For Andrea Illy, a cup of espresso is not a beverage. It’s a creative way of life. “It’s a total experience. And it’s poly-sensual. It involves the sight, the smell, the taste, the touch. Everything,” Illy says. As Chairman of illycaffè, the international coffee company, he sees himself as more than a businessman. He’s a chemist, a philosopher, an innovator.
Coffee culture—the café, the cup, the espresso itself—not only provides a milieu for creativity, but making and drinking espresso are creative acts in and of themselves. Using a coffee machine, smelling and grinding the beans, pouring the espresso into the right cup—for Illy, “It’s a whole ritual.” Drinking espresso integrates the cultivation of pleasure, the cultivation of creativity, and the cultivation of contemplation into one small cup.
The beauty of the cup itself, then, is elemental, and fifteen years ago, the company began to work with contemporary artists to make the cup into a canvas. “The coffee is the body, the cup is the dress. And the dress must be beautiful,” Illy says. Commissioning a series of signature, limited edition espresso and cappuccino cups, illycaffè has incorporated the work of artists such as Louise Bourgeois, David Byrne, Francis Ford Coppola, Federico Fellini, Jeff Koons, Michael Lin, Nam June Paik, Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist, and many others.
Illy’s role within LM100 is to provide this coffee experience for Le Méridien’s guests. In Illy’s native Italy, “Everybody goes to the café, and many times per day. It is the cathedral of coffee,” he says. Illy has helped Le Méridien bring this café culture into its hotels through Le Méridien Coffee Bars and Le Méridien’s “Creative Hour” coffee tastings.