Do Hotels Have Coffee All Wrong?

Filed Under: Hotels

People often ask me how I overcome jetlag when traveling. My answer is pretty simple — coffee. Lots of coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.

I do talk about hotel coffee quite a bit on the blog, partly because it’s something I spend a lot of time thinking about while in my hotel room jetlagged at 3AM. When a hotel has a good coffee setup it instantly gives me a favorable impression of the property, though I realize I’m probably in the minority on that one.

For example, I love the Sheraton Frankfurt Airport if for no other reason than that they set up a complimentary espresso machine and croissants in the lobby in the morning. I know it sounds crazy, but I always look forward to waking up in that hotel at 4AM for that alone. What can I say… it’s the simple things in life. ๐Ÿ˜‰


To put my past week in perspective, I spent time in Seoul, Cairo, Doha, London, Charlotte, and now Los Angeles. To say that sleep has been limited would be an understatement.

But I came to a bit of a realization this morning when I woke up at my airport hotel in Charlotte at 3AM. I was desperately in need of coffee. I went to the club lounge, which is open 24/7, though there was no coffee. I went to the lobby and asked if they had coffee. Nope. And then I did what I absolutely hate doing, but will do when the situation is desperate enough — I was going to order room service coffee. Well, as it turns out this hotel doesn’t have 24/7 room service.

So I did something I’ve never done before — I brewed coffee in my room.

For those of you that aren’t aware (aka those of you that have been reading the blog for less than a week), I’m a selective germaphobe. The thought of using an in-room coffee machine just disgusts me. And that doesn’t even account for the fact that the coffee coming out of the machines is typically vile at best.

But I used it for the first time, and as I brewed coffee I couldn’t help but think of how much effort must go into keeping these replenished and clean. You have to pour water in the machine, put a coffee bag in, open all the plastic wrappings with the cream and stirrer. It’s not a cheap investment between the coffee machines and how much effort has to go into restocking them daily, though it’s something that virtually all hotels do.


It got me wondering, wouldn’t it be cheaper and more efficient if hotels got rid of in-room coffee machines and just had coffee available in the lobby 24/7?

And I guess that brings up another question I have — does anyone actually like in-room coffee, or do people just drink it because it’s free and in the room? In other words, given the choice between complimentary in-room coffee and complimentary coffee in the lobby, which would you choose?

Please vote in the poll and let me know your thoughts in the comments below — I’m curious!

All else being equal, which would you prefer?

View Results

  1. When I need my morning coffee, I’m not anywhere near ready to leave the room yet. Not in any condition to go to the lobby to get it. My preference would be a Keurig instead of the typical in-room machine.

  2. Couple of Hiltons in San Diego do just that. Easier for me to take the elevator to the lobby rather than to make coffee in the room. Guess they could let people know that by putting a sticker on the in room coffee maker.

  3. I completely agree on access to decent coffee being a key part of any hotel and with few exceptions, an in-room machine doesn’t meet that requirement for me. The exception is Hyatts, mostly PH or Andaz, that provide a nespresso or similar quality machine. They mean I can have reasonable quality coffee without wandering the hotel in my pjs. All the other in-room offerings, especially the plastic wrapped drip coffee, are just a waste of space and money.

  4. Complimentary coffee in the lobby is probably be better, but I actually like having a coffee machine in my room just so I can have my first cup of coffee in the morning in my room while getting ready, without having to go out to get coffee.

    That being said, I also love when hotels have coffee stations in the lobby where you can get a coffee to go. But I still wouldn’t get rid of in-room coffee machines.

  5. I didn’t know anyone actually used those coffee makers. I thought they were purely decorative.

    I cant imagine drinking the stuff those make, and purely on taste, not germs.

    Most major hotels in the US have a Starbucks either in the lobby, or within walking distance. In Europe you might get lucky and even have a Costa nearby. A decent coffee maker in the lobby, like the kind they have in Airline Lounges, would be even better, of course, since it saves you the walk, especially in bad weather. Plus in your case, Starbucks isn’t open yet at 4am.

  6. I actually prefer the convenience of an in-room coffee maker and supplies; however, the quality is typically not very good. The best I’ve had is the in-room espresso makers at the Ritz, but the Starbucks packets (pictured in your post) are not bad. Strangely, I find the Starbucks decaf packets of coffee taste better than the regular packets, but I’ve only used those when I’ve run out of the supply of the regular. I also find that the complimentary coffee in the lobby is usually not very good either, the best always seems to be what is served in the restaurant with breakfast.

