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Airline Coffee – Why Cant it Be Better?

Updated on February 13, 2013

I was on a few long-haul flights recently and started to wonder to myself why the taste of the coffee varied so much. Why on one flight was it not too bad while on another it was almost like the feed from ones car’s sump?

Now you might be thinking surely I had better things to do with my time; but when one is flying London Heathrow to Hong Kong with the movie selection and cramped conditions I had – it helped pass the time … if for only a few moments.

The process of making a cup of coffee on an aircraft is a bit different to that one would go through say at home or one would see at the local coffeehouse as made by your favorite barista. So at home you may like the instant coffee approach, which involves boiling water in a kettle, coffee from a jar of instant coffee and perhaps some milk and sugar. Now depending on where you live this will normally take place at or around sea level pressure and mild temperatures and humidity. Of course these do vary a lot around the world and different times of seasons.

Mean while down at your local coffee shop, the barista may be making your favorite Café Latte, Flat White or Espresso with a good level of experience of doing this on a regular basis, learned set of skills and good control over the temperature of the milk, hot water and strength of the coffee shots.

So how is this different to the airline experience? Now we are assuming one is not sitting in the premium classes of first or business and so having access to a somewhat better experience. So, on your economy (aka cattle class) flight the cabin crew member looking after the hot drink making is not going to be able to provide you with an individual hot drink due to the number of people to serve and number of crew on board. So they have to make the coffee on mass. This normally involves taking a coffee bag, it’s a bit like a large tea bag, placing it in the coffee machine and pressing on. The machine then brings the water up to a set non-boiling temperature before pushing the water, under pressure, through the bag into the coffee pot.

In addition, making the coffee is just one of many tasks they have to perform during the flight and not one of great importance for most crew. The quality of the coffee beans used is questionable: one perhaps could assume cost is a big consideration? And of course the ambient conditions under which the coffee is made are not ideal.

Picking up on the last point and say comparing it to the conditions one would normally find at home. Most cabins are pressurized to around 5,000 to 7,000 feet altitude (so it would be like you living on top of a 7,000 ft mountain), therefore providing lower pressure, lower humidity and cooler temperatures. These of course all impact on the taste of the coffee.

So thinking all of this through I was wondering why don’t airlines perhaps use something more like the single cup coffee serving systems such as K Cup or the ESE PODS systems. These provide a better quality coffee bean, a better pressurized and controlled process and one that is vary simple and effective. But I guess at the same time this would be a lot more money and waste for an airline to manage. And let’s face it, would you spend more on your airline ticket for a better cup of coffee?


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    • othellos profile image

      Mario Psomas 3 years ago from Europe

      Interesting point of view. I always had the same feeling about airline coffee, especially for trips inside the European countries. I admit that years ago I had an excellent coffee experience with a transatlantic trip.

    • torquay profile image

      torquay 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      Hi there. Thanks for reading on your comment.

    • dilipchandra12 profile image

      Dilip Chandra 4 years ago from India

      Excellent information. Very good share. I never prefer coffee in planes.