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Championing Producers and Sustainability at the 3rd Illy International Coffee Awards

Illy coffee producer awards

The top-scoring producers from the nine countries represented by the awards. Photo courtesy of illycaffe.

The foundation of greatness is sustainability

Andrea Illy, chairman of illycaffe, shared these words at the third annual Ernesto Illy International Coffee Awards, held Oct. 4, 2018, in New York, setting the tone for a day of extravagant celebration that kept sustainability — in all its diverse forms and definitions — in the spotlight.

The awards program honors the top producers in the nine countries whose coffees make up illy’s core blend. Each year, the company selects the nine origins that best match the flavor profile and quality needed for the blend, so other than the two staple countries of Brazil and Ethiopia, the origins represented at the awards ceremony can change from year to year. This year’s honorees included (in alphabetical order): Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, India, Nicaragua and Rwanda.

From a pool of thousands of coffees, sensory experts select the top three coffees from producers in each participating country. These finalists are invited to send representatives to attend the event in New York. For many, it’s their first visit to the city. For at least one producer, this was her first trip outside Brazil. In New York, an international jury then selects the top producer from each country, as well as the overall “Best of the Best” awardee. In both rounds of judging, the coffee are tasted — not cupped — as espresso, drip and cold brew. Led by author and historian Mark Pendergrast, this year’s jury included food, wine and coffee journalists, coffee industry experts and Michelin-rated Italian chefs.

3rd Annual Ernesto illy : International Coffee Award Gala

This year marks the first time a single producer won both the Ernesto Illy International Coffee Award “Best of the Best,” as judged in a blind tasting by a panel of experts; and the Coffee Lover’s Choice award, presented by United Airlines, based on more than 1,500 consumer votes in blind tastings around the world. And the winner is … Rwanda’s Ngororero Coffee Washing Station, represented by Ms. Philotee Muzika (pictured receiving the award from illycaffe Chairman Andrea Illy). Photo courtesy of illycafe.

New York and the United Nations — where a breakfast presentation was held — provide symbolic locations for the event, said Andrea Illy. The UN represents the global nature of the illy blend. It also represents a focus on sustainable development that addresses the challenges of poverty, gender equity, climate change, economic growth and more, as represented by the organization’s Sustainable Development Goals. New York, Illy continued, is symbolic of Wall Street, “where the price of coffee is set,” and it is the “epicenter of consumerism.”

During the morning session at the UN, presenters from the International Coffee Organization, the Agri-Business Department of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), an Italian representative to the UN and illycaffe detailed the most prevalent challenges threatening the coffee industry. Those included prices that make coffee farming unsustainable, gender inequity, climate change and the inability of current production trends to meet rapidly increasing demand. The overarching message centered on the need for increased public-private partnerships to protect coffee’s future for everyone involved in the supply chain.

Wrapping up the presentation on a positive note, Andrea Illy advocated a three-pronged approach to fostering a better future for the coffee community: First, he said, we must tear down the perceived wall that divides producing countries and consuming countries to face the challenges with a united front, sharing both the risks and the rewards. Second, we must restructure the pricing convention for coffee, bringing it closer in line with that of wine. Who can imagine basing the price of a bottle of wine on the commodity cost of grapes, he implored. The idea would be ludicrous, and coffee must follow suit. Finally, he proposed, we must “de-risk” the necessary investments at the farm level. Citing advancements in knowledge and agricultural practices, he asserted, “The problem is not what to do. The problem is how to finance it.”

3rd Annual Ernesto illy : International Coffee Award Gala

Anna Illy (pictured with gala host Ted Allen of the Food Network) shared her experiences visiting a women-run coffee washing station in Rwanda, where the women pooled their profits to purchase a sewing machine on which they can make clothes for themselves and their families. They also made the outfit Illy wore to the awards gala at the Rainbow Room in New York. Photo courtesy of illycafe.

It’s unreasonable to expect farmers to take on the entire financial risk, he suggested. “Because we are all on the same boat,” he told the producers in attendance, “those most interested in de-risking your investment should step up and provide collateral to subsidize the farmers’ investment.”

During an elaborate gala that evening, held at the Rainbow Room high atop 30 Rockefeller Center, the focus turned to gender equity and the importance of women in coffee. The company shared a video of it’s Half a Cup/#thanks4thecoffee campaign, created for International Coffee Day 2018. Serving espresso in cups designed to look as if they had been split down the middle, baristas ask customers to imagine what would happen if there weren’t any women in the world of coffee (hint: about half as much coffee would be produced).

The evening also included a tribute to Dr. Ernesto Illy, the son of founder Francesco Illy and father of the current generation of company leaders. Dr. Illy passed away 10 years ago, but his philosophy, summed up in the following quote, is alive and well at illy: “The role of the industrial company in the modern society is primary and essential, but the sole profit isn’t enough to justify its actions, which have to be fully integrated with the respect for the human being, the community and the environment.”

The evening was capped by the presentation of two awards: the Ernesto Illy International Coffee Awards “Best of the Best,” as judged by the expert jury; and the Coffee Lover’s Choice award, based on votes from more than 1,500 consumers around the world. This year was particularly exciting as it marked the first time the same producer, Rwanda’s Ngororero Coffee Washing Station, won both awards.

Here’s a list of the 27 producers honored at the awards and the representatives attending the event:

Mr. Raimundo Dimas Santana, Fazenda Santo Antonio
Ms. Maria D’Aparecida Vilela Brito, Fazenda Moendas
Mr. Angelo Nascimento, Fazenda Sao Pedro de Alcantara

Ms. Maricel Vivas Camayo, Federacion Campesina del Cauca
Mr. Eliécer Torres Hoyos, Cooperativa Norte del Nariño
Mr. Edgar Francisco Meneses Muños, Cooperativea de Caficultores del Cauca

Costa Rica
Mr. Juan Carlos Alvarez Ulate, Coopeatenas
Mr. Warner Quesado Elizondo, Coopesabalito
Mr. Ever Castillo Morales, Coopeldos

El Salvador
Mr. Jose Erenesto Romeo Borja Papini, J.J. Borja Nathan
Mr. Jose Enrique Gutierrez Rosales, Inverfinca
Mr. Fernando Felipe Alfaro Castaneda, Exportadora Agricola San Agustin

Mr. Mustefa Awol Yisshak, Mullege PLC
Ms. Seada Shifa Abaje, Asma International Trading
Mr. Ahmed Legesse Sherefa, Legesse Sherefa

Mr. Luis Fernando Pivaral Aguilar, Finca Sabanetas
Ms. Celeste Aída Fumagalli Martinez de Recinos, El Aceituno
Mr. Pedro Antonio Zaldaña Morales, Plantaciones San Pablo

Mr. Sharan Yamasandhi Krishna, Dhodda Salawara Estate
Mr. Hameed Muneer Ahamed, Archullie Estate
Mr. Amit Pant, Tata Coffee

Mr. John Charles Gardina, Proyecto Lift
Mr. Guillermo Bismark Quezada Valenzuela, Damsco
Mr. Carlos Roberto Gurdián Debayle, Cafetalera San José

Ms. Philotee Mukiza, Ngororero Coffee Washing Station
Mr. Emmanuel Sebazungu, Rwinyoni Coffee Washing Station
Ms. Mette-Marie Hansen, Mashesha Coffee Washing Station

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