For many travellers, airplane coffee is one of the least enjoyable aspects of a flight: you expect it to be rather terrible, and it frequently meets that expectation.
But savvy airlines are now seeing coffee as another way of lifting the passenger experience – whether through an improved pre-flight brew, fresh Nespresso in the skies or switching to a better blend of java, even if it’s still served filtered.
Air New Zealand switches to organic Kiwi coffee
Following extensive blind tastings with passengers and coffee experts both on the ground and in the sky, Air New Zealand now serves a custom, organic and fairly-traded coffee blend produced by Hummingbird in Christchurch.
The airline isn’t new to innovation with coffee, either: passengers visiting many of its airport lounges – including those in Sydney and Melbourne in Australia – can order a fresh cup just the way they like it using the airline’s smartphone app, which also prompts the passenger to place an order as they enter the lounge.
Processing over 2.8 million coffee order and counting, AirNZ’s app also remembers your usual coffee preference for simple reordering when you next travel: or if you need another caffeine hit before your flight is called for boarding.
Virgin Australia extracts Nespresso in business class
Fly with Virgin Australia aboard its Airbus A330 and Boeing 777 jets and the question when you order your coffee won’t be “milk and sugar?”, it’ll be “espresso, cappuccino or macchiato?”, thanks to an onboard Nespresso machine.
"At last, you'll be able to get a decent coffee on an airplane!" enthusiastic airline CEO John Borghetti told Australian Business Traveller.
"I know it sounds like a small thing, but I can't find anyone who likes airline coffee. Now, the Nespresso coffee here is as good as the one you'll get in your home, and if it's good enough for George Clooney..."
Better yet, flyers can also customise the strength and taste with a choice between Ristretto Intenso for the strongest shot, Espresso Forte for a more balanced blend, or Espresso Decaffeinato: great for later in the afternoon or in the evenings when you’re planning to sleep.
Virgin Australia also offers all-day barista coffee service in most of its Australian airport lounges.
United Airlines pours Italian Illy coffee
While there are no fancy flat whites or lattes to be enjoyed aboard United, the blend used for its filtered coffee – of which the airline pours almost 200,000 cups per day – is now roasted in Italy by Illy, using beans sustainably sourced from Brazil, Central America, India and Africa.
Because travellers lose approximately 30% of their ability to taste at altitude, the airline trialled several coffee suppliers and blends across a variety of flights and aircraft types to select the best all-rounder, particularly when the boiling temperature of water varies depending on the cabin pressure: and the temperature of the water can affect the coffee’s performance.
For instance, aboard United’s Boeing 787 Dreamliners where the cabin pressure is equivalent to 6,000 feet in altitude, water boils at around 93.6°C: whereas on other aircraft like the Boeing 767 and 777 which are pressurised to a higher 8,000 feet, the boiling temperature drops to around 91.6°C.
Compared to its predecessor, some interviewed United passengers describe the new blend as “full-bodied with a nice aroma” and being “strong, but not too strong”.