The story of illy begins in 1933 in Trieste, Italy; an Adriatic port town through which coffee first entered Europe. Trieste also happens to be home to where founder, Francesco Illy, developed the internationally renowned coffee company and invented the modern espresso-machine. Today illy is known for its distinct coffee, technological innovation, and its respect for the environment in places throughout the world. Current president, CEO, and the third-generation to lead the family company, Andrea Illy, continues to write the story his great-grandfather started almost a century ago.

F. Illy

Francesco Illy, born in Hungary, arrived in Trieste after WWI. There he studied economics before finding work for himself in his home country across many major Hungarian cities from Vienna to Timişoara. Trieste beckoned him to return, however, and he moved back to the city he loved, married the woman he loved, and found work in the business of his other loves; cocoa and coffee. Soon, coffee became his sole business focus, and he founded illycaffè in 1933.

In 1935 Francesco invented the illetta, an espresso machine that made balanced espresso that was not burnt or bitter (the expectation rather than the exception). Today, the illeta is considered the blueprint for modern espresso machines, and it is recognized for its contribution to revolutionizing coffee preparation. Francesco's ingenuity also resulted in the development of an innovative packaging technique based on pressurization, which enabled illy's initial exports to Sweden and Holland during the 1940s. Francesco Illy's method remains the industry's standard for preserving and enhancing coffee freshness during transport and storage.

The 1940s also marked the introduction of the second generation of the Illy family to the company. Francesco's son, Ernesto, joined the company after he earned a doctorate in chemistry. His experience in chemistry and his passion for learning initiated illy's formal scientific and technological research efforts, which started with the development of an in-house laboratory dedicated to the chemistry of coffee. He also began forming alliances with scientific institutions from both corporate and academic sectors.


In the 1950s, Ernesto spearheaded the company's expansion into homes, selling smaller cans of ground coffee for the first time. In 1965 Ernesto moved the company to its current Via Flavia headquarters, still located in Trieste. The factory remains to be illy's only manufacturing facility and is one of the coffee industry's lowest-smoke, high-volume roasting plants. In 1974, Dr. Ernesto Illy furthered the company's lead in coffee innovation with E.S.E. (Easy Serving Espresso), which marked the first time the world was introduced to pre-portioned coffee pods. This development made it simple to prepare a premium espresso anywhere—from home to work to restaurants. ESE quickly became a universal standard, adopted by countless other coffee companies. In 1988 Dr. Illy introduced and patented a photo-chromatic means to identify the highest quality beans, one-by-one, right at the origin source. This computerized inspection of individual beans enabled illy to detect and eliminate any beans that do not meet the company's strict standards.

illy Cups

In 1980, Ernesto's son, Riccardo Illy, joins the company and begins developing its marketing, advertising, and distribution approaches, and greatly contributes to the company's expansion to new markets. In 1992, the famous white espresso cup designed by Matteo Thun was created. The espresso cup became a canvas for the creative talents of some of the world’s best contemporary artists, and the illy Art Collections are born. 1996 marked further evolution for the company when illy receives a new and improved logo thanks to the help of pop artist James Rosenquist. The new logo bares a softer, more modern look and reflects Rosenquist’s signature brushstroke style.

The work of Dr. Francesco Illy undoubtedly inspired the establishment of l'Università del Caffè (Udc; the university of coffee) in 1999. The institution; created for the advancement of coffee knowledge and attended by growers, professionals, and coffee enthusiasts alike; has now been established in over 20 locations throughout the world. When the fourth generation of the family company, Andrea Illy, came on board, the company's legacy of innovation was assured to be continued. Since gaining his position as president and CEO in 1994, Andrea has eagerly instituted and maintained a program of international expansion, ingenuity in coffee production processes, and strong corporate culture.

iperEspresso Caps

For illy, the first decade of the 21st century was characterized by the maintenance of the company’s growth and technological advancement in the world of coffee. In 2003, illy began opening their espressamente cafés which combined the authentic, Italian coffee bar experience with Italian design and aesthetics. Today there are over 200 franchises across the globe. In 2007 illy introduced the iperEspresso, a machine that advanced the capsule-based espresso technology and made a more velvety espresso with a long-lasting crema possible. illy issimo was released in 2008, and made their delicious coffee blends available anytime and anywhere. Today, the company continues to be aware of the current market, staying on top of the latest trends and, often, being the originator. In 2011 illy became the first company to earn a Responsible Supply Chain Process certification from Det Norske Veritas (DNV), one of the world’s leading industrial standards arbiters. This designation further demonstrates illy’s 20-year, industry-leading approach to sustainable coffee production, from farm to cup.

Since its establishment as a coffee company in 1933, illy has remained a leader. illy's continual strive for advancement remains evident in the consistent quality of their products and constant innovation, and has paid off in the form of international popularity. Ask discerning coffee lovers anywhere what makes them passionate about illy and, chances are, this is what they’ll say: Rich and full-bodied, yet velvety smooth; distinctly illy. You’ll hear it in 140 countries, where illy delights millions of coffee lovers at home, at fine hotels, restaurants and cafes, and at work, everyday. illy is where experience, taste, scientific curiosity, art, and culture come together to create a multidimensional and multisensory pleasure in a cup.


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