  7. It’s kind of sad but I often *need* the in-room coffee to even function enough to find the lobby (much less to do so fully clothed, etc.). Sometimes it’s okay and other times disgusting, but regardless, it serves it’s main purpose.

    Coffee in the lobby/lounge serves a largely different purpose for me, but it’s also a huge plus (assuming it’s free and/or good).

  8. I agree with you – in room coffee makers can be gross (maybe not the newer Nespresso machines) and when I travel I’d rather go to the lobby if it meant better, proper coffee. But as someone that works in hotel with this exact set-up, we still get an extraordinary amount of complaints of no coffee makers in our rooms. It’s baffling.

  9. I am sure it would be cheaper to have coffee in the lobby only. I know Kimpton does this. But I suspect that many customers demand the in room coffee.

    My least favorite trend, which I saw at Roosevelt in Hollywood – is charging for in room coffee. I believe it was 4 bucks for a K-cup.

    But would you mind explaining why germophobes avoid in room coffee? I know some people are still haunted by that video of a flight attendant washing her pantyhose in the coffeepot, but the Starbucks “One Cup” brewer seems clean/safe and actually brews a good cup.

  10. I’m a big fan of hotels that offer in-room Nespresso machines – have seen this at a few Park Hyatts and wish more hotels did it. FWIW, I prefer to not drink coffee at all than to drink drip coffee, so I never even consider the regular coffee machines…

  11. Lobby coffee is vile, I’m sort of shocked at this sentiment that it’s better than in room coffee.

    Most in-room coffee sucks, but the Westin’s have single cup makers that use Starbucks. Starbucks in the lobby is better?

    And how is stuff handled by third parties in the lobby less germy. How many hands have touched that handle? Way, way, way more than have touched the in-room maker. And the water going through there is boiled!

    The concept of having to get dressed to get my coffee is an anathema.

    Love Nespresso machines, Keuring not so much unless they have decent non-flavored selections.

  12. Time to start carrying your own Chemex beaker, some filters and a small bag of pre-ground top shelf coffee. You won’t want to drink hotel lobby garbage coffee every again.

  13. I greatly prefer an in-room coffee machine vs. having to get dressed, put on shoes, and go to the lobby and then try to carry the coffee, sometimes have to swipe the keycard in the elevator, and definitely have to swipe it to get back into the room, without spilling the coffee or burning myself.

    Give me an in-room coffee maker, please. If you want to also offer coffee in the lobby, fine. Just don’t make me have to go to the lobby to get my first cup of coffee in the morning.

  14. In-room Nespresso, please. If I have the time to wash the pot and run a potful of hot water through before using it, the drip pots are ok for tea or Starbucks Via brought from home. The plastic packets of ground coffee are useless, and Keurig tastes like dishwater. But even with an in-room coffee set-up, a hotel should provide coffee in the lobby 24/7.

  15. Never ever ever i use in room brewers. Im in hotels most of the year. Some rooms have the new kruig one cup machines where tou use the paper cup under it. A couple times i almost used them. They a bit more sanitery. The rooms with actual glass bowl no no. With all the stories i hear from flight attendants and other friends, for what they use the little glass bowl.

  16. Some Hilton’s have the in-room Nespresso which is fine in a fix and 24/7 espresso self serve in the EL. The funniest experience I had was at the Hilton at Beijing Airport, where the EL was clear across the hotel from my room, I walked over to get bottled water so I could make the Nespresso in my room, finally remembering that I could have just had the coffee in the EL. I don’t even drink drip at home though so I definitely feel your pain!

  17. Like others, I’m a huge fan of in-room Keurig or Nespresso. Drinking lobby coffee wouldn’t even enter my mind.

  18. This post cracked me up a bit. First time brewing coffee in a hotel room, you living full-time in hotels and coffee addict! You spend way too much time in lounges ๐Ÿ™‚ And “selective germaphobe” haha.

    I’m not really germaphobe but like things clean of course. I can think of dirtier things around hotels and planes than in-room coffee machines, which when you think about them, have boiling water go through them, boiling water is generally germ-free.
    Carpet floors in planes (and hotels) are probably full of germs. So are airplane seats. Are they sanitized between each flight?

