Illy Coffee Demonstration and Tasting

Illy espresso tasting

I’ve been drinking coffee regularly for nearly twenty years. They start us early in Portland, OR, after all. I have at least five methods for brewing close at hand in my 80 square foot kitchen, including three French presses, a porcelain drip cone, a Chemex and an red-handled espresso coffee pot. There’s also my beloved cold brew method.

Illy espresso tasting

However, despite all those methods, I’m not what you’d call a coffee snob. I’m not fastidious about the freshness of my beans and I’ve been known to brew elderly pre-ground beans in a desperate moment. However, I find the art of coffee and espresso fascinating. That’s why I was delighted to attend a Illy demonstration and tasting at the new Le Meridien hotel here in Philly a couple of weeks ago.

Illy espresso tasting

The session was led by Giorgio Milos. He’s an Illy espresso expert, is a champion Italian barista and is generally more passionate about espresso and coffee than anyone I’ve ever encountered. He walked us through the history of coffee, the way it’s grown, harvested and prepared. After our coffee primer (which included lovely phrases like “coffee should be a pleasure.” Imagine it said with a thick Italian accent), Giorgio introduced us to Illy’s new brewing system, which uses plastic cartridges like so many other new methods and machines.

Illy espresso tasting

The machines we tried out didn’t require any human calibration or expertise. You simply popped a plastic capsule into the coffee hopper, turned it to the right and pushed a button. Within 60 seconds, you’d have an espresso. I loved the ease of it and can truly see the appeal. However, I am really uncomfortable with all these new capsule brewing systems, because after each cup, you’re left with a piece of plastic trash to discard. I asked a question about the sustainability of the capsules and was told they are recyclable. Still, I don’t know that I’d be okay with one in my own kitchen because of the waste factor.

That said, I was delighted to steal a little time from regular life and learn a bit more about coffee. Thanks to Le Meridien for hosting us (their house coffee is Illy) and to Giorgio for sharing his knowledge with us. Thanks to all of you for reading and letting me write about something a bit beyond my normal scope (though I’ll have you know, I frequently drink coffee from jars).

And while we’re on the subject, what’s your favorite home brewing method?

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26 responses to “Illy Coffee Demonstration and Tasting”

  1. Okay, when I saw the Illy canister, I right away had to say something. Its all we drink here in our home as far as Espresso. I was born in Italy, so to me it means a lot. There is nothing like a shot of Illy. My brother also was a distributer for Illy coffee at one time. Now he sells only his (Cafe Nico) Cafe Nico is smoother than Illy, but nothing will ever compare to the distinct Illy taste.

    Sorry……. its just so dear to me. Cant help the rambling! haha…

    I cant wait to wake up & sit with my shot of Illy! Its a beautiful thing! 🙂

  2. We always coldbrew around here. I buy two 12 ounce bags of coffee, grind it at the store, then dump into a muslin bag I’ve made and add 108 ounces of water and brew for 18 hours.

    George uses two ounces of cold brew and I use three ounces in our 12 ounce coffee mugs. Fill to the top with boiling water for fresh coffee with no waste.

    Also make cold, milky coffee in the summer.

  3. I love Illy! My aunt (who lives in Tirol) introduced me years ago.

    I have started doing a pour-over at home with a melitta…I don’t drink a lot of coffee and it’s only me so that method suits me well and makes a really good cup.

  4. I love coffee. Good coffee. Like you, I am uncomfortable with the waste the capsule/pod machines make. And, I have some concern over using plastic and heat (hot water) together. I’ve been trying hard to eliminate a lot of plastic in my life. These coffee makers don’t have a place in that plan. (I use a Chemex).

  5. It is not necessary to use a cartridge system to have ridiculouly simple and wonderful espresso, but it is a little expensive. For about $500-600, you can get a superautomatica espresso machine (Saeco makes quality ones at this price range), and it’s simple and delicious.

    If I’m not doing that, it’s usually the french press. I had a vacuum pot for a while that I quite liked, but it wasn’t mine so I left it behind when I left that particular job.

  6. I’m a bad coffee person (((hangs head in shame)))…I have a machine that uses the little plastic cups, but it was a gift from my boss for Christmas one year after he got a little single brewer and had to share with everyone in the office. It’s great coffee!

    I rationalized the expense – because it is pricy – and the seek and find for the good decaffinated kinds is tough – that I’m saving in the long run as there was always about an inch of coffee left in the pot every morning after we were done having our one cup at home and filled up the cup to take along.

    It’s also an extreme time-saver and with all I have to do in the mornings and evenings…cleaning out and setting up a coffee maker doesn’t seem like a big deal, but in the scheme of things for me, it can save loads of time.

  7. I prefer the manual drip method. I just recently got a porcelain drip cone, but for ages I have been using one of my canning funnels! Like PAWineGal, I don’t like to mix plastic and heat.

    This weekend I was talking to a couple that got one of the pod systems for Christmas. They said when they ran out of the plastic pods that came with it, they started using small paper filters and their own ground beans.

  8. I appreciate your honesty about all the disposable coffee brewing methods these days. I’m sure they make good coffee, but I too, find it troubling that they create so much unnecessary waste. Making a good pot of coffee is not hard!
    I prefer the french press, and just recently purchased this sturdy one that I just love:
    http://www.planetarydesign.us/products.html?paction=
    I grind small batches of beans about twice a week.

