Ernesto Illy, the legendary chairman of the Illy Caffe coffee company, died Sunday, Feb 3rd, at the age of 82 in his home town of Trieste, Italy.
If you have any interest in espresso coffee, you are most likely familiar with Illy. Perhaps you’re even a big fan of this world famous premium espresso coffee.
The familiar Illy coffee container and distinctive logo is a classic example of true Italian style.
For many first-time home baristas, Illy is the first coffee that you try out in your new espresso machine. When you struggle at the beginning trying to figure out how to get the grind right, a can of pre-ground Illy coffee beans saves the day and sets the reference point. Oh, so that’s what a fine grind is supposed to look like, as you discover your blade grinder isn’t going to get you there.
Ernesto Illy’s wonderful description of his favorite drink, “fine espresso paints the tongue …“, sums up his bigger than life passion for espresso coffee. He devoted his entire career to bringing the art and science of espresso to new levels.
Illy, formally a chemist by training, headed up the company between 1963 and 2004. The Illy company was originally founded in 1933 by his father, Francesco Illy. The senior Illy established the company in the port city of Trieste on the Adriatic sea which had become a strategic import hub to bring in coffee beans from Africa and South America. Trieste was a natural choice for Francesco Illy to setup shop.
By the early 1960′s, it was under Ernesto Illy’s leadership that the company grew in prominence as a premium espresso coffee brand. During his reign, leveraging his chemistry background, he merged the world of science and sophisticated technology with the traditional artisan craft of coffee selection and roasting to produce the highest quality premium coffee worthy of the Illy brand.
Today, every step of the manufacturing process is monitored by computers. There are 114 quality control check points from the time the raw beans arrive on the Illy docks to the time the finished roasted beans are packaged and ready to ship in the distinctive Illy sealed cans.
If you love espresso, you have to appreciate Illy’s commitment to the coffee’s purest expression. He was critical of standard sized coffee cups in favor of the espresso demitazza and was particularly disdainful of popular coffee additives such as milk and sugar which he viewed as mere cover-ups for inferior, poorly roasted coffee beans.
Ernesto Illy was truly a giant ambassador for premium espresso coffee. In a large way, Illy was influential in expanding the flourishing espresso coffee culture that is widespread and immensely popular throughout the world today.