Similar to studying fine wine, the world of coffee is a blend of art and science. From bean (or rather, seed) selection to roasting, grinding, and brewing, coffee experts often spend years
absorbing the entire process, each developing complex philosophies and theories about how to procure, store, and serve this beloved brew. Travelers, too, apparently feel very strongly about their java preferences, and the hospitality industry is making enhancements to accommodate guests’ increasingly upscale and esoteric demands.
In recent years, coffee has become a major influence on hotels—from food and beverage and in-room options to the hotel lobby design—with good reason. According to the National Coffee Association, the United States is the leading coffee consumer on earth, as Americans drink 400 million cups each day—25 percent of the world’s market.
From the tiniest cup of espresso to a large cappuccino—and everything in between —the coffee culture is growing as if it were infused with a big jolt of caffeine. The Specialty Coffee
Association of America (SCAA) promotes coffee as the most popular beverage worldwide. Specialty coffee sales are increasing by 20 percent per year, and account for nearly 8 percent of the 18 billion dollar U.S. coffee market.
In light of this coffee-mania, coffee connoisseurs have specific terms to describe this modern movement, or wave. While the name “First Wave” was ushered in with supermarket brands, and the “Second Wave” introduced by Starbucks, the “Third Wave” (or “Specialty Coffee”) is a designation used to describe high quality coffee that encourages consumers to embrace a genuine appreciation of the beverage, similar to gourmet cuisine. Specialty Coffee is more sophisticated, and characterized by a superior bean quality, single-origin coffee, and direct trade. (Today, some of these cutting edge companies and coffee pros refer to an emerging “Fourth Wave” about to break onto the world of coffee and elevate the coffee experience even higher.)
More Than a Beverage
As travelers are becoming more coffee-savvy and brand-loyal, hotels are accommodating more diverse preferences. Today, most consumers view coffee as more than just a beverage to help them rise and shine in the morning.
According to Nick Bayer, president and CEO of Saxby’s Coffee Worldwide, “Coffee has become an indulgence and is expected to be palatable. But with the increased supply of higher quality coffees on the market, it needs to also be convenient and accessible.” He continues, “That I believe is a big reason for hotel operators wanting to increase the prestige and convenience of their offerings. As a hotel operator, you don’t want a guest to walk out of your building and go to a Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, etc. It is lost revenue and it keeps the guest from staying in and enjoying their hotel.”
California-based business traveler and coffee fan Ryan Craig offered his opinion during a recent trip to Cleveland, where he voiced serious disappointment about the lack of in-room coffee. “If I am staying at a high-end hotel chain, I would automatically expect coffee to be available in my room,” he said.
His wish may soon be a reality everywhere. The newest self-serve option, often appearing in the lobby or guestroom, is the popular K-cup, used with the Keurig brewing system. In addition to providing numerous coffee flavors and other options, it brews a flawless cup every time, with easy instructions attached.
Michelle Crocker, marketing director with the national hospitality amenity company, Amenity Services, points out that the K-cup system is becoming progressively more popular in hotels.
Crocker says, “It’s not a matter of ‘if,’ but a matter of ‘when’ the hotels will make the four-cup switch to either pods or K-cups. We have had an incredible response to the K-cups, and hotel chains are starting to catch onto this.”
Organic and Eco-Friendly
Today, most hotels are committed to a healthy environment, and it is no surprise that Fair Trade certified and organic coffees are considered the fastest-growing segment of the specialty coffee market. Many chains are now offering Rainforest Alliance Certified coffees, which meet strict requirements on sustainable farming that protect the environment, as well as the rights and welfare of workers, their families and communities. Some of the larger hotels that offer this coffee include Holiday Inn and Hyatt, and a number of boutique properties across the United States.
According to Crocker, “The hospitality industry realizes that being earth-friendly is an important initiative to a large percentage of their guests, and this is just another way to ensure they are doing their part.”
Bayer adds, “Fair trade and organic coffee demand is consistent with that in the food segment. It promotes quality, mindfulness and sustainability – buzz words that have been popular for years, but are really starting to now gain traction as evidenced by consumer’s buying habits. Our demand for fair trade and organic coffees is up 9 percent in 2010 and we see that trend continuing.”
A number of upscale properties are doing their best to re-create a coffee house atmosphere. Some larger hotel chains, such as Hilton and Hyatt, often have a full service Starbucks within the lobby.
Sheraton’s new lobby concept is an innovative example of the coffee-culture influencing hotel design. Called “The Link@Sheraton” this lounge area combines a social atmosphere with a specialty coffee bar and cyber-café.
Bayer points out, “Based on requests from hotel operators, as well as our own observations, branded coffee is in demand. Hotels using a high quality, reputable brand of coffee reflect well on the overall experience.”
In an effort to offer guests an authentic Italian coffee experience, the JW Marriot in Los Angeles recently opened the only signature illy Espressamente coffee bar in town, and the Ritz-Carlton in Georgetown also features illy French press coffees, along with cappuccino, espresso, and lattes with flavored syrups.
Georgetown Ritz-Carlton General Manger Grant Dipman explains, “A big trend we are noticing is a shift from traditional food and beverage offerings with a focus on higher quality beverages on the go, such as specialty coffees and teas. We’ve also noticed that our guests want quick, gourmet bites to go, so we’ve enhanced our current offerings to include a broader selection of coffee, tea, pastries, and muffins.”
Adding a final touch to the coffeehouse experience, the Ritz-Carlton also offers complimentary wireless Internet in the lobby of its property, and an Apple computer at its aptly-named “Buzz Bar.”
Jan Anderson, illy caffè’s director of on-premise marketing, says “The hotels that illy partners with, luxury hotels, understand how quality coffee and an authentic coffee culture can do more than just delight the hotel guest. It can also transform the hotel into a destination area for people who work or live nearby.”
Now surely … all GMs would drink to that!