Ernesto Illy

Coffee geeks around the world who love their coffee will surely want to know about a man named Ernesto Illy. With the “Illy” name advertised in coffee shops all over the world, it pays to know more about the man behind the name and consider what he did for coffee. All over the world, some 5 million people enjoy Illy cups of coffee which are the fruits of this man’s passion for coffee and knowledge in chemistry.

Who is Ernesto Illy?

Dr. Ernesto Illy was a businessman and a food chemist. He was the chairman of the world-famous Illycaffe S.p.A. up until the year 2004. He was born on 18 July 1925 and was known as a giant in the coffee and espresso world. He was a widely respected figure in the coffee business and was responsible for spearheading the research conducted by Illy on the quality of espresso and coffee.


His Early Life and Work

Dr. Ernesto Illy was born in Trieste and is the son of Hungarian-Italian Francesco Illy who was not only a World War I officer but also a chocolate-maker. In 1933, the elder Illy came up with Illeta or the modern espresso-maker. Not only did he come up with a brilliant machine that made excellent coffee the expectation and not the exception, but he also came up with the “pressurization” method of preserving coffee. He then went on to put up a coffee business which is what prompted Ernesto Illy’s love for coffee.

In the year 1947, Ernesto went to the University of Bologna to study chemistry and joined the coffee company founded by his father immediately after he graduated in 1956. Armed with his degree in chemistry, Ernesto set out to put up the first ever lab for the company wherein he put his chemistry degree to use and dedicated it to the chemistry of coffee. Not only did he manage the laboratory but he also worked with academic, scientific and corporate institutions in his studies. Ernesto Illy had a deep love for coffee and had a keen interest in coming up with new ways to make the manufacturing process easier and more efficient. In fact, he was able to come up with a high-tech coffee manufacturing process which specialized in the production of espresso coffee. In 1965, the company opened its Via Flavia manufacturing facility in Trieste and their methods and facilities have made it one of the best low-smoke, high-volume coffee plants in the world.

For his work with the Illy coffee company, he quickly rose to the top of the company and he even served as the chairman from the year 1963 to 2004. In the year 1974, under the chairmanship of Dr. Illy, the coffee company came out with the very first ever coffee pod. They called it the E.S.E. or the Easy Serving Espresso and these genius little pods made it possible for people to prepare the most beautiful espresso anywhere and anytime they wanted. The deep love for espresso and the desire to allow people to enjoy it meant that Dr. Ernesto Illy’s company came up with a product that was soon to take over the world and was soon copied by other coffee companies. In the year 1988, Dr. Ernesto Illy again put his expertise and his passion to work and it resulted in a system that made use of computers to scan each and every bean that passed through their facility and any beans that did not meet the Illy standards are then eliminated. This is one of the reasons why their coffee is so much more expensive than others – their goal is perfect beans, zero defects. This system is patented and remains exclusive to the Illy company until today.

He then became the honorary chairman as his advanced age made it impossible for him to keep up with the tasks the position required. Ernesto Illy played a big role on establishing the Association of Scientific Internationale pour le Café.

His Views on Coffee

As a scientist, Dr. Illy devoted most of his life into the promotion of coffee quality and he was also a spokesman of a tribe of scientists that believe coffee was given a raw deal as a beverage with health benefits. In fact, he states that drinking good coffee has many health benefits and that to miss coffee is to miss life itself. In an interview he granted in November 2005, 3 years before his death, he suggested that it is actually good for people to drink 3 to 5 cups of regular coffee a day and each cup should have about 100 mg of coffee per cup.

In the same interview, Dr. Illy stated that perhaps his greatest contribution to the world of coffee has been his job to apply science to improve the overall quality of coffee. After all, it really does depend on a long chain of factors to come up with coffee quality that is off the charts. He confessed that the process starts from the moment he decides where to put a plant since his studies have shown a strong link between the genome of the coffee plant and the environment it has been placed.

His Personal Life

Ernesto Illy died on 3 February 2008 in Trieste and the family declined to name the cause of death. He and his wife Anna Rossi had 4 children – 3 sons and 1 daughter. The first son, Andrea, born in 1964 is now the person responsible for the Illy company and his other children, Anna and Ricardo are board members of the company. Francesco, their third son, is also part of the business.


For all his works on coffee, it goes without saying that Dr. Ernesto Illy got a lot of awards. Some of them include:

• Anacafè member of the order, Flor del Cafè (2004) (Guatemala)

• Cavaliere del Lavoro of Italy (Knight of Industry) (1994)

• Centromarca brand organization (president) (1996)

• International Coffee Organization (chairman of the promotion committee) (2002) (London)

• Monte Carmelo county (honorary citizenship, 2002) (Brazil)

• Honorary doctorates and Master’s degrees (2005)