One Cup At A Time: Musings About Airline And Hotel Coffee

One Cup At A Time: Musings About Airline And Hotel Coffee

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In this post I wanted to talk about something I’m passionate about — good coffee. I travel a lot, I’m often jetlagged, and I’m an early riser, so I’m going to keep this focused on the core of the blog, and talk specifically about good airline and hotel coffee (which on the surface seems like an oxymoron, since you’ll usually get the best coffee at local cafes).

The thing is, there’s such massive variance in terms of quality when it comes to airline and hotel coffee, so I think it’s a fun topic to address. Let me note upfront that I don’t claim to be an expert on coffee, and I suspect a lot of people will strongly disagree with my preferences, and they’re every bit as right as I am (or maybe even more right).

Still, I’ll share what makes me happy with airline and hotel coffee, and then I’m curious to hear what OMAAT readers think, or if you even care about coffee when traveling.

For me coffee is ritualistic

For me the importance of coffee goes way beyond caffeine — for me drinking coffee is ritualistic.

When I’m at home, my most productive hour is the very first one, where I’m sitting at my desk with a cup of coffee next to me. There’s just something about the experience that I look forward to every day. Often it’s the little things in life that make us happy, and my morning coffee ritual is one of those things.

Is it logical? Probably not. But it’s one of those little joys in life, and something I care about way more than I should.

Coffee is even more important when traveling

My morning coffee makes me so happy at home, but in my opinion it’s even more important when traveling.

First of all, to me there’s all the more need for coffee when on the road and jetlagged. I’m a very early riser no matter where in the world I am, so the value of that first cup of coffee is all the greater when it’s 5AM in a new environment.

Second of all, it can often be tough to be productive when on the road, and like I said above, coffee is ritualistic to me. Having a cup of coffee next to me somehow puts me in the mindset to be productive.

Whether I’m waking up in a hotel or am waking up on a plane, I look forward to that first cup of coffee. Yeah, it really is that important to me… maybe this blog should actually be called One Cup at a Time?

A little bit of coffee effort goes a long way

That gets me to the main point of this post. I’ve long argued that hospitality happens at the margins. Often it’s the little things that stand out to me most about a hotel stay or flight, or that I remember long after I’ve returned home.

For me coffee is one of those things. If an airline or hotel has a really great coffee experience, that’s very likely going to be one of the first things that comes to mind when I think about the airline or hotel.

More concretely, what impresses me?

What I look for in hotel coffee

For me hotel coffee is about ease of having access to it, and quality. The first thing I love is when hotels make it easy to get coffee early in the morning.

I’m not opposed to using in-room coffee machines, but the problem is that:

  • Often the machines aren’t cleaned very well, and/or don’t work properly
  • Sometimes the pods aren’t refilled correctly during a stay, so you run out (and you might not notice until you want your first cup)
  • The quality of the coffee varies significantly; Nespresso is pretty good, while some other hotels use much lower end machines and pods
  • Sometimes the only option for milk or cream is a powdered creamer, and at that point I don’t bother
In-room coffee can do the trick

For me the ideal setup is complimentary coffee in the lobby for early risers (and ideally actually for early risers — we’re not talking coffee starting at 7AM).

I appreciate complimentary coffee in the lobby

As an alternative, I’ll seek out an airport hotel that has some sort of proper coffee shop in the lobby, especially if it has extended hours. Several Heathrow hotels have this, for example, and I sure do appreciate it.

Some airport hotels have proper coffee shops

Then of course there’s coffee quality. I’m always disappointed when I stay at a nice luxury hotel, only to find out that their coffee and espresso-based drinks aren’t great. C’mon now!

I’m very happy at breakfast when espresso-based drinks are made by a barista rather than a machine. At a “true” luxury hotel I sort of expect that it will be made by a barista, while at a non-luxury hotel I don’t expect it, but am delighted when it happens.

A nicely presented smooth cappuccino makes my day.

