It shouldn’t be a surprise that this Examiner is a coffee enthusiast. In truth: a coffee snob. After all, writers in particular are hopeless coffee addicts. It’s part of the tribe’s fuel. And as a food & drink writer, there is no small amount of exploration – a quest for a “coffee nirvana,” if you will.
As part of the coffee adventure, some research was in order. First, who’s drinking all this java? The U.S. is the world’s biggest consumer of the beverage, according to a 2013 survey from the National Coffee Association with 83 percent of adults drinking coffee.
Further, coffee makers today create an important reference for the journey coffee takes from bean to cup including the land, the environment, and the farming communities and cultures that produce it.
In support of that coffee narrative, Italy’s coffee leader, illy recently unveiled their limited-edition illy cup collection, featuring artful designs from local artists who use the coffee cup as their canvas. The collection underscores the company’s commitment to coffee-growing communities and sustainable coffee production around the world. At the same time illy is also highlighting the creative artists from coffee producing countries with an opportunity to have their work seen around the world. This Examiner has been sipping delicious “deadline espresso” from her elegant gold and white illy cup for some years.
The illy Art Collection launched in 1992, “transforming an everyday object by serving as a blank canvas for more than seventy internationally renowned and respected artists including Michelangelo Pistoletto, Marina Abramović, Anish Kapoor, Daniel Buren, Robert Rauschenberg, Jeff Koons Jan Fabre, James Rosenquist, Jannis Kounellis, Julian Schnabel, Louise Bourgeois and William Kentridge,” according to illy.
This year’s new illy Art Collection is part of the bigger, illy sustainArt project linked to the upcoming EXPO Milan in 2015 and will include a total of ten cups representing the works of creative artists from emerging regions including coffee-producing countries of Ethiopia, Honduras, Costa Rica, Guatemala and others. “This cup collection is emotionally and intellectually inspiring because it represents a broad range of topics significant to the world we live in today,” said Carlo Bach, illy’s global artistic director. “The coffee cup is not just a cup for illy– it continues to be a canvas for creative ideas and a medium to communicate coffee culture and the beauty that surrounds us daily.”
The company aims to promote contemporary art and creative talent in coffee growing countries in which illy has been working. “In the firm belief that ethics, culture and beauty are indispensable sources of energy for the planet, and provides the fuel needed to guarantee a fair, sustainable future for the next generations, illy sustainArt encourages and promotes the work of artists from emerging nations.”
This year Esteban Piedra León, Naufus Ramirez-Figueroa, Elias Sime and Adan Vallecillo were the artists chosen (see artists bios below) to create a unique limited-edition collection based on the important theme of EXPO 2015: Feeding the planet, Energy for life.”
This is the second time Milan will host the Universal Exposition; it is the first time that food is the focus. The Expo 2015 theme Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life, embraces technology, innovation, culture, traditions and creativity and how these elements relate to food and diet. (This Examiner will be reporting on the momentous food and drink Expo throughout the new year.)
illy was chosen as an official partner of illycaffe EXPO 2015, designated to spearhead the creation of a “Coffee Cluster” in collaboration with the International Coffee Organization (ICO). The Coffee Cluster is one of nine themed Expo 2015 pavilions that will focus on specific foods and related subjects. It is the longest event ever focused on coffee.
In order to gain a better understanding of why illy has pursued an exuberant, enduring, artisanal celebration of coffee, this Examiner interviewed Mark Romano, illycaffè North America Senior Director Education, Quality & Sustainability, who answered the questions.
1. How long has illy been creating the illy sustainArt Collection?
These four are the first set of illy’s sustainArt cups, and we’re planning to release a set of ten within the collection. The illy art collection started in 1992 and the sustainArt project began in 2007.
2. What are the goals of the signature outreach program? How has the program been received since its introduction?
The goals of the sustainArt program is to relay a message about coffee-growing communities and sustainable coffee production around the world, while also supporting creative artists in coffee producing countries with an opportunity to have their work seen by millions of people.
Officially named the sustainArt collection for EXPO, it is one of the most prolific endeavors for an illy cup collection that will serve as “World’s Fair” collector memorabilia while also creating a legacy for the biggest event in the world dedicated to a crucial topic facing the human race, which is feeding the planet for future generations.
3. Do you expect a customer/fan to own all the collectibles?
We cannot predict what fans will do, however, based on past World’s Fair collectibles it’s realistic to assume that some fans will take advantage of owning a full set of sustainArt cups for EXPO.
4. How do you choose the artists? 6. How did illy select the emerging country artists?
The four artists were selected by the curators of illy sustainArt, a project started by illy in 2007 to expand its approach to sustainable growth to the international art community and offer creative talents from emerging countries opportunities to be seen. At the heart of the project is the www.illysustainArt.org website, which acts as a showcase for the world of contemporary art, a point of reference and a place where artists and curators can meet, exchange cultural ideas and have the opportunity to display and promote their work.
5. What will illy do for Expo 2015?
Within the EXPO’s dedicated food theme, a first for the 160-year history of World’s Fairs, 140-plus exhibiting countries will unite and inspire new solutions for the many challenges and opportunities facing the global food system and sustainable development of our planet.
illy was chosen as an official coffee partner of EXPO 2015, designated to spearhead the creation of a “Coffee Cluster” in collaboration with the International Coffee Organization (ICO). The Expo 2015 governing body’s choice to align with illy was directly tied to the Company’s passion, knowledge and extensive relationships forged within the global coffee industry over the past 80 years. The Coffee Cluster is one of nine themed Expo 2015 pavilions that will focus on specific foods and related subjects.
