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United by Coffee at the 2nd Illy International Coffee Awards in New York

“Best of the Best” winner José Abelardo Díaz Enamorado from Honduras (gold cup), along with “Coffee Lovers Choice” winner Juan Carlos Alvarez from Costa Rica. Photo courtesy of Illycafé

When speaking of the famed Illy coffee blend, Illycafé Chairman Andrea Illy often turns to the analogy of a symphony orchestra, in which each type of instrument combines its distinct sonic characteristics with the others to ultimately create something cohesive, elegant, balanced and appropriately intense.

As the conductor in this analogy, Trieste, Italy-based Illycafé recently brought together 27 of its top producer partners, along with delegates from the nine producing countries they represent, for the second annual Ernesto Illy International Coffee Award program, designed to recognize and celebrate the individual contributions of the players who make Illy’s espresso blend possible.

Photo courtesy of Illycafé

The event included an awards celebration at the UN Headquarters in New York City — a fitting setting for such an international celebration — along with an evening gala at the New York Public Library, where it was announced that the “best of the best” winning coffee was produced by the farm of José Abelardo Díaz Enamorado and his wife, Daysi Clemencia Reyes, in the Erandique region of Honduras. Additionally, a “Coffee Lovers Choice” award, based on voting over the weekend at the New York Food & Wine Festival, was awarded to Juan Carlos Alvarez from Costa Rica.

The top coffee from each country represented was made available for espresso tastings. Photo courtesy of Illycafé

All of the nine finalist coffees — the top-scoring coffees from each of the nine countries represented in the event, as blind-judged by a panel that day — will be made available as single-origins at select Illy retail locations in the coming year, according to the company, while all nine countries will be represented in the core Illy espresso blend.

The awards program itself is an extension of a program the company launched nearly three decades ago in Brazil called Premio de Qualidade do Cafè para Espresso. During the daytyime presentation, Andrea Illy said that the Brazilian program allowed the company to eventually purchase 100 percent of its coffees directly from Brazilian producers, which was a foundational step in the company becoming a forebear of “direct trade” as it is now known.

Photo courtesy of Illycafé

The company says that today it purchases “nearly” 100 percent of its coffee direct from producers at a guaranteed premium over market price averaging 30 percent.

Sitting in the Delegates Dining Room of the UN Headquarters or in the lavish confines of the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Scharzman building to celebrate coffee, it can be difficult to reconcile what are generally perceived to be diminishing or zero profits earned these days among millions of coffee farmers throughout the world. Yet it’s also clear that Illycafé and its chairman — an outspoken proponent of advancing sustainability in the coffee sector — have long recognized the inherent market-unsustainability of arabica solely traded through the commodities market.

Photo courtesy of Illycafé

Andrea Illy maintained that the success of the current and future global market is predicated upon quality, and that quality is predicated upon sustainability. A major piece of that sustainability puzzle, Andrea Illy said, is economic viability for the world’s producers of coffee.

“For the past 25 years now, coffee has really been de-commoditized, and thanks to this, there are now more than two-and-a-half times more drinkers in the world — 1.5 billion drinkers in the world now, compared to maybe 600 million 20 years ago,” Andrea Illy told the group at the UN. “Of course coffee coffee growers are at the very beginning, the first link in coffee of a long value chain, so that means that they only get 10 percent of the aggregated value of the longer coffee chain, which is about 200 billion, so coffee growers get 20 billion. But the higher the aggregated coffee value chain, the more money will be going to growing countries, which are also investing a lot in order to become better in quality, productivity and resilience to climate change.”

Anna Illy with guest emcee, cookbook author and television personality Katie Lee. Photo courtesy of Illycafé

Andrea and Ernesto Illy Foundation President Anna Illy also stressed that another goal of the event is to tear down walls between various actors throughout that value chain, particularly among producers and consumers, the two groups of people farthest apart along the chain, yet the most integral in terms of coffee market success.

Said Andrea Illy, “What we really want to do is put consumers in touch with growers, and vice versa.”

Andrea Illy. Photo courtesy of Illycafé

Here is a list of all the individual producers celebrated in this year’s 2017 Ernesto Illy International Coffee Awards:


  1. Mr. Ruggero Pisa Simonini Spada, Fazenda Tecad
  2. Ms. Juliana Tytko Armelin, Fazenda Terra Alta
  3. Mr. Rafael Marques de Araujo, Corrego da Serra


  1. Mr. Chacko Thomas, Tata Coffee Ltd / Nullore Estate
  2. Mr. H S Dharamraj, Geetha Estate
  3. Mr. Najeeb Ansar Noor, Kesavinahakloo Estate


  1. Ms. Teresa Ascanio Gutierrez, Cooperativa de Caficultores del Catatumbo Ltda
  2. Ms. Bibiana Inés Mena Criollo, Finca La Cumbre
  3. Ms. Luisa Fernanda Trujillo Rodríguez, Plan Cafetero para Calidad y Sostenibilidad

Costa Rica

  1. Mr. Juan Carlos Alvarez, Coopeatenas R.L.
  2. Mr. Warner Quesada Elizondo, Coope Sabalito R.L.
  3. Mr. Johnny Marin Badilla, Marespi


  1. Mr. Pablo Arturo Chuy Flores, Peña Blanca
  2. Mr. Jorge Luis Fernandez Marroquin, Finca La Pastoría
  3. Mr. Luis Fernando Pivaral Aguilar, Finca La Sonrisa


  1. Mr. Elvin Eliutt Alaniz Rayo, Proyecto Lift
  2. Mr. Juan Angel Zeledon Pineda, Finca La Florida
  3. Mr. Jose Barcenas Levy, Finca Cabo Azul


  1. Mr. Alemayheu Dagne Fettene, Tracon Trading PLC
  2. Ms. Seada Shifa Abaye, Asma International Business PVT Ltd Company
  3. Mr. Yismashewa Seyoum Belachew, Seid Yassin PLC


  1. Mr. Jean Bosco Ngabonziza, Rusizi (Coffee Washing Station)
  2. Mr. Tumwamini Ndamwemera Jean Paul, Liza (Coffee Washing Station)
  3. Mr. Faustin Nhzabarakize, Mashesha (Coffee Washing Station)


  1. Mr. José Abelardo Díaz Enamorado, Finca Ojo de Agua
  2. Mr. Luciano Bonilla Romero, Finca Los Bonilla
  3. Mr. José Angel Ramos Castro, Finca El Gallito