Illy's winning blend

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The family behind Italy's famous coffee is on the move 

By Robert Camuto-- Wine Spectator Oct. 31, 2015

Andrea Illy holds a spoonful of dark liquid to his lips and slurps it in one quick shot. A moment later, after a ritual spitting, he notes, "It's the terroir that makes a difference in what is expressed."

Illy, 51, the high-octane president of Illycaffè, is explaining the nuances of coffee aromas and chemistry in the testing laboratory at the company's roasting plant and corporate headquarters in Trieste, Italy. With focused intensity, he examines each of the nine arabica coffee components in Illy's signature single blend.

Local climate and soils, shade from plants, and varying altitudes influence the beans and the final product-from the intense cocoa and slightly bitter flavors of Brazilian arabica to its aromatic Ethiopian counterpart.

"We get more linalool from Costa Rica," Illy says of the natural compound responsible for jasmine aromas, which, he adds, is also used in Chanel No. 5.

That icon of fragrance and fashion proves a fitting comparison to the world's top high-end coffee brand. In the past 30 years, Andrea and his older brothers, Riccardo and Francesco, have established the coffee roasting company founded by their grandfather as a fixture of the world's taste elite and have spread it as a symbol of Italian style in 140 countries.

Illy's single blend has become a gold standard in high-end restaurants and five-star hotels around the world. It is produced to embody an ideal that has been refined over decades: smooth, aromatic and complex espresso with minimal acidity and bitterness.

In the booming specialty coffee market of the United States, Illy occupies a singular niche at the top end of Italian imports. Its revenue of half-a-billion dollars is only a third that of Italy's leading coffee brand, Lavazza, and Illy is tiny compared with American multibillion-dollar giants Keurig Green Mountain and Starbucks. But it casts a much larger shadow than its size would suggest.

"It's the most luxurious of all coffee brands out there," says chef-partner Tony Mantuano of Chicago's Spiaggia restaurant, long considered the city's top Italian dining destination…read the full article (subscribers only)  at winespectator.com.