Americans take their coffee seriously, and it’s the rare town without a coffee house. Many specialty coffee roasters credit Starbucks with raising the bar and generating awareness of better grades of coffee.
Perhaps the biggest purveyor of specialty coffee to the hotel food & beverage industry is S&D Coffee of Concord, North Carolina. The family-owned company, established in 1927, purchases green coffee, roasts it, and packages it for the foodservice industry under either the S&D or Barnie’s label.
Tom Robinson, S&D’s VP of national accounts, says, “There is a definite trend throughout the foodservice industry to upgrade to coffees considered specialty or gourmet blends.”
Barnie’s includes blends like Thunderbolt, one of its top-sellers to the hotel industry, and varietals such as Kenyan AA and Costa Rica Tarrazu. With Barnie’s, S&D has had success providing coffee kiosks to upscale hotels.
S&D helps support hotels that, says Robinson, “have a special need for marketing an upscale coffee program to guests” by delivering equipment to properly prepare and serve those coffees and by training staff.
According to Robinson, hotels are offering more than one coffee choice for guests at banquets, in their concierge or frequent guest lounge, or via coffee kiosks. “The guest expects a better cup of coffee away from home than what they prepare in their own kitchens,” he says. “Every hotel group we work with is striving to find a coffee that meets the expectations of their customer base and an additional upscale blend of coffee that attracts and satisfies the more sophisticated consumer.”
While regional differences exist, Robinson says there is a universally liked cup of coffee: “A good rich cup of coffee works across the entire country … any coffee that meets the gold cup standard of the Specialty Coffee Association of America is a great cup of coffee no matter where you drink it.“
All coffees sold under the Barnie’s label meet the gold cup standard and S&D is introducing a line of specialty coffees in April to meet or exceed that criteria.
“If someone drinks Folgers or Maxwell House they’re less likely to become one of our clients than if they drink Starbucks,” says Jason Burton, marketing manager of the Roasterie in Kansas City, Missouri.
The Specialty Coffee Association of America claims that specialty coffee, “grown only in ideal climates and prepared according to exacting standards … possesses a richer and more balanced flavor than mass-produced coffee.”
In response to customer demand, more hotel restaurants work with specialty roasters.The Roasterie’s biggest seller to hotels is Kansas City Blend, which makes visitors feel they’re drinking something unique to the region. A blend of Colombian, Javan, and Costa Rican coffees, KC Blend is a “nice all-around, round cup” with a “safe profile.” By “safe,” Burton means not too acidic, noting that more people tend to like lighterroast coffees, mistakenly thinking darker roasts have more caffeine.
All of the Roasterie’s coffees are air roasted the day they’re ordered, and are from Arabica versus lesser-quality Robusta beans. The company doesn’t work far from the Kansas City region, says Burton, preferring to focus on consistent quality and freshness. He adds that their beans are more expensive than mass-produced coffee, but on par pricewise with a company like Starbucks.
Rick Peyser, director of social advocacy and public relations with Waterbury, Vermont-based Green Mountain Coffee, says the company has hospitality packages that include “Our Blend” and “Colombian Green Mountain Decaf,” nondairy creamer, sugar, and stir sticks designed for inroom use. The company also supplies several hotels and resorts with freshly roasted and ground packages, premeasured in a variety of sizes, including many flavored coffees, as well as Fair Trade and Organic certified coffees.
While Burton claims most hotels aren’t concerned with the political correctness of their coffee, Peyser says Green Mountain’s Fair Trade line (which promises to put more profits back in the hands of the growers) is expanding almost three times faster than its conventional line of coffees, and several hotels buy it. Xanterra Parks and Resorts, the operator for national parks like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, serves Green Mountain’s Fair Trade and organic certified coffees in many of its locations.
Green Mountain also supplies hotels with the Keurig Single-Cup brewing system, which brews a fresh cup of coffee in 30 seconds. Often kept in lobbies for guests, the single-cup system is perhaps the fastest-growing brewing trend in the specialty coffee industry, claims Peyser: “It is easy to use, brews a great cup of coffee, and requires little clean-up.”
America’s nascent coffee culture has created greater awareness and even snobbery about what constitutes a good cup of coffee. “There are people who pay anything for a great cup of coffee,” says Robinson. “However, I would suggest it requires special coffee, special service, outstanding atmosphere, and a great presentation to charge more than $2.95 per cup.”