Coffee geeks around the world who love their coffee will surely want to know about 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 five 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 Illycaffè until 2004. He was born on 18 July 1925 and was known as a giant in the coffee and espresso world. Widely respected figure in the coffee business, he 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 on 18 July 1925. His father, Hungarian-Italian Francesco Illy, was a chocolate-maker and an officer during the First World War. In 1933, Francesco Illy invented the Illeta or the modern espresso-maker, an amazing machine that made excellent coffee. He also introduced the “pressurization” method of preserving coffee. He then established a coffee business which prompted his son, Ernesto Illy’s passion for coffee.
In 1947, Ernesto studied chemistry at the University of Bologna 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 laboratory for the company. He set about putting 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 inventing new ways to make the manufacturing process easier and more efficient. He developed 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 hard work with Illycaffè, Ernesto quickly rose to the top of the company and he served as the chairman from 1963 to 2004. In 1974, under his chairmanship, the coffee company introduced the very first coffee pod. They called it the Easy Serving Espresso (E.S.E.) and these ingenious 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 Illy’s company invented a product that was soon to take over the world and was also soon copied by other coffee companies.
In 1988, Dr. Ernesto Illy again put his expertise and his passion to work devising a system making use of computers to scan each and every bean that passed through their facility; any beans that did not meet the Illy standards were 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 Illycaffè to this day.
Ernesto Illy became honorary chairman in 2004 as his advanced age made it impossible for him to keep up with the tasks the position required. He played an integral role in establishing the Association of Scientific Internationale pour le Café.
His Views on Coffee
As a scientist, Illy devoted most of his life to the promotion of coffee quality and he was a spokesman for scientists that believe coffee was given a raw deal as a beverage with health benefits. Illy stated that drinking good coffee has indeed many health benefits and that to miss coffee is to miss life itself. In an interview in November 2005, three years before his death, he suggested that it is 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, Illy stated that perhaps his greatest contribution to the world of coffee has been to apply science to improve the overall quality of coffee. After all, it depends on a long chain of factors to manufacture premium grade coffee. 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 grown in.
His Personal Life
Ernesto Illy died on 3 February 2008, aged 82 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 chairman of Illycaffè and his other children, Anna and Ricardo are board members of the company. Francesco, their third son, is also involved in the business.
For all his works on coffee, Dr. Ernesto Illy received many 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)