    For the purpose of your poll, I don’t drink coffee ๐Ÿ™‚ But I need my 2 mugs of tea every morning and the in-room kettle suits me fine. I hate the powder creamer and prefer the fresh liquid type.

  19. In-room coffee makers are great for those times you don’t want to have to get dressed to get your first cup of joe. But I’ve been spoiled by having a Nespresso machine at home and so now I find most in room/drip coffee disgusting. I love it when hotels have an nespresso in the room but the problem is they do not leave enough pods so you have to pester housekeeping to deliver more.

  20. If the coffee in the lobby will be better quality than the in-room, SURE. The in-room coffee sucks, I like me some espresso!

  21. In-Room, but better quality selection and with plenty of sugar/creamer too (normal stock is way too skimpy). As for germs, I always run one pot (or cup) of water through just to clean it out.

  22. If more hotels go to free coffee in the lobby in lieu of in-room makers, you’ll see a LOT more people in their robes/underwear/God-knows-what in the lobby. Who wants that?

  23. Keurig or Nespresso in the room would be preferred to having to go to the lobby for coffee, but if those machines are not available, and they rarely if ever are, it’s a trip to the lobby.

    My son claims all of the in-room coffee packets as his own take-home prizes regardless of whether the coffee is worthwhile or worthless.

  24. atxtravel has it mostly right. Let’s assume most hotels can’t get it right. The few who do are ones like the Ace hotel chain or the Highline hotel in NYC that partner with top notch coffee roasters to operate actual cafes out of their lobby serving excellent coffee. Short of that, anything the hotel provides is probably going to be pretty poor. Your best better is to BYOC. There’s quite a few good mugs that brew out there. I’ve seen quite a few pictures of people also bringing aeropresses and disposable pour over filters with them as well on the plane. I personally travel with a grinder – I’d apologize for being crazy but then again, we also all do crazy things for travel – and a brewing mug (the Impress). I wake up use the coffee maker to get hot water and have excellent coffee when I travel.

  25. Literally all of the options you’ve listed — in-room drip coffee, in-lobby percolated coffee, and push-button instant espresso machines — are terrible.

  26. My strategy at a most frequent hotel is to request a room on the club lounge floor. The lounge has a fancy espresso/latte/coffee/etc. machine and it’s faster & simpler to walk over there than to mess with in-room coffee brewers.

    So my order of preference would be:
    1) club lounge open 24×7
    2) in-room single use cups
    3) in-room single use drip
    4) lobby

  27. Another thing to think about is, if they do insist on having in room coffee, maybe they could transition more towards the keurig/nespresso machines that I’ve seen in more and more places recently. Some have even transitioned to those in the club lounges (example- keurigs in the grand Hyatt kauai club lounge)

  28. What is worse than the coffee dilemma is hotels that taunt by providing teabags but no way of boiling water and no milk, even long life in little pots. My daily routine starts with tea and then coffee and a prerequisite for a cup of tea is boiling water. I’m not even sure what one is supposed to do with tea bags and a coffee maker.

  29. Ben,
    I love coffee and in 20+ years of business/vacation travel, I have never used the in- room coffee maker. Same exact reason you didn’t (until this week).

    Yes, I would welcome 24 hr coffee availability in the lobby or, at least the lounge.

  30. But @Lucky. You drink the coffee and milk tea made with water from airplane holding tanks? Much, much, much worse than in-room coffee makers for cleanliness! My solution, Diet Coke, full-strength, no ice. In the air, in the room, anywhere. Any time. All the time. With lime, of course!

  31. Given what I hear happens with those traditional coffee machines in the room, I have never had a cup of coffee in my room.

  32. Ugh the thought of coffee makes me ill. Tea for me! A kettle, a mug, a tea bag and a tiny jug of fresh milk in my room please!

  33. In-room coffee – vile as it might at times be – is still a life saver for those of us who are incapable of finding the hotel lobby while still in an un-caffeinated state …

    Don’t get near me in the morning until I’ll have coffee. Let me get my first hit in the room and *then* I’ll be ready to finish getting dressed and ready to leave my room.

  34. I’m a selective germaphobe and will always use the in room coffee. 99% of it is garbage, but beggars can’t be choosers. I want my coffee first thing in the morning and will not go to the lobby until I’m showered and dressed. I am so excited when the room has nespresso/keurig/via- that really is an appreciated touch. I might get another cup in the lobby later in the morning but that seems more germy (everyone in the hotel has touched it, not just the last person in your room) and the quality is only marginally better.

