Everything in an airport is a lesser version of itself anywhere else in the world. The food tastes like a microwaved simulacra of that exact same dish from the exact same restaurant on the other side of the security checkpoints. The people are flustered, hurried, or some manner of irked, not exactly their best selves. And the coffee, well, you know, it's fine.
Slowly, though, the quality of airport coffee has been shifting from objectively meh to pretty decent in some places. Last week, we reported on news of 3fe opening a cafe in the Dublin Airport, and Stumptown, Caffe Vita, and Cartel Coffee Lab all have outposts at their local launch pads. One by one, it’s happening, good coffee—even if they are just the “people pleaser” blends instead of the fancier single origins—is finding a home in the gateways to the friendly skies.
And now airport coffee looks to take a giant leap forward with the recent announcement from HMSHost—a leading global airport food service company—“will be changing its partnership with Starbucks Corporation” in favor of more local coffee options.
First let me just say that, properly understood, there really is no such thing as “bad” airport coffee. It’s meant to be all function and no form, a warm pick-me-up in one of the saddest, groggiest places on earth, and as such, airport coffee comports itself admirably to that end. If you go to the airport and expect to get anything other than airport coffee, that’s on you.
With this new shift, HMSHost is hoping to fatten up the larger part of the airport coffee bell curve with not just more coffee companies local to a particular airport, but with a variety of different expressions of what an airport cafe is. From the press release:
Imagine coffee shops during the day that are designed to transition to lively bars in the evening with great music entertainment; concepts that blend seamlessly with retail and newsstand experiences for the utmost in traveler convenience; innovative mobile carts that move from gate-to-gate; and, coffee shops built for speed through highly efficient designs that eliminate lines, streamline menus and use the latest technologies to facilitate fast ordering and production.
Essentially, a lot of the things specialty cafes are toying with. The move comes as coffee “continues an impressive trajectory as one of the fastest growing beverage categories.” HMSHost plans to piggyback on previously successful introductions of local and regional food options into their restaurant portfolio. President and CEO Steve Johnson states, “We have had great success in bringing regional chefs and popular city dining favorites to airports and we’re ready to do the same with the coffee category.”
HMSHost isn’t planning a wholesale move away from Starbucks, they are merely diversifying their offerings. It is unclear if this will mean fewer Starbucks or simply more coffee options.
Either way, the news comes with an ever-increasing likelihood that your local airport will go from offering good airport coffee to good airport coffee. Knowing an objectively decent cup of coffee awaits on the other side makes the mad dash sure the security line just a little bit easier.