A great airplane themed cappuccino

Conversely, a bitter and watery one makes me… bitter.

Also, while it’s not ideal, I do appreciate club lounges when it comes to easy coffee access. While they usually “only” have machines with bleh coffee, at least you have easy and free access to it all hours of the day, which is better than nothing.

Club lounges can be a great place to grab a cup of coffee

Fogo Island Inn is one of my favorite hotels in the world, and one of the first things that comes to mind when I think of the property is the daybreak basket (okay, the truth is that the amazing people are the first thing that comes to mind, but this is a close second).

Every morning the hotel places a basket in front of your door with a pot of coffee, freshly squeezed juice, and warm scones. How much can this really cost the hotel to do? Maybe a couple of bucks. But it literally rocks my world, and leaves a lasting impression. When I’m having dinner at Fogo Island Inn I’m already thinking about the daybreak basket. Heck, I’m thinking back longingly on this right now, and I haven’t visited in years.

Fogo Island Inn morning basket

I also appreciate luxury hotels that offer complimentary coffee or tea delivered to your room. For example, this is a standard for St. Regis, though policies vary — some properties only offer it to suite guests, some only offer it once a day in the mornings, etc.

St. Regis offers complimentary butler service coffee

What I look for in airline coffee

For me, airline coffee is about quality, variety, and presentation. Let’s be honest, in general the drip coffee on airlines isn’t going to be good, given that they’re using water from the plane’s tanks, and they’re often not using great beans.

I am happy when airlines have espresso based drinks. Of course they’re not all created equal. ANA’s first class cappuccinos? They are watery as could be.

All Nippon Airways first class cappuccino

Qatar Airways cappuccinos, on the other hand, are quite good.

Qatar Airways business class cappuccino

I also appreciate when effort is put into presentation. I love the silver tray on which Etihad serves coffee in first class. Do I need the baklava or cookie or chocolate every time I order a coffee? I most definitely don’t. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy it. 😉

Etihad Airways first class coffee presentation

I even appreciate when airlines have unique mugs. I love Japan Airlines’ coffee mugs, and I may even have one or two of them at home…

Japan Airlines first class coffee mug

But beyond espresso and cappuccino, I appreciate when airlines have other options as well. Emirates used to have french press coffee on many routes, though that’s no longer offered due to lack of demand (I think people largely just didn’t know it was being offered).

Emirates first class french press coffee

I love that Austrian Airlines has an amazing coffee menu that’s a focal point of the business class service (then again, this is more of a dessert than an actual coffee).

Austrian business class Eiskaffee

I love that that EVA Air has iced coffee in business class.

EVA Air business class iced coffee

Heck, I love that in JetBlue’s Mint business class, you can even have an iced cappuccino with oat milk.

JetBlue Mint business class iced cappuccino

While I get that iced coffee and cold brew is more of an American thing, personally I wish we’d see more airlines offer this. Delta recently started serving cold brew on select flights, and I think that’s a really exciting development that I hope we see other airlines follow. It’s especially great because you can avoid drinking the water from the plane’s tanks altogether.

And I guess an espresso martini on Emirates at the bar is one way to get your caffeine as well. 😉

Emirates business class espresso martini

Also, I love when an airport lounge has barista made drinks, whether we’re talking about a Qantas Lounge or a United Polaris Lounge.

Turkish Airlines Lounge Istanbul cappuccino machines

I generally expect barista made drinks in first class lounges, while I’m delighted when I get one in a business class lounge. But some things also just puzzle me.

United Polaris Lounge cappuccino

For example, they’ll serve me $100+ per bottle champagne in American Flagship First Dining, but they’ll pour you a cappuccino from the same machine they have in the Admirals Club. No thanks.

American Flagship First Dining coffee

Bottom line

Thanks for indulging me and letting me share my coffee preferences here at One Cup at a Time. I realize I care about this more than most, but I can’t state enough how memorable a good coffee experience is to me, whether on a plane or in a hotel.

