee around the globe. Today Illy runs the Universita’ del Caffe’; each of the 20 worldwide branches is a center of “coffee excellence” promoting the latest in coffee research and understanding from bean to cup.
Illy is also the proud recipient of several awards for sustainability, fair market practices and has been named among the World’s Most Ethical Companies by Ethisphere 3 years in a row. This is thanks largely to the Ernesto Illy Foundation which pays tribute to Dr. Illy’s beliefs and life work by promoting knowledge, ethics and sustainability as absolute tenets in both life and business. The Foundation underwrites the International Masters degree in Coffee Science and Economics  an accredited, graduate level course of study in coffee, from agronomy to business management, aimed at developing the next generation of industry leaders from coffee producing countries (developed with the Universities of Udine and Trieste, SISSA, The Trieste Coffee District and the Consortium for Molecular Biomedicine) and The Ernesto Illy Trieste Science Prize – is awarded in collaboration with the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS), to scientists who live and work in the Southern Hemisphere’s developing nations who conduct important research in sustainability-related fields.
The company mission has always been “to turn a simple, every-day gesture, that of making a cup of espresso coffee, into the art of making espresso coffee”.  Illy decided to unite the  “sensorial pleasure of coffee’ with the aesthetics of art”  by  reimagining the coffee cup as a canvas. Thus was born the Illy Art Collection. Started in 1992, specially designed cup sets are released every year featuring established as well as yet undiscovered contemporary artists from around the world. Among them; Michelangelo Pistoletto,  Marina Abramović, Sandro Chia,  Julian Schnabel, Robert Rauschenberg, Jeff Koons, Joseph Kosuth, Yoko Ono, and James Rosenquist – to name a few. Fun fact: Illy’s current logo was taken from a work by a master of the pop art movement, James Rosenquist, that had been especially painted by the artist for the firm.

Today, Illy is synonymous with premium Italian coffee in over 140 countries worldwide under the guidance of Ernesto’s son, Andrea Illy, who continues the tradition of innovation and coffee excellence. I would strongly recommend visiting Illy HQ, for tour information you can click here. Please check out their website to fully immerse yourself into the world of Illy.


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