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illy: Brewing a Culture of High-Quality Coffee

It’s an Art

Coffee is more than a drink. It’s a rite. A ritual. Maybe even a religious experience. It’s how more than half of Americans jump-start their morning (58 percent, according to Statista). How and when we drink our coffee varies country to country. But worldwide, we drink two billion cups per day, says the British Coffee Association.

Not bad for a bean that’s faced banishment five times since its discovery by a 10th-century shepherd in Ethiopia. Legend has it that a perky herd of goats tipped him off to the evergreen shrub.

“Coffee is a very fascinating product of nature,” says Master Barista Giorgio Milos, the North American Barista in Residence for illy caffè. “There are millions of people involved in this beautiful drink that we consider a commodity.”

Oh, what a hot commodity it is.

Occasionally bantered about as second on earth only to oil—a statement that’s been widely debunked—maybe it’s karma that this beloved little bean could someday fuel your car. A report published a few years ago by researchers at the University of Bath found waste coffee grounds to be a viable option for green biodiesel fuel.

“When you visit a coffee farm [in the Third World] you really understand that coffee is precious,” says Milos. “There’s a ton of history behind the cup of coffee we drink every day.”

Not All Coffee is Created Equal

Milos believes he was destined to become a Master Barista.

“It’s a family thing,” explains Milos, whose mother was a quality control specialist for illy for more than 25 years.

“For me, Master Barista is more than a title,” adds Milos, who is certified by the Specialty Coffee Associations of Europe and America. “I’m very passionate about it.”

Milos’ first job was at age 17 for a small roaster, “where the coffee wasn’t very good.” This is a fact he appreciates now that he works for a premium Italian coffee company.

“Creating the best coffee is not easy,” he insists. “It takes hard work and passion. illy always looks for the best coffee possible … we know name by name all the growers and we help them to maintain the quality in a sustainable way.”

Served across 140 countries and prepared by more than 50,000 fine baristas, illy is known for its signature blend, a complex mixture of nine single origin Arabica beans from four continents. Milos describes it as a “superior flavor profile” that’s blended in a top-notch facility.

“We have experts that know how to recognize a good coffee and they know how to blend it together,” says Milos. “It’s an art.”

Considered the finest of the species, Arabica comprises 59 percent of the world’s coffee production. Rain triggers its white, fragrant flowers to bloom, followed by plump, red cherries—each containing two beans—eight or nine months later.

“Coffee is like wine,” explains Milos. “Different countries, different farms, different environments yield different products.”

A Thirst for Knowledge

Milos buzzes about his coffee of choice as a full instructor at illy’s Università del Caffè. The comprehensive education program includes several different courses covering a wide range of coffee-related topics.

Education and innovation have long been a priority for illy, which was founded in Trieste in 1933 by Hungarian-born Francesco Illy. His 1935 invention of the illetta is considered the blueprint for modern espresso machines.

During the ’40s, Illy developed an innovative method of preserving its espresso during transport and storage through pressurization, still the standard for coffee packaging. Later that decade, Francesco’s son, Ernesto, introduced an in-house laboratory dedicated to researching coffee chemistry.

During the ’50s, Ernesto spearheaded the company’s expansion into homes. He oversaw the creation of the first premeasured espresso pods in the ’70s and patented a computerized system of inspection for each bean in the late ’80s.

Ernesto’s son, Andrea Illy, carries on the tradition today.

The first University of Coffee was opened in Naples, Italy, in 1999 and moved to Milos’ own hometown, Trieste, in 2002.

“We decided that making a high-quality product isn’t enough,” explains Milos. “What we sell is not the final product. It’s something that has to be performed by expert hands.”

The Coffee Experts

Though the original University of Coffee courses were aimed at growers and producers, today there are more than 20 centers worldwide for growers and producers, trade professionals, and coffee lovers. Educational offerings include training courses for hospitality workers as well as higher education courses for graduates interested in working in the coffee world.

Milos teaches the Coffee Expert course in New York. The three-day course provides “a full immersion in coffee,” he says, covering all aspects of the drink from bean to cup.

The right knowledge.

“What I really love to do is the hands-on part, teaching how to transform this beautiful product into a cup of coffee,” he says.

One of his more high-profile clients is United Airlines, which exclusively serves illy aboard its planes. He also trained food and beverage managers from Apple, which now serves illy on all of its campuses.

Overall, he strives to have and share a “360-degree knowledge” of coffee. Not just any knowledge. “The right knowledge,” he says.

“Sharing knowledge, sharing education, sharing information and training,” reveals Milos, “is what I really love about my job.”

illy’s Università del Caffè will be offering its Coffee Expert course in September and November. For more information, visit their website.

Photo credits: Aleza Freeman & illy caffè North America

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Written by Aleza Freeman

Las Vegas native Aleza Freeman is a freelance writer whose byline has appeared in publications worldwide. To contact Aleza or learn more, visit www.alezafreeman.com.

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