Thanks to the airlines and hotels that go the extra mile to keep us caffeinated. And to those that don’t, it’s never too late to up your game. 😉

To fellow coffee lovers — what do you like and what do you dislike when it comes to airline and hotel coffee?

Conversations (50)
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  1. DRWflyer Guest

    I don’t understand why anyone wants to dilute their coffee with the milk of another animal

  2. HumansAreSuperior New Member

    Kimpton properties typically offer good, sometimes excellent, morning coffee in the lobby. I'll never forget the cold brew at Shorebreak Huntington Beach Resort a few years ago - no idea if they still offer that.

    Last week I was delighted with the Aertson Hotel's lobby setup: an urn of locally-roasted Honest Coffee drip blend, ready by 6am to serve into my travel mug.

  3. aug2ndlt New Member

    I adored this post - thanks Lucky!

  4. Mark Guest

    Singapore Airlines First/Suites Class provides single origin espressos from the Swiss brand Sirocco.

    The Jamaican Blue Mountain is excellent.

  5. mike Guest

    I know people who bring ground coffee beans with them and a small plastic pour over cup. Then all you need is hot water.

  6. TheBestBlackBrent Gold

    How much should I tip when having a coffee on board?

  7. Ken Guest

    Instead of inferior coffee (and coffee makers) in every room, I love what Great Northern Hotel in London has done: a fully stocked coffee, tea, and snack pantry on each floor. I stayed there recently in advance of a very early Eurostar departure from St. Pancras right across the street. The pantries are beautifully appointed, and were always spotless and fully stocked. It was perfect for a 5 a.m. cup to take back to my...

    Instead of inferior coffee (and coffee makers) in every room, I love what Great Northern Hotel in London has done: a fully stocked coffee, tea, and snack pantry on each floor. I stayed there recently in advance of a very early Eurostar departure from St. Pancras right across the street. The pantries are beautifully appointed, and were always spotless and fully stocked. It was perfect for a 5 a.m. cup to take back to my room as I got ready -- without having to leave my floor! Photos and more info here: https://thepointsguy.co.uk/2015/12/great-northern-london-review/

  8. Michael Guest

    Early coffee in the lobby is wonderful. I have used in room coffee makers but never the powdered “creamer”. This is pretty much at 4AM.
    Circle K convenience stores at gas stations have outstanding grind and brew coffee makers with a choice of beans.

  9. Grichard Guest

    Boy, do I feel like a country cousin here. Don’t even drink coffee. Just give me a Diet Coke in the morning and I’m happy.

  10. SS Guest

    Coffee is very essential for me when I travel. I appreciate American chain hotels stateside have coffee machines in the rooms which provide a strong brew. This is not the case in Asia where the same chains provide a water kettle and coffee sachets. For decent coffee one needs to visit the restaurant.

    I find the black coffee in Emirates especially good or I can say as good as a coffee you would have...

    Coffee is very essential for me when I travel. I appreciate American chain hotels stateside have coffee machines in the rooms which provide a strong brew. This is not the case in Asia where the same chains provide a water kettle and coffee sachets. For decent coffee one needs to visit the restaurant.

    I find the black coffee in Emirates especially good or I can say as good as a coffee you would have in a proper cafe. They do their coffee well.

    Another Airline which I fly frequently offer the Starbucks French press or Americano/Cappuccino in Premium Economy and Business. That’s Vistara. I always look forward as it gives me a high having my favourite Starbucks 35k feet above sea level. In India the company that owns Vistara airline also has the franchise for Starbucks hence the coordination!

  11. Alan Guest

    I'm a pour over man myself so when at home, I grind my own beans and spend approx 5 minutes pouring myself a cup of coffee. Tedious, sure, but again, a ritual for me.

    I don't expect great coffee in the air or at hotel chains but I'm also not snobbish enough to be like I can't drink this. I mean there is a line but generally, I'll be ok with so-so coffee as that...

