Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Saturday, Feb 16, 2002
Agri-Biz & Commodities
Coffee wizard's cup brims with quality
Dr Ernesto Illy, President, Illy Café, Italy.
BANGALORE, Feb. 15
Dr Ernesto Illy, President of the $106-million Illy Cafe, Italy, is a rare combination of scientist and businessman. Dr Illy holds the title of ``Cavaliere del Lavoro'', an honour awarded by the Italian Government for outstanding contribution in various fields.
Dr Illy's father started Illy Cafe, which has popularised the Espresso and Capuccino coffee varieties across the globe. He was also the first to inject nitrogen under high pressure into a packet of coffee to maintain its quality and flavour.
Dr Illy has inherited the obsession for quality. He is in Bangalore to attend the India International Coffee Festival. Business Line caught up with him during his leisure time to discuss on a variety of issues. Excerpts:
On the most important thing in coffee - quality:
We are going into the future and it is the consumer who is in charge of the future. If what we do is not in line with what he requires, it is not right.
For many years now, research has been focussed on resistance and yield. The priority for quality is lost. My message is to make quality the number one priority again. Resistance and yield are very important, but quality should be the number one priority.
On promoting coffee drinking:
Espresso and cappuccino are the way the younger population fall in love with coffee. In tea drinking areas, filter coffee cannot compete. Young people are looking for strong sensation. Our coffee (Illy's) has a very strong flavour. There is no bitterness and it has a chocolate taste.
Capuccino has better body and espresso contains less caffeine as it is prepared in 50 seconds and you have no time to dissolve the caffeine. We have approximately 60-70 per cent caffeine in it.
In Espresso arabica, there is about 55 mg of caffeine while Coke has 45 mg.
On why he doesn't think highly of robusta:
People all their life drink the same amount of caffeine. If you drink a robusta blend, the intake of caffeine quantity increases for every cup you drink. And hence, you decrease the number of cups. All this because robusta contains twice the amount of caffeine (2.5-2.9mg) than arabica (1.3 mg).
And whether this means that India should stop growing robusta?
The market will decide that.
On Indian arabicas:
Indian arabica has improved a lot. In the last 6 years since we started to come here, we have been giving farmers feedback on the result of their effort.
Most buyers just buy and give the money, nobody comments on the coffee. Very importantly, Ms Sunalini Menon, (the country's well-known coffee taster) came to our factory and learnt how we certify coffee. So when coffee is certified by Ms Sunalini, it is very good coffee.
On how much of Indian coffee is going into Illy blends:
Twelve per cent and it is growing. Growing, not only because we are growing, but also because the share of Indian coffee has been growing. In the last six years, Indian coffee has gone from minus 3 to plus 3 last year. and this year, it is 2-2.5. The figures refer to the way we, the roasters, judge the coffee cup. It is a measure of the taste, the body and the flavour.
On the idea that India has good quality coffee but is not marketing it enough:
I think the evolution in the last 5 years has improved both the quality and image of Indian coffee. Image is as important as the coffee. When there is something we see as precious, we pay a premium. Suppliers are making a wonderful effort to have the highest quality and it is expensive, to maintain good quality.
On Illy's programmes to help bring in quality at the production level:
We try to give advice to farmers on what consumer wants. Buyer usually buys at the cheapest price, and they do not tell the farmers what the consumer likes. We are trying to close the gap between the producer and the consumer so that they can modify their coffee to the wants of the consumer.
On Illy's presence in India:
We have a customer, a company called Fresh and Honest Café (an arm of the Sterling Infotech group headed by the NRI, Mr C. Sivasankaran). They are using our coffee. Both of us are happy to have each other.
On the company's future in India:
There will be a follow up. Now, this a revolution that is changing the attitude to coffee all over the world. Our biggest growing market is the Asia Pacific. We sell coffee in Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, China and Japan. So I think India will share this habit. But the most important thing is not to make the coffee bitter. If you make the coffee bitter, you don't even know what you are drinking. Bitterness is something people do not like.
On coffee and health:
There has been a change in perception of science on the effects of coffee. For many years we had a negative view from the scientific world. This was mainly due to excessive caffeine they were using in their experiments. We are looking at 1.3-1.5 milligrams per kg bodyweight of caffeine which is the ideal. If you give an animal 30 mg per kg, you do not get the right result. After many years, a group called ISIC, was able to convince the scientists to do research in the proper concentration. And they have discovered coffee is good for health.
The target organ for caffeine is not the heart. It is the brain, the area which is the seat of the `short-term memory'. This area helps us compare experiences, make the right decision, get the right inspiration and the right ideas. This is probably answering the question why students are using coffee so frequently_ because it helps them to memorise and criticise.
Second, is activation of alertness, which you need in case you are driving where you need split second reaction time, and the third is the `post lunch dip' _ when you eat, you get sluggish. Coffee can help people working in areas where attention and alertness is required.
Also, some of the components of coffee can prevent addiction by blocking endorphins released in the brain. A Brazilian scientist has convinced the Brazilian Government to introduce coffee in schools to prevent alcohol and drug additions.
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