Coffee experiences within hotels have had an image makeover, leading to higher ROIs

Even your average hotel today offers a myriad coffee choices

Coffe, Brewing coffee, Hotel experience, F&B, The Tamara Coorg, Vivanta by Taj, Madekeri, The Park Kolkata, Waterstones Hotel, Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge, Nepal, Four Seasons Hotel Bengaluru, Andaz Delhi, Roasted Coffee Today, Pullman and Novotel New Delhi, W Goa, Soul Pantry, Sussegado Coffee India Pvt. Ltd

Coffee is a brew that luxury hotels experimented with even before they veered to the high tea experience. At The Tamara Coorg, located within a lush coffee estate, guests can pluck the berries in season, pulping, blending and roasting the beans to make their own blend. At Vivanta by Taj, Madekeri, guests can wake up to a strong cup of coffee from the coffee estates close-by and a view of the intense green jungle. OYO Rooms has made it possible for guests associated with them to order beverages through a mobile app.

Without doubt, coffee has been the most ordered beverage on this app. Even your average hotel today offers a myriad coffee choices. The selection of coffee is determined by two factors: One, says Manmeet Singh, director of f&b at The Park Kolkata, the commercials involved and two, the machine used to make the brew. The history of how the coffee experience in hotels evolved is fascinating. Reminiscing to the beginning of the coffee culture in hotels back in the 1980s, he says, “When most budget hotels were happy serving coffee traditionally brewed in a boiler and then transferred into a kettle, which a server takes around on request (a service we see largely in flights these days), premium brands would invest in fancy coffee machines that would dole out popular variants,” he says.

Saket Gupta, vice president-sales & marketing, Waterstones Hotel

But such coffee machines were limited to sections in hotels that mattered such as a business lounge, coffee shops (now reinvented as all-day dining) or as Saket Gupta, vice president-sales & marketing, Waterstones Hotel likes to put it, “Hubs that could make a sell. After all coffee, back in those days, was serious investment and could cost up to INR15 a cup.” Clearly, that was a minifortune in the 1980s. Most premium brands opted for the services of Fresh & Honest (a brand owned by Lavazza now) to ensure their coffee investment paid dividends, “indirectly though,” says Singh, who believes that coffee “right from the very beginning, has been categorised as an ‘experience", an “add-on service” inside hotels rather than a ROI contender.”

There was another crucial reason for Fresh & Honest’s proliferation into hotels around the early 80 and 90s, adds Gupta. “When it came to coffee, just procuring the right beans didn’t assure that it would work. You needed machines and those needed maintenance. It made sense for hotels to opt for coffee machines, which, by the late 80s, every big hospitality brand did — at least, for its flagship and premium properties. They had an exclusive contract with the company for its coffees.” It made perfect economic sense pitted against the monthly consumption of a 140 plus room hotel, which easily amounts to 7,200 cups a month, including those served during breakfast. Fresh & Honest was the only company with a bandwidth to supply a demand of 65 kilos in two variants, adds Singh, “Dolce aroma - 100% Arabica and Puro Gusto, which is a warm blend of Robusta and Arabica.” The exception to this was the coffee in the rooms, he adds, especially the suites, where coffee was presented as an experiential.

Akshay Sood, director of food & beverage, The Westin Mumbai Garden City

“Even back in the early 90s, we had these small jars of freshly blend coffee with a plunger for those who wanted to brew their own coffee.” For the rest, however, the hotels relied on Fresh & Honest, little knowing that this exclusive contract would one day prove to be a big deterrent. As it did in 1996, when Café Coffee Day debuted alongside Barista. The next few years saw specialised coffee places mushroom through the country. Investing in upping the coffee experience suddenly became necessary, says Akshay Sood, director of food & beverage, The Westin Mumbai Garden City. “Well-travelled guests demanded more than the standard cappuccino and digital platforms that pushed ‘coffee culture’ among the paying population.” There was, adds Harshal Bhavsar, director, f&b, Taj Palace, New Delhi, “demand for quality coffees, cold brews, speciality brews and the like. Drinking coffee, which till a few years ago was just another beverage, became a ritual.” Such was the demand that hotels began designing their coffee experience as a serious marketing tool.

Harshal Bhavsar, director, f&b, Taj Palace, New Delhi

The Westin Mumbai Garden City’s restaurant Pronto, for instance, began sourcing coffee beans through local vendors and would use grinders to help them obtain the right consistency while designing their coffee menu. So, while we have the regulars available on press, says Sood, “for the grab-and-go counter, we have also designed mixes that made the coffee experience artisanal.” Artisanal is the name of the game Marcus Cotton, owner of Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge, Nepal, opted for the Nepal Organic Coffee Company blend for their coffee offerings. The thing about going local says Cotton, “is when brewed right, the coffee offers a palate play that enhances the experience of the destination.” This could also explain why brands such as The Taj Palace New Delhi decided to go local.

