The London Times today published a business section interview of Andrea Illy, the head of IllyCaffè: The original Mr Bean – Times Online.

More of a financial/business article, it discusses Illy’s role in the world of specialty coffee — touching on Illy’s technical innovations (some of them regrettable, IMO), brand positioning, and even Mr. Illy’s belief that Fair Trade is “a marketing business” with an unsustainable system that doesn’t reward quality (Illy follows more of the Direct Trade model). And while Illy isn’t gunning to dilute themselves like Starbucks, they have significant expansion plans in mind — whether to compete with Nestlé over the coffee pod market or to expand into the high-end café market with Espressamente.

For the past few days here in Alba, Italy, I’ve been sampling a number of the notable local offerings: from Antico Caffè Calissano and Pasticceria Bar Cignetti (each of whom serve Alba’s local MoKafè), to Vincafè (and their use of Asti’s SlowFood-friendly Caffè Torrefazione Ponchione), to Alba’s installation of Casa del Caffè Vergnano 1882 (selling on-site roasting of Caffè Vergnano beans), and to the many local dining establishments that serve that home province king, Lavazza. The espresso is solid and quite good just about anywhere here. However, the best I’ve had thus far in this gourmet-food-obsessed town comes from the Gambero Rosso-honored, locals-only Ben Tivoglio Cafè that — surprise, surprise — serves Illy under heavy branding. There’s often something about Illy if it doesn’t have to leave the continent.

More for a future post…