Twenty-five million women and men are directly involved in coffee farming: people who take great pride in physically demanding work that brings pleasure to many, many millions more around the world every day, but whose contributions are too often overlooked. With the goal of raising awareness of and celebrating their immense contributions, and those among them whose dedication to quality can inspire others to reach higher, our company last year instituted The Ernesto Illy International Coffee Award (EIICA).
The program was the culmination of an ongoing judging process in Trieste, Italy where illy is based. Last year’s inaugural program brought 27 growers from around the world, whose harvests were graded as outstanding, to the United Nations in New York City, many for the first time, to foster a sense of community and pride among them, while showcasing their deep dedication to quality on a global stage. Our University of Coffee faculty shared information with them about low impact techniques that can fundamentally and sustainably take their quality yet higher, and everyone celebrated the one lot that was named “Best of the Best,” after rounds of intensive judging at the UN by coffee tasting experts.
The second edition on EIICA will once again be held at the UN, on October 16. This year, coffee lots raised by farmers in Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Nicaragua and Rwanda are designated as finalists, based on comprehensive evaluation by our laboratories in Trieste of beans from the 2016/2017 harvests of coffee growing countries around the world. Each of the nine countries will be represented by three of its growers, for a total of 27 whose lots will be celebrated and considered for Best of the Best status.
The award’s genesis dates back 27 years, when my late father, after whom it is named, created a program in Brazil that helped build the country’s reputation as a producer of high-quality coffee, by offering prizes to growers able to achieve precisely that, after educating them side-by-side in the field and in classrooms. That program, originally called Prêmio Ernesto Illy por la Qualidade do Cafè para Espresso, helped transform Brazil’s production, its reputation from high volume producer to high-quality provider, and the lives of growers and their communities.
Prêmio Ernesto Illy por la Qualidade do Cafè para Espresso also sowed the seeds for the illy of today: a company that purchases nearly 100% of its Arabica beans directly from farmers able to meet exacting quality standards, at a guaranteed premium, not just a floor price. Most important, the program helped to catalyze a movement, bigger than any one company, to bring a living wage to growers, the majority of whom still struggle to support themselves, their families and their communities.
Furthering that movement is the idea behind the award, while also honoring my father, who was known as Dr. Illy for the scientific curiosity and rigor he brought to coffee, and also as Papa Bean, for the joy of coffee he shared wherever he went. The EIICA’s goal of continuing his work is something both Dr. Illy and Papa Bean would celebrate with pride leavened by humility, and a perfect espresso.