6. What makes illy coffee different?
illy sets the bar for high-quality coffee with unparalleled commitment to quality, technology, sustainability, education, culture and art.
For more than 80 years, illy has created an authentic Italian coffee experience through quality, aesthetics and culture. illy has been the model for global leaders in the coffee world with its uncompromising approaches and standards from bean to cup and refusal to accept anything but the highest quality Arabica beans. In its quest for an excellent coffee product, illy goes beyond the coffee beans and focuses on valuing people and ethics through sustainability and developing every coffee-growing region where it sources its beans with profound dedication to the people. illy expresses its love for art and culture, and thirst for beauty in everything that they do. In short, illy doesn’t compete with other coffee roasters around the world – it sets the standard and follows through with all things inherent to the illy brand – a passion for quality, technology, sustainability, education and overall excellence coupled with art and culture to complete the illy experience.
7. Who is your competition?
We are the smallest of the biggest – our competition is all brands that strive to the same recognition and quality that illy possesses.
8. What will illy do in terms of climate chaos and its impact on growing coffee?
At present we are monitoring it and, according to the information you can find inside the illy value report, we are training the coffee growers in order to grant the lower impact as far as the environment is concerned. Inside the value report you can find also the activities we do to reduce the impact through all the supply chain.
9. Does illy see the cost of coffee continuing to rise?
We cannot predict this, as there are many variables.
10. What is illy projected growth for coffee drinking in US?
We cannot predict the future of this but certainly coffee is growing in popularity and the latest data reveals that over 80 percent of adult Americans drink coffee.
The illy Art Collection is available in both espresso and cappuccino cups with matching saucers offered in limited edition collectibles, individually signed and numbered. They collection makes an ideal holiday and hostess gift.
Set of 4 Espresso Cups & Saucers in Gift Box: $90.00
Set of 4 Cappuccino Cups & Saucers in Gift Box: $120.00
To purchase, go to: espressamente illy cafes and online at illy USA.
sustainArt Collection Artists
The four artists were selected by the curators of illy sustainArt, a project started by illy in 2007 At the heart of the project is the www.illysustainArt.org website, which acts as a showcase for the world of contemporary art, a point of reference and a place where artists and curators can meet, exchange cultural ideas and have the opportunity to display and promote their work.
ESTEBAN PIEDRA LEÓN (Costa Rica)
Open space for thoughts, like a psychological landscape. “The artistic research for this cup was based on the concept of an ideas workshop, and balancing a series of materials, methods and ideas rather than the production of individual components. This is a starting point for experiencing space within the home and social behavior, trying to generate dialogue about and references to new places, and exploring the relationship between topography, archaeology and architecture.”
Esteban Piedra León is an artist, professor and curator. Born in Costa Rica in 1978, he has a degree in painting from the Universidad de Costa Rica, where he has been a professor in the painting department since 2003. He has had five solo shows and taken part in more than twenty group exhibitions in various countries around the world.
NAUFUS RAMÍREZ-FIGUEROA (Guatemala)
From the “zero” degree of the volcano a potential force for movement and prosperity is generated. “The cup is a kind of allegory of the rich lands in Guatemala, the ash and stone that pour out of the countries many volcanoes. These volcanoes fertilize and enrich the soil where the coffee plants grow, giving the coffee its distinctive flavor.”
Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa was born in Guatemala City in 1978, and now divides his time between Vancouver and Guatemala City. He has exhibited and performed in numerous art galleries and for public organizations. He has a degree in photography from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Emily Carr University in Vancouver
ELIAS SIMÉ (Ethiopia)
To feed someone means taking care of them physically and emotionally. Energy is the power needed to produce something. “The work on the coffee cup is a collage of goats and motherboards. The goats are realistically painted using acrylics and watercolors. The saucer is a collage of motherboards with a large coffee bean in the middle which is also painted in acrylics and watercolors.”
Elias Simé was born in Cherkos (Ethiopia) in 1968 and graduated from Addis Ababa University’s School of Fine Art and Design with a degree in graphic design. Simé finds inspiration for his works in the streets of the Ethiopian capital and has strong bonds with the communities he documents, and especially with the neighborhood children who bring him objects gathered from the street. His work focuses mainly on collages, needlework and three-dimensional sculpture. Simé lives and works in Addis Ababa.
ADÀN VALLECILLO (Honduras)
The evolution of life compared with the ripening of coffee berries. “I’ve applied my passion for Pantone to the cup starting with the stages of color that coffee berries go through as they ripen. This is combined with the idea of a graphic concept of energy for life expressed by the concentric rings.”
Adàn Vallecillo was born in Danlí (Honduras) in 1977. After studying at the National School of Fine Arts in Tegucigalpa (1995) he attended the School of Visual Arts in San Juan and graduated from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras with a degree in sociology. His career includes dozens of solo and group exhibitions and workshops in Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe and the United States of America.
illy’s sustainability practices have been anchored in its ability to have helped pioneer direct trade 25 years ago, which, in turn, incentivized farmers with guaranteed above-market prices for the farmers who met increased quality standards, while at the same time adopting best agronomical practices for sustainable coffee production. The direct trade model has been supported by initiatives including the creation of the Ernesto Illy Quality prize for Brazilian growers in 1991, which to date has provided 4 million dollars in prize money to farmers.