Illy Recognizes Top Producers at New York City Event

At the second-annual Ernesto Illy International Coffee Award gala, the internationally known company gives its “Best of the Best” award goes to Honduras’ José Abelardo Díaz Enamorado.


Photos by Robin Marchant for illycaffè

On October 16, coffee growers and enthusiasts from all over the world gathered in New York City for the second Ernesto Illy International Coffee Award, hosted by the world-renowned illycaffè. The award aims to recognize excellence in sustainably produced coffee of the highest quality; it was formally presented at a festive gala that celebrated and highlighted the achievements of all the producers who had traveled near and far to be there.

The illy award traces its origins to a program the company established nearly three decades ago in Brazil that was originally called Premio de Qualidade do Cafè para Espresso. It was this program that helped drive illy’s vision and commitment to purchase nearly 100 percent of its coffee directly from producers who are able to produce coffee to illy’s exacting standards of quality, at a guaranteed premium over market prices averaging 30 percent. The award as it stands today continues in the tradition of the original program.

José Abelardo Díaz Enamorado of Finca Ojo de Agua in Honduras received the “Best of the Best” award at Monday’s event.

A selective jury selected the winning coffee from nine options, all from a different coffee-producing country: Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Nicaragua, and Rwanda. The producers representing their coffees and, by extension, their countries, traveled all the way to New York for the daylong event in the hopes of receiving this distinctive honor.

The nine coffees were narrowed down from an original field of 27, with three coffees from each country analyzed and selected by the evaluative taste experts at illy’s quality lab in Trieste, Italy. While all nine coffees from the event will be a part of illy’s signature blend this coming year, they will also be available to consumers for purchase as single-origin coffees at select illycaffè locations.

Andrea Illy, chairman of illycaffè, addresses the crowd at the Ernesto Illy International Coffee Award gala.

Earlier in the day leading up to the gala, a jury of nine coffee professionals and chefs came together at the United Nations to taste, evaluate, and deliberate over the nine coffees. Criteria for selecting the winning coffee included aromatic richness/complexity, balance/elegance, and aroma intensity/strength. The jury was guided by illy’s head of research and development, David Brussa, along with Giorgio Milos, illy’s master barista for North America. Jury members included best-selling author Mark Pendergrast (known for his books 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); chef Caterina Ceraudo of Michelin-starred restaurant Dattilo in Italy; Fernando Arturo Osorio Rodriguez (director of quality at Colombia’s Almacafe S.A.–FNC and an appointee to the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation); Ansha Yassin Suileman (Ethiopia-based managing director for CO QUA Trading Plc.); and other highly esteemed and internationally acclaimed professionals in the worlds of coffee and food.

Monday’s gala brought together producers from nine countries to hear the announcement of the Ernesto Illy International Coffee Award winner.

Additionally, Andrea Illy and Max Pogliani hosted a workshop for all 27 growers (plus their teams!) who had traveled to New York. The workshop aimed to highlight trends in the coffee industry and included a discussion led by Andrea Illy about illy’s Global Adaptation Plan for addressing climate change.

This year, the award for “Best of the Best” went to José Abelardo Díaz Enamorado of Finca Ojo de Agua in Honduras. Panelists described his coffee as having a “lively acidity” with flavor notes of chocolate, dried fruit, and caramel, as well as a “velvety taste and soft body” with a “smooth finish.” In 1966, José and his wife, Daysi Clemencia Reyes, began planting coffee in their village of El Chimizal in Honduras’ Erandique region—beginning only with an initial area of 3.5 acres. It was incredible moment for them to see many years of careful, hard work pay off.

The daylong event at the New York Public Library also included a workshop from illy leadership about trends in the coffee industry.

“It is an honor and a pleasure to recognize Mr. Díaz Enamorado for his achievement, and that of all of our finalists, which is nothing less than producing the highest-quality coffee in the world through sustainable methods,” said Andrea Illy, chairman of illycaffè, presenting the award.

Additionally, a “Coffee Lovers Choice” award, determined by blind tastings by consumers and sponsored by United Airlines, was also presented. This award was given to Juan Carlos Alvarez of Coopeatenas R.L. in Costa Rica.

The gala, hosted in the beautiful New York Public Library, was a celebratory and festive affair. Two Nuova Simonelli Aurelias were set up in the back of the reception hall so that after dinner attendees could taste the winning coffees as espresso (as well as enjoying tiramisu made with illy espresso!). Servers walked around with trays of mini biscotti to enjoy with the espresso, which gave the otherwise international-feeling coffee event a distinctly Italian feel.

The event was emceed by Katie Lee, a celebrity chef and cookbook author, and the gala concluded with lively dancing featuring music from Latin America.

Liz Dean has been working in the coffee industry for seven years. She currently works as the regional manager for the Wing, where she oversees all-women’s co-working and community spaces (including full-service cafés) in New York City (and soon D.C.!). She also serves on the Barista Guild of America’s executive council and as the vice chair of the events committee. Liz is passionate about using her work to develop and empower the teams she works with in order to create and cultivate inclusive, welcoming community spaces.

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