We’re in an age of full-on “revenge travel,” and footloose visitors are hungry to make up for lost time by wringing every possible drop of enjoyment out of their trip — right down to their cup of morning coffee.
“People want to have a premium experience when they go to a hotel,” says Valérie Landreville, director of B2B Marketing for Nespresso Canada. “You see that a lot with the younger generation — they’re willing to spend more to have that experience.”
The trends that were percolating before the pandemic have returned at full strength. “In 2019, we were seeing trends towards more artisanal coffee. That has accelerated, with more focus on specialty coffees; the cold brews are showing very strong growth, and so are coffees that are tied to claims like Rainforest Alliance and Fair Trade,” says Robert Carter, president of the Coffee Association of Canada.
Across all age groups, sustainability is a selling point, and key coffee-industry players are making sure they are seen to be measuring up. In March, illycaffè was recognized for the tenth consecutive year by Ethisphere as one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies. Nespresso is now a certified B Corporation, and its returned coffee capsules are repurposed. Starbucks has a Digital Traceability Tool to help customers find out where the beans in their cup were grown.
“From a hotel standpoint, there seems to be more of a focus on the coffee program,” Carter says. “People are seeing this as an opportunity for the value-added guest experience, and also a good point of difference.”
A recent Nespresso survey found that 78 per cent of Canadians think having quality coffee in their hotel rooms is important. Although Carter notes that most people just want a simple cup of Joe, novelties are having a moment, such as the buzzy nitro cold brew (infused with nitrogen for a frothy head that makes it look like Guinness), premium instant, ready-to-drink cans and Dalgona coffee, a sweet and creamy Korean-inspired whipped treat.
“Iced coffee is definitely a trend that’s triggered more by the younger generation,” Landreville says. “It’s not just a summer drink any more; it’s a year-round beverage.” If in-room amenities allow, TikTok devotees enjoy concocting their own fashionable beverages to show off on social media. Also of note: plant-based “milks” now make up about 20 per cent of whiteners.
As it did before COVID, sense of place matters to hotel guests, especially since business travel is down, with leisure travel rising. That’s why many hotels are forging partnerships with local cafés and roasteries: a move that mixes well with the pandemic proliferation of lobby nooks, touchless coffee bars and other evolutions of service for groups, events and guests on the go.
“It’s a good way to promote that point of difference, as well as the connection to the local market and the perception of the gourmet offering,” says Carter. “Even in some of these boutique hotels, you’re starting to see coffee bars set up with the fancy espresso-type drinks.”
Germain Hotels uses Nespresso machines for in-room service — as do such properties such as the Pacific Rim Vancouver, Hotel X Toronto, Sofitel Montreal and The Queen Elizabeth Montreal — but it also partners with local coffee providers in some markets. “Since we have 18 properties in seven provinces, we want to make sure our experience is consistent,” says vice-president of Operations, Hugo Germain, “but we’ve been developing local affiliations, also.”
For example, Quebec City favourite Café St-Henri provides the beans for the Alt and Le Germain properties in Quebec City and the Escad Hotel on Montreal’s South Shore. Similarly, Toronto-based Reunion Coffee Roaster, a certified B Corporation, supplies some Hilton and Wyndham hotels. The Alt Hotel Ottawa has an even deeper partnership with local coffee purveyors Happy Goat.
“With COVID, we took a break to see what’s important in the local community,” says Dino Gurusamy, general manager of the Alt Hotel Ottawa. “We decided to open a café in our lobby that would become a central meeting point, not just for our community but for our guests.” The café, which opened in August 2021, is operated by Happy Goat from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., and by Alt staff from 3 p.m. to the next morning.
Gurusamy notes that he sees very specific demands from different demographics: attendees at the Tulip Festival, popular with older travellers and families, wanted cappuccino, while those in town for the Ottawa Marathon asked for cold brew.
Overall, the simple message is that good coffee matters more to guests that it used to. “We’re seeing a trend like the craft beer trend that took place a few years ago,” Carter says. “If you’re a larger hotel chain and you haven’t evolved your coffee program, consumers are really noticing that now.”
By Sarah B. Hood