Bhavaskar adds, “For our coffee lounges, we have a menu with the widest range of single origin coffees and speciality brews sourced from artisanal coffee brands, especially from the region of Coorg. The taste and textures work for the demographic we service.” Andaz Delhi has tied up with Roasted Coffee Today, a specialist coffee brand that has designed a complete coffee programme for their cafe, Soul Pantry. Prakash Chandra, assistant director - restaurant operations, adds, “We have a thoughtfully designed coffee menu that pairs some amazing local blends and speciality brews with a food menu, creating different nuances with the coffee.” This, adds Chandra, “has helped us not only create experiences that aid the amateur coffee drinkers understand coffee, but also meet the expectations of serious connoisseurs. We are able to cater to a rising number of guests who believe in a morning and an after-dinner coffee ritual.” The selected range of artisanal coffees from Devi Coffee, Dope Coffee and others at AnnaMaya serves as a preview to Andaz Delhi’s coffee program.

Branding the experience

Tie-ups with brands aren’t a new phenomenon in the industry. One of the earliest attempts made to cash in on the growing coffee drinking trend was in 2007, when Ginger Hotels tied up with standalone giant Café Coffee Day to meet their hotels’ coffee needs. A few years later, The Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai collaborated with Blue Tokai to serve the finest single estate coffee from the southern regions of India. The association, says Amanpreet Matharu, director of restaurant and bars, “not just upped the ROI on coffee to 5% but also helped maintain the consistency of a rich coffee experience.”

Wilbur Tauro, assistant director, f&b, Four Seasons Hotel Bengaluru

The experience at newly opened Four Seasons Hotel Bengaluru has been customised based on the Mumbai iteration of the hotel. Wilbur Tauro, assistant director, f&b says, “Given the demand for good quality coffee, we decided to bifurcate our offerings. In the rooms we have the comfort of individual machines from Illy coffee (an Italian brand). In The Lobby Lounge & Terrace, we have a line-up of some very interesting brews from a Goa-based company called Devi Coffee Roasters. Their coffee beans are roasted in small batches, in special drum roasters of the highest quality, and are completely natural, with no artificial flavours or additives. They sell local variants such as Mysore Nuggets, an Arabica with the luxurious richness of textures and hints of chocolate and vanilla. They also serve the well-loved Coorg Arabica, which is smooth with a hint of natural caramel.” The highlight, adds Tauro, “is the Old Rum Barrel variant, a unique coffee for which beans are aged in rum barrels and then roasted to yield a mellow cup with sweet hint of rum.” Fascinatingly, for most hotels, says Devika Dutt, managing director of Sussegado Coffee India Pvt. Ltd (creators of Devi Coffee), “the collaborations initially were limited to retail spaces, where they could sell coffee instead of offering it as a package deal within rooms or at the breakfast buffet.

Once hotels began owing their machines, they had the freedom to choose a premium blend. It helped us to offer a bigger range to hotels. Hotels can now showcase interesting techniques of roasting, blending, brewing and even coffee art.” In the more-than-a-decade long existence of Devi Coffee, adds Dutt, “we have been able to showcase a wide range of our signature blends such as the Whisky Barrel, Old Rum barrel, Mysore Nuggets, Monsooned Malabar, Kaapi Royale, Cascara and several others in many hotels such as Hyatt Centric, Andaz, Alila Diwa and Oberoi, among others.” Devi Coffee further changed the game by introducing Devi Singles, a range of
blended premium coffee in a bag for the grab-and-go segment. This, says Gupta, “gave boutique hotels the liberty to showcase a menu according to the client demographic. It could be changed with ease to ensure better ROI.” In case of Waterstones Hotel, for instance, the choice of coffee beans can range from Araku to Café Coffee Day’s Malabar to even Halli Berri pure Arabica, depending on the season and demand.”

Jai Ganesh Ramnath, managing director, Lavazza India

The entry of artisanal brands such as Roasted Coffee Today, Blue Tokai and Devi Coffee nudged market leaders such as Lavazza and Illy coffee, the two main stakeholders of coffee businesses across hotel brands, to up their offering that, till about 2000, included a set number of blends and coffee machines. Jai Ganesh Ramnath, managing director, Lavazza India says, “Hotels, which were till now favouring 100% Arabica, were open to more creative blends that added to the experience. This led to the creation of Tierra, which is Lavazza’s answer to sustainable living and comprises of premium blends of coffee, sustainably sourced from different regions of  the world. Lavazza also introduced the Lavazza Blue (LB) range of coffee machines — Classy Milk, Classy Compact and Classy Mini — for smaller pantries, in-room coffee experiences and coworking spaces.”