  35. Currently staying at the Sofitel So in Singapore where each room has an Illy espresso machine – I’d take that anyday over stale lobby coffee.

    However, when the choice is between normal in-room coffee and coffee in the lobby, the choice becomes much more difficult.

  36. As a member of my household was on the design of the Keurig/K-cup coffeemaker, of course I lean towards the Keurig. But the Nespresso and Tassimo machines actually make better coffee. Of course, you need clean water and good coffee. But K-cups come with 100s of brands and types of coffee and tea. Yes, Starbucks has K-cups. So, the whole thing that in-room coffee is terrible is just an opinion of someone who hasn’t tried it. The machines are becoming very common in all hotel brands, for good reason, they make good coffee. And, yes we have Keurig in our home. We also have KitchenAid drip coffee maker and Krups machine that makes drip and espresso. So, I would rather have a machine in my room.

  37. I travel with my electric tea kettle. I can not stand the smell of coffee. So it doesn’t matter if there is a coffee pot or coffee in the lobby……I’m making tea with my tea kettle and my three favorite teas. Earl gray, English breakfast and Tetley orange peach herbal tea. The orange peach one with just a bit of sugar tastes like a fuzzy naval mixed drink.

    Going to make a pot of tea sounds really good this evening.

  38. Vast majority of my hotel stays offer Nespresso machines in-room. I love a decaf cup before getting out in public. Do you really prefer questionably aged coffee and uncovered snacks left out for public handling (for how long?) in a lobby over freshly made in-room coffee? Come to think of it, I haven’t seen one of your shown in-room coffee makers in years….maybe it is time you upped your hotel choices?

  39. As a fellow germaphobe, I don’t understand how you can drink so much coffee since the inevitable result is having to use public/airplane washrooms more often. Even in F, I’m more afraid of what I might pick up from those than from the in-room coffee maker (which, as others have said, can be more or less cleaned by running boiling water through it).

    Actually, it’s best not to think about germs in airplanes and hotels in general given how infrequently things are cleaned, much less disinfected. Try not to imagine the thousands and thousands of times old German men have farted into your LH F seat before you lay down to sleep.

  40. Part of the bad coffee taste for me is the stuff that is sold as “creamer.”
    I have found that countries which have a “tea tradition” tend to have fresh milk or Parmalat’s H-milk (which doesn’t need refrigeration until opened). This could make terrible room coffee taste better.

    Americans need to reject non-dairy creamer (aka powdered Styrofoam) at all costs – the car dealer, the office kitchenette, or the hotel room.

    Worse case experience: a hotel near directly next to Frankfurt hauptbahnhof (main railway station). There was a kettle to heat water for tea or perhaps instant coffee or something. I decided to prepare it the night before I had to wake up at 3am or some hour. I went to the bathroom to rinse it and fill out, only to find out that the previous guest had made some pasta/spaghetti O’s or something in it. I had to take it down to the front desk to complain and they didn’t have new CLEAN kettle for me.\

    Radisson Business class rooms in Europe include a Nespresso machine. LOVE THAT!

  41. Nespresso or cappuccino in the lobby. Grab a cup before I head out. I’d rather wait that drink the swill in room since most have powdered milk. Ick. Nespresso or Keureg in room with real ilk or creamer options is fine though.

  42. Just stayed at the Conrad Chicago for the first time….no coffee machine in the room. Only Conrad, Hilton, HGi, DT or HI that I’ve ever stayed in where it was provided in the room. No EL there either. I could understand a really big hotel like the Hilton NYC possibly cutting it out, much like room service, but this hotel isn’t that big. Plus, it’s a Conrad! Just one of the many reasons why I won’t be going back.

  43. Lol – have tea instead!

    Btw if you must must must brew coffee in the room – Starbucks has these amazing micro-ground coffee that are in convenient sachets and taste surprisingly good for “instant”. I just won’t admit this in polite company

  44. +1 on the in-room Nespresso!

    I stay at Carlson properties a lot, and love them for the Nespresso machine in the room (in some art’otels by Park Plaze you even get an Illy machine!).

    I do let the machine run a few times before making my coffee though.