    I'm a pour over man myself so when at home, I grind my own beans and spend approx 5 minutes pouring myself a cup of coffee. Tedious, sure, but again, a ritual for me.

    I don't expect great coffee in the air or at hotel chains but I'm also not snobbish enough to be like I can't drink this. I mean there is a line but generally, I'll be ok with so-so coffee as that is what I've come to expect outside of my home or local cafes.

    Fogo Island Inn though was amazing... i thank you and Ford as I found out about that hotel from this blog and Ford helped us make the reservations. We haven't been back but I have every intention, esp now that COVID restrictions are ending everywhere.

  12. John Guest

    Nespresso is not, has never been, will never be good coffee.
    It's simply good marketing, with a handsome spokesman to boot. For that one aspect, I give them full credit.

    1. Ernesto Guest

      @John, agreed as to the value proposition (quality/taste/price) for the OEM pods. If you have an older machine that takes the "original line" pods, this pod design has been "off-patent" for a while now, and there are many other brands you can choose from that make compatible pods. My favorites (especially when discounted), are the illy dark roast capsules which make espresso that is "just as good" as served in Italy. In fact, I travel...

      @John, agreed as to the value proposition (quality/taste/price) for the OEM pods. If you have an older machine that takes the "original line" pods, this pod design has been "off-patent" for a while now, and there are many other brands you can choose from that make compatible pods. My favorites (especially when discounted), are the illy dark roast capsules which make espresso that is "just as good" as served in Italy. In fact, I travel with my mini nespresso machine and a box or two of these capsules on most of my trips in the US.

    2. Never In Doubt Guest

      Yep. The Illy Nespresso pods are a great compromise between quality and convenience.

  13. ALLIW Guest

    "I’ll seek out an airport hotel that has some sort of proper coffee shop in the lobby, especially if it has extended hours. Several *Heathrow* hotels have this..." OMAT: WHICH LHR HOTELS ARE YOU REFERENCING?

  14. EE Guest

    I travel with Japanese-style single-use pour over bags, just in case. Just need 1 cup of hot water and 1 empty cup and you're out of a jam. I most often use them while flying AA (still serving freshpoo) when I couldn't get coffee on the ground.

  15. Art Nicklaus Guest

    I appreciate it when a hotel has real ceramic coffee mugs and not paper cups. I can smell and taste paper most of the time out of paper cups. And have you tried Dripkit.com? Gourmet coffees in a sealed pouch that comes with their own dripper. Use the hotel coffee maker or microwave to heat water, bring your own ceramic mug, and voila! Great coffee. You choose the type and roast that you like with DripKit.

    1. AlliW Guest

      Dripkit.com BRINGS up a yard watering system?

  16. Jerry Kokesh Guest

    Always get one last drawn cappuccino at the Lufthansa Senator Lounge in Munich, never fails to be excellent!

  17. Mike1977 Guest

    I flew in United Polaris business class for the first time last summer. Apparently they have a coffee of the month in business class? And during the time of our flight it was a cold brew and the most beautiful presentation. Simple syrup and creamer on the side.

  18. Dc_nomad Guest

    Air New Zealand business class lounge: Best espresso based drinks of any airport lounge!

  19. D3kingg Guest

    I love me some sour acidic soapy coffee in the lobby of a Hilton Garden Inn. Actually coffee isn’t my cup of tea. I love that Hilton puts black tea in rooms. Tea at La Quinta was rare.

  20. Khatl Diamond

    Def remember this post from previously.
    Anyway, my issue with coffee at good hotels is how often you can't get an espresso based coffee with breakfast and/or the restaurant doesn't have the standard things to go in coffee e.g., varieties of milk and they basically tell you you have to go to the coffee shop. My best/worst example is Chicago Athletic Association who are on the higher price side for breakfast, but who basically...

