NEW YORK, U.S. – After rounds of blind tastings by an international independent jury of top culinary and coffee experts, illycaffè announced that coffee beans grown by Rwanda ’s Ngororero Coffee Washing Station, represented by Ms. Philotée Mukiza, were designated “Best of the Best” in the third annual 2018 Ernesto Illy International Coffee Award (EIICA).
The award winner was chosen from among the world’s top lots from the 2017/2018 harvests in nine countries, whose growers attended a gala at the Rainbow Room last night. A separate “Coffee Lover’s Choice” award, presented by United Airlines, was also conferred to Ms. Mukiza on behalf of Ngororero Coffee Washing Station.
Alongside Rwanda, coffee beans from Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, India and Nicaragua were chosen to compete as finalists, following intensive analysis at illy’s Quality Lab at its Trieste, Italy headquarters.
All nine finalists, spanning four continents, are ingredients in the illy blend.
“It is an honor 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.
“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 Monday, to mark International Coffee Day, illycaffè focused its efforts on honoring women coffee growers, who are responsible for nearly half of the world’s coffee production.
EIICA, named for illycaffè’s visionary, second-generation leader, 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. The jury was comprised of:
- Mark Pendergrast (Jury Mentor): a best-selling American author, Pendergrast is known throughout the coffee community 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.
- Owen Dugan: Dugan is Features Editor at Wine Spectator, widely regarded as the leading magazine for wine enthusiasts. He is considered to be among the world’s foremost experts in viniculture, bringing him naturally to his role as expert coffee juror.
- Alfio Ghezzi: Ghezzi is Executive Chef of Locanda Margon in the Trentino territory of Italy. Under his leadership, Locanda Margon became the first restaurant in the region to receive two Michelin stars, the first in 2011, the second five years later.
- Peter Giuliano: Giuliano is Chief Research Officer at Specialty Coffee Association, one of coffee’s leading industry associations. He has held nearly every conceivable job in coffee, from roaster to cupper to buyer, and is former co-owner of Counter Culture Coffee.
- Keri Goodman: Goodman is owner and publisher of CoffeeTalk Media. She has more than 25 years’ experience in the coffee industry and in coffee non-profit endeavors. She specializes in helping to make lasting and profitable connections among professionals in all facets of the industry.
- Antonia Klugmann: Klugman is among the most sensational rising stars of the northern Italian culinary scene. After apprenticing with numerous chefs, her own restaurant, L’Argine a Vencó, was soon awarded a Michelin star after opening in 2014.
- Sunalini Menon: Menon is Asia’s first female professional in the field of coffee tasting, also known as coffee cupping. She has been called “Asia’s first lady of coffee.” Formerly, Menon was director of quality control for the Coffee Board of India, and founder of her own company, Coffee Labs, in Bangalore.
- Niko Romito: Romito is a widely acclaimed Italian chef who runs the restaurant Reale in Castel di Sangro, the two Spazio bistros in Milan and Rome, and every Bulgari Hotel restaurant around the world. In just seven years, Romito earned a remarkable three Michelin stars, and is regarded as a true culinary visionary.
- Adam Sachs: Sachs is the former Editor-in-Chief of SAVEUR. Before joining SAVEUR, he wrote about food and other subjects for publications including GQ, Bon Appétit, and Details. He is a three-time James Beard Journalism Award winner.
- Ernesto Velasquez: Velasquez, an expert coffee taster, is a second-generation coffee producer hailing from San Antonio in Honduras. He is a strong advocate for maximizing profits for coffee growers worldwide to ensure they receive fair prices on the global market.
The “Coffee Lover’s Choice” award, presented by illycaffè CEO Massimiliano Pogliani on behalf of illy partner United Airlines, was determined by a demanding jury of its own: over 1,500 discerning visitors to flagship illy caffè 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 caffè shops.”
Twenty-seven grower representatives from the nine finalist countries, many visiting New York City for the first time, also participated in a coffee-specific seminar hosted by Chairman Illy and representatives from the ICO and UNIDO at the United Nations that covered topics including growing practices, business management and climate change.
Direct Trade Pioneering
EIICA is rooted in a program that illy established 27 years ago 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. Today, illy stands as one of the world’s major purchasers of top-quality Arabica coffee directly from producers, whereby many coffees continues to be purchased on commodity markets, which can guarantee neither consistent quality nor a living wage to the coffee chain’s most important stakeholders: its 25 million families of growers.