  45. If I had to choose one or the other, I’d choose the in-room coffeemaker most of the time. Admittedly, those in-room machines don’t make very good coffee, but IME the coffee in lobbies is typically pretty subpar too (rarely do I see an espresso machine – usually a big urn of drip coffee that sits for hours). For me, it’s about the convenience. If I’m in decent shape to go down to the lobby, usually it’s only a couple minutes longer to walk to the closest coffee shop, so I might as well do that instead. I’m not one who spends any significant time hanging out or working in hotel lobbies, but if I were, my answer might change.

  46. Agree 100%. In room coffee blows, for whatever reason most hotels use cheapo machines and cheapo coffee. Not sure why it is so hard to buy machines and starbucks in bulk, unless you really don’t want people to use them.

    Anyway, I much prefer the lobby or lounge option, most of the time I want coffee when I am leaving the hotel and don’t have time to wait in line at the lobby starbucks. So a lobby pot is great, but you rarely see them anymore except at cheapo chains (with cheapo coffee).

    Did I mention how much I hate those lounge machines that brew 8 types of drinks, but never offer skim milk and rarely 1/2 decaf options?

    Yes, you’ve hit a sore spot. It is so easy to do coffee right (I do it at home every morning) why can’t hotels get it right?

  47. Im a Tea drinker, and when I travel to the USA its ALWAYS a hassle to get a decent cup of tea in your hotel room. Most hotels in the US provide a coffee machine like the one Lucky has pictured. If you try to make tea using this device, it ends up tasting like coffee. On a recent stay to the JW Marriot in Phoenix, I asked reception if they had a kettle I could use in my room during the stay – none were available to borrow, but I was informed I could call room service and ask for a cup of hot water. I asked if there would be a charge for this, and I was told its free, but I would need to pay a $4.00 delivery charge!

  48. To all of the tea drinkers: do you ever have trouble getting a kettle in the room? I find that even the Hyatts that have “electric kettle” on the list of things you can borrow, when I call down to request one, they often don’t know what the heck I’m talking about. As in, they don’t know what an electric kettle is???

  49. I just came across this blog. I am an Australia and recently stsyed st the Hilton at Long Beach. I was staggered that the in room coffee cups are takeaways with a flimsy wooden stirring stick. I travel extensively and always stay in 4 or 5 star hotels and have never come across paper cups in rooms before. I do understand that Hiltons are not of the standsrd that they used to be but was still shocked. After speaking to other people I understand it is quite normal in America to have such cups. In Australia,ceven the cheapest motels would have china cups or mugs. I do like hotels to have Nespresso machines in the rooms as I have one at home – Starbucks is not popular here in Melbourne. In fact most have closed down. We tend to prefer stronger, more Italian style of coffee here

  50. I travel to Mexico several times a year – never felt good about filling up the coffee machine with tap water from the in room bathroom faucet. Read TazaAgua out of Costa Rica is marketing their coffee & tea water to luxury hotels in places like Mexico where the tap water might be considered iffy-this helps!

  51. Why can’t hotels offer both in-room coffee and coffee in the lobby? Given the choice, I would take coffee in the lobby, but don’t always feel like walking down first-thing in the morning.

  52. Coffee basics – Nespresso will always delivery a perfect result be it a single shot or a lungo. Their coffee is always fresh sealed in a capsule. If a boutique hostel in Hobart Tasmania Australia can invest in a Nespresso machine it seems foolish that hotel chains even the Ritz in London who apparently do not have coffee facilities in their rooms do not have the foresight to make this simple yet effective investment even if you have to bolt it to the bench top to prevent guests falling in love with the must-have-machine and forgetfully packing it in their luggage when they leave.
    When you work antisocial work patterns as I have done so for the past 18 years, having at your fingertips a machine that delivers a perfect long black with a crowning head of crema the stresses of the workplace evaporate.
    I have yet to visit a hotel that delivers a consistent long black (espresso lungo) that meets the standard I encountered in Italy. Even so-called baristas at connoisseur coffee boutiques/cafes here in Melbourne and Sydney are hard pressed to deliver a decent espresso lungo. Their focus is toward the sweet milky coffee drinkers.
    And if you insist on milk in your coffee, Nespresso covers that requirement also, with a few simple instructions to adhere to even a novice can operate successfully a milk frothing machine. And no, I do NOT WORK for Nespresso but I do insist on good quality coffee preferably 100% arabica, full flavoured, aromatic and mellow. Otherwise why would you abuse your palate with a substandard substitute.

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