Female Producer Takes Top Honours in 2018 Ernesto Illy Int’l Coffee Award

Coffee beans grown by Rwanda’s Ngororero Coffee Washing Station, represented by Philotée Muzika, were designated “Best of the Best” in illycaffè’s third annual Ernesto Illy International Coffee Award (EIICA). The award winner – the first female coffee producer to receive the honour – was chosen from among the world’s top lots from the 2017-18 harvests in nine countries, whose growers attended a gala at the Rainbow Room in New York City on 4 October. A separate “Coffee Lover’s Choice” award, presented by United Airlines, was also conferred to Muzika on behalf of Ngororero Coffee Washing Station, marking the first time both honours were bestowed upon one coffee lot in the history of the EICCA.

Alongside Rwanda, coffee beans from Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, India and Nicaragua were chosen to compete as finalists, following analysis at illy’s Quality Lab at its Trieste, Italy headquarters. All nine finalists, spanning four continents, are ingredients in illy’s proprietary blend.

“It is an honour and a pleasure to recognize Ngororero Coffee Washing Station and Ms. Muzika for their achievement, and that of all of our finalists, who are focused on producing the highest-quality coffee through sustainable methods,” said Andrea Illy, chairman of illycaffè during the award ceremony. “This week celebrates an even greater theme, and that is the enormous dedication, pride and talent of the world’s 25 million coffee-growing families, who fill our cups, and replenish our souls, every day.”

On 1 October, to mark International Coffee Day, illycaffè focused its efforts on honouring women coffee growers, who are responsible for nearly half of the world’s coffee production.

EIICA, named for illycaffè’s visionary, second-generation leader, Ernesto Illy, celebrates his company’s hand-in-hand work with farmers for the past 27 years to realize his dream of offering the best coffee to the world, and his commitment to improving the well-being of the world’s coffee growers.

Prior to last night’s gala, emceed by Ted Allen, host of Food Network’s Chopped, Chopped Junior and The Best Thing I Ever Ate, a panel of tasting, culinary and coffee experts from around the world took on the task of choosing this year’s “Best of the Best” bean, based on criteria including aromatic richness/complexity, balance/elegance and aroma intensity/strength in a series of blind tastings. The jury included: Mark Pendergrast, author (Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How it Transformed Our World, and Beyond Fair Trade: How One Small Coffee Company Helped Transform a Hillside Village in Thailand); Owen Dugan, features editor at Wine Spectator (who is considered to be among the world’s foremost experts in viniculture); Peter Giuliano, chief research officer at the Specialty Coffee Association (and former co-owner of Counter Culture Coffee); Sunalini Menon, Asia’s first female professional in the field of coffee cupping (and the former director of quality control for the Coffee Board of India); as well as Michelin-starred chefs: Alfio Ghezzi, the executive chef of Locanda Margon in the Trentino territory of Italy, and Niko Romito, acclaimed Italian chef (runs the restaurant Reale in Castel di Sangro, the two Spazio bistros in Milan and Rome, and every Bulgari Hotel restaurant around the world).

The “Coffee Lover’s Choice” award, presented by Massimiliano Pogliani, CEO of illycaffè, on behalf of illy partner United Airlines, was determined by a “jury” of over 1,500 discerning consumers who visited flagship illy café locations in Kuala Lumpur, London, Milan, Paris and San Francisco, and at special events in Athens and New York City, all of whom tasted coffee prepared from the same beans as for the expert jury.

“It all starts with the unique illy blend, developed consistently year after year, that gives us deep knowledge of the coffee origins combined with our direct trade model that works closely with coffee growers to produce the highest quality Arabica beans,” said Pogliani. “Next year, we plan to continue expanding our Authors’ Notes program, an exclusive experience for illy fans that centers around tasting and purchasing the nine finalist coffee lots from the 2018 awards at our illy café shops.”

Twenty-seven grower representatives from the nine finalist countries, many visiting New York City for the first time – and for some, it was the first time ever leaving their home countries – also participated in a coffee-specific seminar hosted by chairman Illy and representatives from the International Coffee Organisation (ICO) and UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organisation) at the United Nations that covered topics including growing practices, business management, climate change, sustainability, closing the gender gap and megatrends impacting the coffee industry.

In his presentation, head of operations at the ICO, Gerardo Patacconi, noted that the decline in coffee prices has led to increased poverty, which has caused migration and social unrest, which in turn has resulted in farmers making less investments in and improvement to farms, or abandoning coffee production all together. “In the short term, the livelihoods of coffee growers are in jeopardy,” he said. “Long-term, the future viability of the world coffee sector is in question.”

EIICA is rooted in a program that illy established 27 years ago in Brazil, originally called Premio de Qualidade do Cafè para Espresso, that drove illy’s transformation to a company that today purchases nearly 100 percent of its coffee beans directly from producers able to meet its exacting quality standards, at a guaranteed premium over market prices averaging 30 percent. The EIICA was first held in New York City in 2016.

For more information, visit www.illy.com.

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