    Def remember this post from previously.
    Anyway, my issue with coffee at good hotels is how often you can't get an espresso based coffee with breakfast and/or the restaurant doesn't have the standard things to go in coffee e.g., varieties of milk and they basically tell you you have to go to the coffee shop. My best/worst example is Chicago Athletic Association who are on the higher price side for breakfast, but who basically informed me that if I wanted whole milk, then I could only get it from the coffee bar, as the restaurant didn't have any whole milk. It wasn't that they were out. They never have it. Just weird. #FirstWorldProblems

    1. Tortuga Diamond

      Definitely unimpressed by the (lack of) effort that CAA puts into their coffee offering. Their obvious push to drive revenue through the middling ground level shop is so off-putting -- and I drink my americanos black, even.

  21. Tina Guest

    Coffee is so important to me.
    I can’t risk bad coffee, I would be miserable.
    I travel with my own coffee making kit . It includes a water kettle, pourover, filters and I bring my favorite brand of beans.
    I put it all in a packing cube and it is worth the space in my carry on.
    I’m a happy camper!!

  22. Ed Guest

    I will admit to being a huge coffee snob but I’m not sure I’ve ever had a great cup of coffee in a chain hotel or airline lounge, let alone on a plane. Closest is the Qantas lounge, it’s well executed by people who know how to operate an espresso machine, but the beans and milk need improvement. (I do also love that Maria who does the coffee in the Mel J lounge remembers my...

    I will admit to being a huge coffee snob but I’m not sure I’ve ever had a great cup of coffee in a chain hotel or airline lounge, let alone on a plane. Closest is the Qantas lounge, it’s well executed by people who know how to operate an espresso machine, but the beans and milk need improvement. (I do also love that Maria who does the coffee in the Mel J lounge remembers my order)

    I generally steer clear of hotel breakfast because the coffee will invariably be terrible. It’s not hard, in most places I’ve been, to find someone who can make coffee with care and attention but they are rarely working hotel restaurants at breakfast time.

    And pods, won’t touch them, terrible coffee and incredibly wasteful.

    1. Donna Diamond

      I agree with @Ed. If you really have high end expectations for coffee, don’t expect to find it in a chain hotel, airport lounge or on a flight. I pass on these places and go to coffee shops.

    1. D3kingg Guest

      Guinness cold brew is coming. Alcoholic cold brew.

  23. Brad Guest

    Do NOT ever use the coffee machines in hotel rooms. Guests use those coffee pots for all sorts of things other than coffee

  24. pstm91 Diamond

    I used to drink coffee with some milk and then I "trained" myself to only drink black coffee. Now I actually dislike coffee with milk and I cannot recommend this enough. Makes drinking coffee anywhere easy since I don't have to worry about what the milk/cream will be like (i.e. those crappy powders placed alongside the Nespresso machine).

  25. Julian Guest

    This was a fun to look at! I enjoyed all the coffee pics.

  26. Dom Guest

    If there is an activity, food or beverage that one can't easily do without for a week, it's time to look in the mirror.

    1. Tina Guest

      Coffee is so important to me.
      I can’t risk bad coffee, I would be miserable.
      I travel with my own coffee making kit . It includes a water kettle, pourover, filters and I bring my favorite brand of beans.
      I put it all in a packing cube and it is worth the space in my carry on.
      I’m a happy camper!!

    2. LarryInNYC Diamond

      Why? Does your mirror give coffee?

  27. CK Guest

    Great post here. Generally agree with everything you said, and I’ll add a few thoughts.

    -I think the aroma of coffee/tea on a long haul flight wafting about the cabin in the morning/end of flight matters as much, if not more than the taste. Due the limitations of the environment, especially in economy class, I don’t expect great coffee and I’ll usually get coffee anyway once on the ground.

    -I agree with your assessment of...

    Great post here. Generally agree with everything you said, and I’ll add a few thoughts.

    -I think the aroma of coffee/tea on a long haul flight wafting about the cabin in the morning/end of flight matters as much, if not more than the taste. Due the limitations of the environment, especially in economy class, I don’t expect great coffee and I’ll usually get coffee anyway once on the ground.

