In the great coffee hierarchy, the stuff you find in on that tray in the bathroom of most hotel rooms tends to rank just above that thick brew baking on the back burner at a truck stop. The only thing hotel room coffee has going for it is the fact that it was made fresh. Otherwise, it pretty much represents the alternative universe of espresso’s four M’s:
- It’s the crappiest crappy crap coffee. Usually old. Very old.
- The coffee was pre-ground, god knows when.
- The coffee maker isn’t even good enough to give away for free.
- No matter what skill you posses, you can’t overcome the negatives of points one through three.
- (Oh, and don’t forget the terrible water.)
Because the state of hotel room coffee is so bad, I’ve heard countless stories – O.K. I’ve even done it myself – of people traveling with a grinder, coffee maker (press pot or coffee cone), and coffee.
That’s why I was shocked, surprised, and for a minute, even outright excited to see a Wolfgang Puck machine and coffee selection when I checked into the Double Tree in Denver. There was a Sumatran single origin and a decaf blend and a pod-like looking dispenser. Who knew that Wolfgang Puck had even sold his soul to coffee along with his deal for frozen foods and canned soup, but just the thought of something better than the usual swill gave me a new outlook on life.
Of course, an actual pod machine would be something to write home about. Instead, this is really just a foil wrapped tea bag filled with pre-ground coffee of a unknown grinding and packaging date. You place the “pod” in the tray, pour in your water and it works just like any other standard coffee maker, pouring not hot enough water over the coffee. The results were better than ordinary hotel coffee, but not better than the Starbucks I eventually ordered from the downstairs cafe (which wasn’t even as good as a real Starbucks – woe was me). The decaf was a little worse off. At least they provided real (albeit U.H.T) creamers.
I have to say, I was surprised that the coffee wasn’t a little better. I imagined that Wolfgang Puck must want to be associated with some standard of quality. I took a few coffee packets home to experiment. Sure enough, when I cut open the packets and brewed them via my regular filter cone process, the coffee was the slightest bit better. Better still was to regrind the coffee in a whirly blade grinder, but this extra work probably isn’t worth the effort. The bottom line is that the WP coffee at DoubleTree might save you from complete withdrawl, but its still going to leave you thirsting for more.
I began to realize that something was up when I stumbled into my hotel room at the Hilton Ontario. I found a two-cup brewer with Lavazza coffee bags. For those of you not familiar with it, Lavazza is kind of like the Starbucks of Italy, but so much cooler in a “s/he’s so Euro” sort-of way. I later found this press release detailing Hilton’s master plan.
Unlike the Double Tree, the equipment was made by Cuisinart and appeared a bit sturdier and better made. The overall setup – coffee bags, real creamer, cups to go – was the same as at the Double Tree only this time, they threw in real ceramic mugs. How classy is that?! Applying the trick I learned from Intelligentsia’s home brewing class, I ran a cup of water through the coffee maker prior to brewing, then put the machine to work and tried both the regular and decaf.
Not bad. There were no complex flavors or hints of much of anything, but this was drinkable coffee. I even found myself thinking fondly of it as I downed some less than pleasant coffee at breakfast the next morning. Of course, I’m not sure what Hilton is hoping will happen: a mad rush on hotel rooms because they’ve slightly upgraded their coffee makers? It’s not like this is the Ace Hotel in Portland sporting a Stumptown Cafe. But I will go out on a limb here: if every hotel room offered something on par with this Lavazza setup, I would strongly consider the possibility of mostly never traveling with my grinder again.