    I also love ‘cowboy coffee’ when we are camping.. we heat up a pot of water on the campstove to just a simmer, turn it off, add ground coffee, stir and let sit for 5 mins. then you dribble some cold water on top and the grounds sink to the bottom. It’s good and strong, perfect for a chilly mountain morning!

  9. I appreciate your comments about waste and plastic. Just because something can be recycled doesn’t mean it that recycling it is better than not producing it in the first place! I think more folks should start thinking critically about packaging and consumption, as well as fair trade and organically-grown. Ain’t no cup of coffee worth having more than a healthy, functioning ecosystem!

  10. Aerobie Aero Press! It is amazing and very compact. I bought one for work because our coffee makers there turn even the best beans bad. The coffee is so good, I bought a second one for home. I love that it makes espresso strength coffee that can be diluted or not according to my whim. I have a really lovely Italian coffee press too, but it gets a little less love nowadays because of the Aero Press.

  11. We started roasting our own beans about 5 years ago and have never looked back! Just before we did that I had purchased a new fancy drip coffee maker which we used once — then tried a French press and the new coffee maker found a new home quickly. We have an old-fashioned hand grinder that is clamped to the end of the counter and we sit every morning in the winter in front of the woodstove and enjoy really great coffee! The roasted beans make a really fresh and wonderful gift at Christmas and this year I put them in a canning jar!!!

  12. I’m sure someone else has mentioned this, but you’ll be happy to know that there are little mess basket-y things that one can use in these machines–kinda like the eternal filters for a traditional coffee maker. I’ve seen them at places like Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

    As much as these machines are awesome, I’m still in deep, passionate love with my french press. <3

  13. You know that I’m a coffee fiend, though if I was to go for stale coffee (which anything pre-packaged like Illy is), Illy is definitely the way to go. (And, Illy espresso + high-quality chocolate is how I came to like coffee in the first place.)

    VERY glad you mentioned the plastic. It really irks me that this is considered normal practice these days, and surprises me that so many people do it with no care for the environment, or even what happens when a place goes out of business or stops producing the little things.

    The most compact and waste-free way to brew: a hemp filter, a collapsible wire cone, and a carafe. It creates beautiful coffee, especially when fresh-roasted.

    And I still think we need to get you roasting.. What’s more appropriate for Food in Jars than green coffee beans that can be mixed for your pleasure? 🙂

  14. Good point about the sustainability. I hate when people say something is (theoretically) recyclable, when in reality, you can’t put it into your curbside bin.
    Our friends loaned us one of those stovetop espresso pots, like this one: I wonder how the espresso fans feel about these?

  15. I recently purchased one of those machines that uses those plastic pods. I did not buy it for the convenience of it, I bought it because I enjoy a hot fresh cup of coffee, one at a time. HOWEVER….I don’t use the plastic pods. I bought a refillable “permanent mesh” filter that works like a charm. I actually bought 2 of them. I grind my own coffee and fill them up before I go to bed. In the morning I have a perfect fresh cup of coffee in 3 minutes, make my second cup before I leave the house and I did not hurt the environment in the process. BTW, I put the coffee grounds around my roses.

    • Hi, can you direct me to where you bought the refillable filter for this machine? There are so many online but I’m not sure which one will work well without the risk of damaging the machine. I would really appreciate it. Thanks.

  16. I bought a fancy-pants yuppie espresso machine a couple Christmases ago – a woman in my neighbourhood was moving back to Toronto and sold me the machine real cheap. Her rationale was that in Toronto, unlike in St. John’s, you can actually get decent coffee in shops. It’s true – the coffee here, even in the “good” cafes, is awful. I don’t drink much coffee these days, but I love making cappuccinos for anyone who will drink them. A plus: we use the steamer arm on the machine to warm up our son’s bedtime bottle of milk. Awesome.

  17. I cold brew now and then, but here’s my tiny soapbox:

    Why does everyone use those Keurig machines with the plastic cups, and it seems I’m the only person left using the delightful Senseo machine that uses fully compostable paper pods? I like the Senseo coffee’s taste a lot more, and I like that the pods are about half the price of the Keurig ones, and I like that the waste is compostable. It’s definitely pleasant to be able to make just one cup at a time. I just get bummed out that the spot at the grocery store that used to have my Senseo pods is now almost entirely Keurig pods. I swear, it’s better coffee, and cheaper, and no plastic!

    Okay, end of soapbox.

  18. I have a drip pot for company and a French Press that used to see daily use (it still gets used often for tea or for cold brewing in the summer.) But I think hands down my favorite method is the Moka Pot, those little Italian percolators by Bialetti. While you don’t get the crema you would on an expensive machine, they make a great, consistent espresso, especially with Illy’s espresso grounds. No waste and no special skills required. I have a 3-shot and a 6-shot, plus their stovetop milk frother, and I wouldn’t be without one now.

  19. I’m with you on the waste from the capsules. Even recycled and recyclable, it bothers me because there is a carbon cost to manufacturing them, shipping them, and recycling them. We have an espresso stand at my office that uses them and it makes me cringe watching them throw them away. That being said, I still buy at least one coffee a day. :@

    I also have three of four ways to brew at hand. My Rancillo espresso machine (which is the best one of the five machines I’ve owned over the years), my french press, a 10-cup drip machine and a single cup Melita cone drip maker. I love all of them for various reason…

    I grew up in Forest Grove, OR – close enough to Portland to call it the metro area. I started drinking coffee as a teenager, long before Starbuck’s made it that far out of Seattle and haven’t looked back since!

    Thanks for the post!

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