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RIP - Ernesto Illy 1925 - 2008

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  • RIP - Ernesto Illy 1925 - 2008

    Ernesto Illy, Chairman of Coffee Company, Is Dead at 82
    Published: February 6, 2008
    New York Times

    Ernesto Illy, who as chairman of Illycaffè, maker of an expensive brand of coffee, was renowned as a scientific perfectionist of coffee and especially as an evangelist of espresso, died Sunday in Trieste, Italy. He was 82.

    His death was confirmed by Jessica Aptman, a spokeswoman for the company, who said the family did not want to disclose the cause of death.

    “Our coffee is twice as expensive as the run-of-the-mill stuff, at least,” Mr. Illy told The New York Times in 2001. “Our goal is perfect beans, zero defects, and we think we get close to that.”

    “Fine espresso paints the tongue,” he said of his favorite drink, which he made a product of precision.

    Mr. Illy was praised for his leadership role in the industry.

    “He ran what amounted to the Bell Labs of coffee in Trieste,” Corby Kummer, author of “The Joy of Coffee,” said of Mr. Illy in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “He was an international leader in the science of grading and choosing the coffee; in promoting research on how coffee should be grown; on engineering the machines and the way it’s roasted and brewed.”

    The Illy company sponsors an annual competition in Brazil for the grower of the best green coffee, with a prize of $30,000.

    Mr. Illy, a chemist, was chairman of the company from 1963 to 2004. It was founded in 1933 by his father, Francesco, a chocolate maker from Hungary who moved to Trieste after World War I. By then, Trieste, a port city on the Adriatic, had become a coffee hub, the most convenient place to receive beans from Africa and South America and ship them to caffeine-craving European cities.

    Largely under Ernesto Illy’s direction, the company built a laboratory equipped with sophisticated instruments like gas chromatographs, infrared emission pyrometers and flame ionization detectors. There, coffee beans are cut into slices eight microns thick for analysis in an electron microscope. Every step of the manufacturing process is monitored by computers. There are 114 quality-control checks between the time bags of raw beans arrive on the loading docks to the time roasted beans are shipped in sealed cans.

    Every day, Mr. Illy, along with 15 other people he had trained, would taste every lot of beans that the company was considering buying.

    Disdaining standard-size cups of over-roasted coffee and any sort of added ingredient — particularly milk, which he viewed as a cover-up for badly roasted beans — Mr. Illy saw something sublime in espresso’s vibrant aroma, potent flavor and velvety, hazel-colored head of foam, known as crema in Italian.

    “He was a tireless espresso proselytizer,” Mr. Kummer said. “He helped make people all over the world think that espresso is the most sophisticated coffee there is and that even the home consumer can be as glamorous as an Italian cafegoer.”

    The company started packaging coffee for home consumption in 1965, and in 1972 was the first to sell it in teabaglike pods for making single cups. Illy entered the North American market in 1975. Currently, with annual sales of about $350 million in 140 countries, it is dwarfed by international giants like Kraft and Nestlé, but it remains a prestigious brand.

    Mr. Illy studied engineering and ergonomics to design an espresso cup that would most perfectly enhance taste — by considering factors like the amount and fineness of grind and water temperature. In 1990, one of his sons, Francesco, used those cups to start limited-edition collections, decorated by contemporary artists, including Julian Schnabel and Jeff Koons.

    Mr. Illy was born in Trieste on July 18, 1925. He graduated from the University of Bologna with a degree in chemistry in 1947, and immediately went to work for the family company. In addition to his son Francesco, Mr. Illy is survived by his wife, Anna; a daughter, Anna; and two other sons, Riccardo and Andrea. Andrea Illy is now chairman of the company.

    Mr. Illy was the founder and chairman of the Association pour la Science et l’Information sur le Café, an industry research organization based in Paris.

    “It takes 50 beans to make a one-ounce cup of espresso,” he once said. “One bad one, and I guarantee that you’ll taste it. It’s like one rotten egg in an omelet.”


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    Re: RIP - Ernesto Illy 1925 - 2008

    You can leave a message at the illy webpage if you like: