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Take a journey into the world of coffee with a master barista. (Photo: Marriott International)

Eat + Drink

illy’s Master Barista Giorgio Milos on Coffee as Ritual and Its Origin Story

Coffee lovers can thank iconic Italian coffee company illy for inventing pre-measured espresso pods in 1974, making the brewing process accessible to people around the globe. Given this legacy, illy places extraordinary care in roasting its beans and creating and selling the perfect product. In fact, the company’s Master Barista Giorgio Milos will tell you a cup of illy espresso isn’t even a “drink” in the conventional sense.

“It’s what I like to call an elixir of coffee,” he says. “You never drink espresso because you are thirsty or because you need something hot to drink. You drink espresso for pleasure.”

In the two-plus decades since Milos began working for illy, he received his “master barista” designation and was tapped to teach at the company’s University of Coffee, which instructs coffee growers, baristas and consumers from around the globe in the art of the bean.

“The interesting fact about coffee is people enjoy it in a slightly different way in different countries,” Milos says. “But coffee is always there.”

Through master baristas like Milos, illy brings coffee expertise to Gather, A JW Epicurean & Mindful Experience, which will be held September 26 to 29, 2019, at the JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa. Among its many culinary offerings, the event allows coffee lovers to take a deep dive into the beverage’s rich culture.

Marriott Bonvoy Traveler sat down with Milos to chat about brewing the perfect cuppa, cultural traditions in coffee and Ethiopia’s coffee-drinking ceremony.

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Illy’s Master Barista Giorgio Milos demonstrates the proper pour. (Photo: Marriott International)

Coffee is said to have originated in Ethiopia. Can you tell us about the coffee culture there?

In Ethiopia, the coffee culture is very strong. I attended what they call an Ethiopian coffee ceremony, which is really fascinating. Usually only women can do this ceremony.

They roast the coffee in front of you with a metal pan. They have special jugs or containers to infuse the coffee in water. It’s called a jebena. Then they serve the coffee in small cups that reminds [me of] the espresso cups. Very little. And they are called ciene.

They call coffee in Ethiopia Kaffa bunn. Bunn describes the plant, and Kaffa describes the area in Ethiopia where coffee was discovered for the first time. So Kaffa bunn is a kind of invitation. When Ethiopian people ask you, “Would you like to have a Kaffa bunn?” it’s an invitation to enjoy this ceremony.

Also, it’s interesting that in Ethiopia, they drink a lot of espresso, and part of the country was once a colony of Italy.

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The machine in action. (Photo: Marriott International)

What are some other countries where you’ve found a strong coffee culture?

It’s very interesting to understand that different countries, very far from each other, often have strong links with tradition in coffee.

For example, I always think about how the Vietnamese or the Thai locals enjoy coffee. They drink it more on the cold side. Vietnamese coffee is iced coffee with condensed milk, ice, and some other flavors, other spices, to spice it up a little bit.

Do you think that the way people drink coffee is based on where they are?

I think there’s a strong correlation to weather. Of course, in a country where it’s always summer, there’s a tendency to drink more ice coffee, cold coffee. But also, a nice hot brew. It’s always there. Because it’s morning ritual.

South America and Central America, Caribbean islands, they also have strong European traditions. They use the stovetop mocha pot, the coffee maker. It’s very spread out, especially in South America. And also, there is a great thing in Central America and the Caribbean … they brew the coffee through mesh, and the shape of the mesh, it reminds you of a sock. It’s a filter.

But what is very important is the quality, of course. Because we know that, like in everything else, any kind of food and wine or chocolate or whatever, you can find super high-quality product or very low-quality product. And that’s very important to really understand the quality in the coffee.

How do you seek that out if you’re in another place? How do you find the perfect place to have a coffee?

Usually, if you know about the coffee scenario around the world, you’re looking for your favorite brand or your favorite kind of coffee place. And you think and you hope that you’re going to have a great cup of coffee.

I usually compare coffee and wine. There are so many things that are very similar, like varieties, terroirs, and taste and flavor profiles. [There are] different tastes and flavor profiles from different countries, and different areas of each country. The final transformation is in the hands of [the] barista. Or, if you make your coffee at home, it’s in your hand.

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Making frothy foam. (Photo: Marriott Internaitonal)

Through your work, you travel around the world, and you’ve seen many different coffee traditions. Is there one moment that stands out for you, or a trip that you took that just really for you was super memorable?

It’s the moment a couple years after I moved to [the] U.S., where I really realized that coffee is global. Italy is an espresso country, and illy is an espresso company, but we really realized that coffee’s not just espresso.

We like to say that espresso is the quintessential way to enjoy the coffee. But I realized that any kind of transformation of coffee, like making coffee with a French press or the regular American brew coffee, can be fantastic, be terrific, if you use the right methods. If you know how to make it.

And when you use high-quality beans and you know how to transform the beans into a great cup, it’s always a great experience. Experience is everything. In food, in coffee, in wine. Taste is okay. Of course, taste has to be there. But the experience is what will remain in your memories.

In this global community, we always say we are all the same. I think that it’s not true. We are all different, and we need to embrace the differences between people, between culture, between languages. And coffee is there. Coffee is something that links people together, brings people together.

The annual Gather, A JW Epicurean & Mindful Experience will be held September 26 – 29, 2019, at the JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa, and illy will be featured at the event. The festival will include a range of events and exclusive Gather Experiences catering to food, wine and mindfulness aficionados. And it will also feature the world’s leading culinary and wellness experts.