Università del Caffè illy: history and evolution of the Trieste school of coffee

Jan 20 2017, 12:00 | by Michela Becchi

Born in '99 in Naples and then relocated to Trieste, the university is still housed in the company’s HQ. Since then, over 25 branches have opened worldwide, each focussing on spreading quality coffee culture. This is the story of Università del caffè illy, as told by one of its founders, Moreno Faina. 

Barista school

Espresso, cappuccino, latte macchiato, caffellatte, marocchino and much more. The barista position requires preparations and moves that are repeated hundreds of times in a day. But behind each extraction there are as many failed attempts, tests, experiments, books read, calculations, proportion studies. A professional barista is first and foremost a passionate student, a researcher – and the work that goes into artisanal products requires technique, exercise and precision.

For this reason, Italy is seeing an increase in barista training schools, both in independent businesses as well as small roasters. But there’s more… 


Before anyone else, 18 years ago, Università del Caffè illy was born. Initially in Naples and then moved to Trieste, and now present in 25 foreign countries. The Trieste coffee behemoth doesn’t need further introduction: founded in 1933 by Francesco Illy, the brand is now in the hands of the third generation. For decades the family coffee has been brewed in Italian households.  

But illy is not merely a roaster, it is first and foremost an enterprise, one committed to spreading quality coffee culture via training programs, schools, hosting events, solid and well-aimed marketing strategies and the will to train professional baristas and influence awareness in consumers. 

The first Naples school and the branches abroad

In 1999 Ernesto Illy decides to launch a place where people can discuss coffee and illustrate what happens to the bean from harvest to cup, through botanical studies, concepts of farming, chemistry, physics. Università del Caffè first opens on Naples, with the help of professors borrowed from Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II, the city’s preeminent university. “Our company has always approached training and schooling, even before the school was opened”, says Moreno Faina, director of the university. He continues: “We started teaching classes on coffee in Brazil, directly on the coffee plantations, speaking exclusively to the producers”; in time that approach proved to expand and become wider and more complex “so Ernesto decided to extend the courses to consumers and amateur baristas in Italy as well”.

Three years later, in 2002, the University is moved to Trieste, where the company HQ is located. The school’s structure starts growing and gaining momentum: “We opened classes to everyone and developed 16-17 different subjects”. More and more people sign up and the lessons increase in number, so illy decides to open branches abroad, from South Korea to China, in the Netherlands, India, Brazil, Egypt, Germany, reaching all latitudes. “There are currently 25 University branches around the world, all sharing the same credo: spreading quality coffee culture to different targets, from professionals to coffee lovers”. 

The docents

We coach the docents ourselves and they are trained in our University, plus we work with outside professionals” This is what happens in Trieste at least. “Abroad the teachers are fewer in number and attend refresher courses we conduct three times a year”. In addition, “We recently launched a very interesting project Honduras with the El Zamorano university: a conference on extraction methods”, illy sealed a deal with the university in 2016 to introduce the topic of coffee in the Universitad Panamericana’s syllabus. The school already offers higher education to farms and agriculture industry businesses. “During the conference the ex-students of the Master taught the docents of each new branch, with workshops in the cropland”. This kind of exercise had already been tested in the base module both in Brazil and in Costa Rica. 

The courses

Courses are available for amateurs and professionals alike, but are equally open to connoisseurs and coffee aficionados. The 101 course is Maestro Barista, followed by the next tier, Caffè Specialist, Business Management and Gastronomic Creativity, with workshops held by master pastry chef Luigi Biasetto, with whom the illy brand has collaborated for the past 2 years in the Espressamente illy network, a series of high quality coffee bars that focus on pairing the flavour of espresso coffee with fine dining and pastry art, both in Italy and abroad. There are in addition also courses on measuring, with on-demand bespoke courses and classes for baristas and coffee bar owners, “these are often held directly in the actual coffee bars”. Last but not least “we’ve been recently bringing attention to pour over and filter brewing extraction methods, for which there is increasing demand and appreciation”. 

The master's degree

Another whole different issue is the Master in Economics and Science of Coffee Ernesto Illy, first ever 2-level master dedicated to the world of coffee and issued by Università del Caffè with the support of Fondanzione Ernesto Illy, in collaboration with Università di Trieste, Università di Udine, SISSA – Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati di Trieste, CBM – Consorzio di Biomedicina Molecolare and Industrial Coffee District Provincia di Trieste. “The master is aimed at Business, Agriculture, Engineering, Political Sciences, Mathematics and Physics Majors” and conducted in English language.

Events and branding

Lessons for professionals and aficionados are held in the Trieste location, or on rotation in the various teaching structures, or in conference venues during specific events. “Our collaborators schedule courses all over Italy. We are always present at events with our stand, spreading basic coffee notions with workshops and practical demos, like with the coffee cluster at Expo2015”. Thanks to events like these and through wise marketing and branding we can target awareness in consumers. “There is still a lot to be worked on in Italy, but a very interesting and solid movement is forming. There are many training schools operating well – it is essential to train baristas properly – but we have to firstly focus on consumers”. Only a passionate and versed customer will demand a certain quality standard, “it’s the customer that is the driving force behind this entire business sector”. 

Future projects

In 84 years illy has managed to set quality standards that are appreciated all over Italy. It has created a solid brand worldwide and has become the leading Italian espresso make. This success has not stopped the constant evolution of the brand, the risks taken and the desire to grow and improve, taking a bet with big investments and constantly upping the offer and keeping up with the times. For the future illycaffè has more news. For example, “an aromatic kit for coffee. It works like for wine studies: kits that help students understand and compare aromas present in each coffee cup. To craft these we started from scratch”. The aromatic components in each kit are 16, “plus one, the aroma of roasted coffee beans”.

The internationalization process launched years ago is equally unstoppable: the company continues to analyse and study foreign markets. “Currently though we are not interested in quantity, rather in quality”, says the Director, “and we’re in talks with new branches abroad. We’re currently focussing on major markets”. While continuing to work on recipe development, hosting courses, managing reservations and improving every day.

All while “strengthening our foundations and never forgetting where we started at”. 

Università del Caffè illy | Trieste | via Flavia, 110 | tel. 800 821 021 | www.unicaffe.com

by Michela Becchi
translated by Eleonora Baldwin

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