August 2012 Fla

College Grind

story and photos by Kelly Merritt


Andrew Generalao, General Manager of The Rotunda at Neiman Marcus in San Francisco, practices his drip coffee technique. Left: An illy espresso, perfectly pulled and served.

There was a time when restaurant patrons and at-home diners didn’t leave the table without a cup of coffee. It was the staple end to a civilized dinner. And as coffee surges toward a comeback as the retrofit “it” beverage, staying late for coffee and dessert is all the rage again. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, 54 percent of Americans now drink coffee every day and spend more than $40 billion on coffee annually.

Italian coffee empire illy has implemented a beverage industry “coffee college” of sorts called the Università del Caffè Coffee Expert Course. The course aims to help illy partners maintain and exceed their coffee programs and exceed diner expectations.

In the Università del Caffè classes, students ranging from bartenders to restaurateurs, servers to F&B managers engage in a two-day intensive exploration into coffee from bean to cup. The course includes tasting sessions and hands-on training in mastering the art of coffee preparation.

The classes are taught by illy’s Università del Caffè professors in conjunction with Master Barista Giorgio Milos, leaving students passionate about coffee and invigorated—and not just from the umpteen espresso tastings they enjoy throughout the class. “Attendees learn to perfect methods, learn how to recognize and fix mistakes, and most important, learn how to make the best coffee their guests have ever tasted,” says Milos.

The café at Francis Ford Coppola’s restored Inglenook Winery café exclusively serves illy coffee.

At The Cheesecake Factory, dessert and coffee are as much part of the backbone of the business as any entrée or appetizer. The company sent two of their brightest beverage minds to illy’s Università del Caffè April coffee course. One of them was Cheesecake Factory Director of Beverage and Bakery Operations Heather Berry, who was honored in conjunction with The Cheesecake Factory in the Tasting Panel’s 2009 Lifetime Achievement Awards.

“We do want to ensure that our guest has the opportunity to have the highest quality coffee or espresso with any of our signature desserts, so we are always looking to evolve our program,” says Berry. “We want our barista program to be current and on trend for what our guests may be looking for.”
illy hosts the “Coffee Expert” courses for select partners including hotels, cafés and retailers as part of the training illy provides to its clients. The next class is slated for August 7–8 at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in the wine country paradise of St. Helena, California. These partner classes, which are part of the CIA’s illy coffee education and continuing education courses, will ultimately also factor into its curriculum for CIA culinary students.  In April, illy also funded and opened The Bakery Café by illy at the CIA at Greystone, which is open to students and the public.

Northern California is becoming a stomping ground for coffee lovers, and some wineries are incorporating coffee into the mix. Francis Ford Coppola’s restored Inglenook Winery has opened a café that exclusively serves illy coffee. Inglenook managers sent two of their baristas to illy’s Università del Caffè.

Quality coffee propelled luxury retailer Neiman Marcus to send two of their food and beverage heavyweights to attend illy’s Università del Caffè at CIA. “illy is one of only a handful of the great family-run businesses catering to the top-tier customers of the world, and it is the Neiman Marcus of the coffee business,” says Kevin Garvin, Vice President of Corporate Food Services for Neiman Marcus Group, referring to Francesco Illy, who founded the company in 1933. “We hand every customer a hot beverage menu at the end of each meal. Service techs visit our places every month, and we secret shop our restaurants and review scorecards of service. No one takes the time like illy to deliver a perfect coffee.”

Baristas learn the art of the latte at illy’s Coffee Expert Course.

For Aaron Baribeau and his partner Megan Ahart, selling and serving coffee is an art they can’t afford to get wrong. The couple is opening STUDIO 1 Art Café in Monterey, CA, which will exclusively serve illy coffee. They attended the Università del Caffè Coffee Expert Course to understand how to market coffee to customers and train their staff.

“We realized after the class how high of a standard we must hold our baristas to, because they are the point of direct contact with our customers, and they must represent STUDIO 1 Art Café and our illy coffee in a positive, inviting and informative manner,” Baribeau says.

For more information on the illy Università del Caffè Coffee Expert Course at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, go to   

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