Finest Blend: How illy Has Cultivated Coffee Into an Art Form
An exquisite flavour palate, quality sourcing, and historical finesse—are we talking fine wine or curated coffee?
BY Robb Report Hong Kong  |  November 20, 2023
2 Minute Read

It’s hard to pinpoint when artisanal coffee and boutique blends came in vogue, beyond the popular vernacular thrown about by baristas the world over. We’ve now read so much about the sourcing and planting of the hitherto humble bean; somehow, the way sommeliers expound on vine and terroir has trickled into the morning java. But even among those fine blends, an illy is no average cuppa joe.

The origin story of illy can be traced back to Italy’s coffee capital, Trieste. illycaffè, a family-owned company, was born in the port city on the shores of the Adriatic. As the boats and ships of the world anchored ashore, they created a de facto multicultural marketplace where tastes and flavours from around the globe mixed and mingled. 

Since 1933, only the finest coffee beans, comprising the top one percent of the best of the best Arabica, have been funnelled and filtered to the compounds of illy. Featuring a closely guarded nine-ingredient, 100-percent Arabica blend, every single cup has a consistency, flavour profile, and smooth taste that epicureans love. Only the most flawless of beans can create the aroma and rich blend of this portentous warm blend, lasting from the first taste to the last sip.

Within illy’s global sourcing menu, there is, in fact, a proliferation of delectable options to choose from, depending on your discerning taste of single-origin coffee. illy’s Arabica selection can be meticulously traced back to the highest-quality coffee from Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia, Guatemala, and India, among other coffee capitals in Africa and South America, all famed for their distinguished roasts.

Do you prefer a sweet and subtle blend, with a distinctive acidic bite derived from the notes of citrus and red berries? Then Colombian coffee is for you. Or consider, perhaps, the Ethiopian mix, with a delicate floral note of jasmine, orange blossom, and chamomile. Some prefer the coffee beans grown in Brazil, known as “the foundation of espresso blends,” for a heady shot to ignite the senses. Designed by experts in the illy research laboratories who have developed the aromatic notes and distinctive flavours of beans from each country of origin, illy celebrates their purest forms, respective properties, and roasting curves. A world of taste is encapsulated within each tin. You may be buying an Italian brand, but one with a worldwide perspective and responsible sourcing. 

The significance of responsible sourcing is rooted deep within the illy culture, which is one of several reasons why the company has chosen to engage with farms with regenerative agriculture, such as those from Cerrado Mineiro, a Brazilian region renowned for some of the finest coffee-bean crops in the world. The certified Regenagri cropping practice approaches the land as a natural and autonomous ecosystem. Soil resources are carefully guarded to improve their fertility and biodiversity, restoring the health of the land without releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This farm-to-table traceability is a key component in illy’s sustainable approach to business and being. 

As with all things Italian and couture, it comes down to sourcing, technical know-how, savvy study, and curation, all of which those in the caffeinated corridors of the illy headquarters in Trieste have carefully studied and developed over the years. Since its foundation, illy has directed its strategies towards a sustainable business model, carrying with it a sense of responsibility from the get-go. As the company’s official page states: “For us, coffee is only good when it’s good for everyone.”

It’s this steadfast commitment that has encouraged the corporation to adopt the status of “Benefit Company.” In 2021, illy became the first Italian coffee company to obtain the international B Corp certification, which measures a company’s social and environmental impact to certify it as a leader in a forward-thinking economy. 

Over the past decades, illy has managed its entire coffee supply-chain with an eye on sustainability. Whether it’s farmed by a bean specialist in Brazil or Ethiopia illy knows the golden-brown liquid is a sacred elixir, and that morning cup is precious to many. Knowing the significance of that first cup, illy has opened caffès in more than 30 countries, offering a range of home-dedicated products like the Iperespresso capsule coffee machine, which allows you to have your own illycaffè experience at home (or the office).

The iconic illy logo, designed by Jams Rosenquist, adds an artistic chapter to the rich history of a brand that is all about art and beauty, colour and coffee—founding principles that have established the illy cup as a collector’s item. Since 1992, over 100 international artists have joined the roster of designers who have created a unique illy cup with a signature look of their own. Famed artist Matteo Thun designed the iconic illy cup, creating a blank canvas that has, since then, allowed contemporary artists from around the globe to put brush to cup. Three decades on, coffee connoisseurs look forward to a new release every year.

So the next time you try a steaming cup of a smooth illy blend, relish in the guiltless pleasure of the finest, most responsible sip in town. 

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