How Illycaffè Uses Art to Enhance the Coffee-Drinking Experience
For nearly 30 years, the family-owned Italian company Illycaffè has engaged leading artists to enhance the act of enjoying its world-class coffee. It releases these collaborations through the Illy Art Collection, for which various creative minds, such as Marina Abramović, David Byrne, Yoko Ono, and Robert Wilson, take a Matteo Thun–designed cup and saucer, and use it as a blank slate for original, often playful work. A recent series by graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister, for example, featured a mirror-like finish on each vessel, covering its surface with a fish-eye view of its user’s own reflection. Last week, the brand introduced its latest addition, created by Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei, who adorned espresso and cappuccino cups with bold, graphic paint splatters. The concept nods to the artist’s famed “Colored Vases” (2007–2010), made by dipping pottery from the Neolithic age in industrial paint, to alter each piece’s appearance and, in turn, its perception and reception.
For Andrea Illy, the third-generation Illycaffè chairman, the company’s ongoing initiative underscores the connection between coffee and art, and adds another sensory layer to the ritual of drinking a daily brew. “This project started implicitly because we wanted to make beauty beyond goodness, in order to make the coffee experience more communicable,” he told us on Ep. 13 of our Time Sensitive podcast, recorded in 2019. “At the end of the day, every experience is polysensual. Every sense adds to our perceptions and emotions.”