    -I agree with your assessment of hotel coffee. Generally I expect much more quality from a secluded resort where I’m spending most of my time on the property and require more effort to get away. However at an urban/city centre hotel I love nothing more than a great local coffee shop conveniently right around the corner as it gets me outside and into the local environment even if just for a few minutes, and whatever shop is usually all about coffee vs the hotel who offers but does not exist bc of coffee. I can get Nespresso or Starbucks branded coffee anywhere in the world and at home, but the local coffee shop/chain is place specific and may be fun to sit at for a moment or two to watch happenings go by.

    Fun article and looking forward to reading other comments on this.

  28. Hodor Guest

    I could swear I've read this same post on OMAAT before...

    1. Brian G. Member

      I think you mean OCAAT. :-)

  29. janjablonski New Member

    Check out Cometeer coffee -- delicious high and quality coffee in frozen pods that you can travel with, just need water.

  30. Creditcrunch Diamond

    I literally have 1 cup of coffee a day, first thing in the morning with a smoothie. It has always amused me the “ritual” as you describe that seems prevalent in the US with huge queue’s outside coffee shops in the mornings.

  31. Eskimo Guest

    I've always wondered who got who into this extreme coffee fanatic. Lucky or Matthew.

    I do know that Matthew frequently blogs about how he 'literally' went the extra mile to get coffee.

    1. credit Guest

      And Kyle just wants a Pepsi.

  32. Mike C Diamond

    First time I came across espresso coffee on a flight (after a long-ish no-flying period) was being asked 'Would you like a flat white?' on QF JFK-LAX in premium economy. I thought 'I'm home'. I assume it was a machine.

    QF regularly has barista-made coffee in all their lounges in Oz.

  33. Ernesto Guest

    I usually travel with a compact Nespresso machine (Essenza mini) that fits nicely in my Samsonite Xenon 3.0 15.6" Laptop Mobile Office Spinner. As a backup, I also have a hand operated operated Nespresso capsule coffee pump which just requires a cup of hot water, which can be readily provided by flight attendant or by heating a cup of water in the hotel microwave.

    1. Julian Guest

      Wait, is this for real? I've never heard of that but I'm intrigued...

    2. Sel_D New Member

      Look on Amazon.... GOLDTONE MINI PORTABLE TRAVEL ESPRESSO MAKER MANUAL PRESS ON THE GO MACHINE, COMPATIBLE WITH NESPRESSO PODS

    3. Ernesto Guest

      Bought mine on Amazon: WACACO Nanopresso Portable Espresso Maker PLUS the capsule adapter (Nanopresso NS Adapter). The side pump piston is able to pressurize the hot water through the capsule, and you get a serving of espresso with a "crema" layer on top.

      Takes some effort to make a great cup of espresso - you have to screw on the capsule adapter to one end of the device, then add boiling water to the reservoir...

      Bought mine on Amazon: WACACO Nanopresso Portable Espresso Maker PLUS the capsule adapter (Nanopresso NS Adapter). The side pump piston is able to pressurize the hot water through the capsule, and you get a serving of espresso with a "crema" layer on top.

      Takes some effort to make a great cup of espresso - you have to screw on the capsule adapter to one end of the device, then add boiling water to the reservoir end and screw it onto device, pump the hot water through the adapter to preheat it, then unscrew both ends, refill with very hot water, and repeat the process, this time with a coffee capsule inserted into adapter end. Then you have to clean the machine... Best if making multiple servings.

  34. David Guest

    You are correct that good, memorable coffee can set a great tone for a flight, whether in JAL F or OS J.

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Hodor Guest

I could swear I've read this same post on OMAAT before...

7
Grichard Guest

Boy, do I feel like a country cousin here. Don’t even drink coffee. Just give me a Diet Coke in the morning and I’m happy.

2
John Guest

Nespresso is not, has never been, will never be good coffee. It's simply good marketing, with a handsome spokesman to boot. For that one aspect, I give them full credit.

2
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