One Cup At A Time: Musings About Airline And Hotel Coffee – One Mile at a Time

In this post I wanted to talk about something I’m very passionate about — good coffee. Since I travel all the time, am constantly jetlagged, and am an early riser, 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).

But there’s such massive variance in terms of quality when it comes to airline and hotel coffee, so I think it’s not a bad topic to discuss.

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).

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

In this post:

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 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 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 work and be super 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.

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.

So, what actually impresses me?

What I Look For In Hotel Coffee

For me hotel coffee is about ease of having access to it, and quality. Generally I try to avoid the in-room coffee machine. I don’t exactly know why, but I do. I just don’t get the same enjoyment out of it.

The first thing I love is when hotels make it easy to get coffee early in the morning. I love when a hotel has a complimentary coffee setup in the lobby for early risers.

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.

Then of course there’s coffee quality. I’m always disappointed when I stay at a super 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.

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.

Fogo Island Inn is probably my favorite hotel in the world, and one of the first things that comes to mind when I think of the property is their 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 they place a basket in front of your door with a pot of coffee, freshly squeezed juice, and warm scones. How much can this really cost them to do? Maybe a couple of bucks. But it literally rocks my world. When I’m having dinner at Fogo Island Inn I’m already thinking about the daybreak basket.

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.

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

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

I also appreciate when effort is put into presentation. I love the silver tray on which Etihad serves cappuccinos 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. 😉

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…

But beyond espresso and cappuccino, I appreciate when airlines have other options as well.

I love that Emirates has french press coffee on many of their routes in first class.

I love that that EVA Air has iced coffee on their flights.

I get iced coffee and cold brew is more of a thing in the US than many other countries, so I don’t really get why we don’t see US airlines offering cold brew onboard and in lounges, whether for free or for purchase? It’s something I’ve brought up in the past

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

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

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.

For example, they’ll serve me $150 per bottle Krug 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.

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.

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