Shakti Singh Gohil, director - f&b, Courtyard By Marriott Bhopal

A trend that was quickly adopted by Kappi Machines and Illy, who had their own product offerings that not just add up the experience in the retail F&B space but also in the rooms. Ramnath emphasises that coffee brands have evolved to offer a complete solution, including setting up optimum quality coffee machines such as Lavazza’s LB range in their in-room services. In fact, investing on good quality coffee machines and tools has helped Courtyard By Marriott Bhopal drive their ROI to 7-9 percent. Says Shakti Singh Gohil, director - f&b, Courtyard By Marriott Bhopal, “We do not compromise with the quality of the beans and methodology of coffee making. We have three, two-grooved semiautomatic machines placed in various outlets for premium quality coffee. We also use an espresso, Mocha, French press, and the traditional filter coffee for our patrons and guests.” Sathish Sundaram, f&b manager of InterContinental Chennai Mahabalipuram Resort believes investin on innovative tools to make the coffee experience interesting, does have its payback.

Pritpal Singh, assistant director of food and beverage at JW Marriott Mumbai Juhu

“We have engaged qualified baristas who serve coffee at the table, which allows us to personalise the coffee for every guest. We have a host of coffee merchandise that helps us match the experience of having good coffee at home.” Coffee experiences within hotels are a complete package. Pritpal Singh, assistant director of food and beverage at JW Marriott Mumbai Juhu adds, “At Bombay Baking Company we use freshly ground coffee beans sourced from Coorg and Chikmagalur. Aside from being of premium quality, aromatic and low on acidity, these coffees come with their own stories that help us create a more immersive experience.”


Amit Kumar Sangwan, director of f&B, Pullman and Novotel New Delhi Aerocity

Leading the pack of hotels with new-age coffee experiences is Pullman Aerocity, which launched a dedicated coffee space called Café Pluck. Amit Kumar Sangwan, director of f&B, Pullman and Novotel New Delhi Aerocity, says, “It proved to a game-changer. The experience we offer is not just indulgent but informative as well. We roasted our own beans and made our own coffee blends; it allowed us to extend the offering to the rooms without any wastage of coffee.”

Among the first to introduce coffee machines with coffee capsules in the rooms, Café Pluck became a case study on how hotels could score on the coffee trend. To create a brand that contributes 17 to 20% of the beverage revenue with over 200kgs of coffee  consumption in a month for both properties, says Sangwan, “the placement and character was important, along with the right kind of machines and beans.” While the coffee machines and beans were put together by Kappi Machines, who also trained the baristas, the placement of Café Pluck was right in the middle of 13 co-meeting rooms that played host to high-octane events and meetings. This, adds Sangwan, “along with an option of menus that complement the coffee ordered, ensured good ROI right from day one.” Interestingly, changing the beans, adding a few interesting elements such as a French Press in your presentation as well interesting food has enabled coffee ROI to inch up to a good 5% from almost nothing a few years ago.”

Taking a different route

Tanveer Kwatra, EAM- food & beverage, W Goa

Not all hotels are following the 'coffee-heavy investment' route though. For some, the traditional practice of spreading coffee experiences across all F&B segments offer better dividends. At W Goa, not only is coffee part of the breakfast and brunch menu, says Tanveer Kwatra, EAM- food & beverage, “it is offered across all our outlets, including at the bar, where we offer a signature cocktail called the Patrao’s Coffee, which has espresso as a main ingredient.” In addition, adds Kwatra, “we have a dedicated Barista who is responsible for sourcing and creating blends from local varieties.” Others like the Indian Hotels Company Ltd. (IHCL) offer coffee plantation trails through their new homestay brand Ama Trails & Stays, which launches this year with nine curated properties.

The challenges hotels face while offering coffee experientials are immense. India continues to be a low penetration company for the beverage. Ramnath contends, “The penetration can only be increased through constant education and training. Lavazza has a dedicated
training centre in the country. We are launching our second centre in Mumbai next month, after the one in Chennai a while ago. The Lavazza Training Centre offers courses/ workshops for professionals on coffee preparation methods, from the most traditional to the innovative.” Not a tall order for a market that has been consistently growing at a 5.6% rate since 2010.