Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Does Disney World Have Good Coffee?

Some years ago, in my haughty college days of grand enlightenment, I remember making the statement that Disney World was a lazy man's repeat vacation. Sure I saw the sense in getting there once, mainly to experience the magic firsthand and see what the hullabaloo is about. But after maybe a return visit a decade later, why burn your precious vacation dollars going to the same place over and over like so many people do?

It wasn't until I had kids of my own that I realized the obvious answers of why people return so frequently: Disney World not only resides in a comfortable climate, but the parks and resorts offer so many benefits. To name a few: excellent customer service, unparalleled entertainment, endless variety and fairly amazing food (especially for a theme park).

It is in regards specifically to the culinary experience of Disney to which I have recently focused my attention. It is no mystery that Disney World has some great culinary experiences throughout their parks, ranging from scrumptious quick bites (pork shanks and turkey legs) to five-star restaurants sprinkled everywhere from Epcot's World Stage to their various resort destinations. Yet for all of the great dining experiences, what about the coffee?

Naturally Disney World has tons of coffee, and in the few trips I have made there during my coffee-drinking years, I remember seeing the typical coffee urns and dispensaries as one would see at any large park. But I never really recalled seeing any coffee efforts that I would associate with what people would call "third wave" or "craft coffee", aka simple stuff such as freshly-roasted light roasts ground fresh before brewing, and espresso machines wielded by (moderately) skilled baristas.

Contemporary Grounds at Disney's Contemporary Resort

Fast forward to this past autumn when I found myself booking a brief stay in Orlando for January 2015. After breaking the news to my family and some intense budget discussions, my wife and kids managed to successfully argue for a brief stop at Disney World. Post-celebration, I began the infant stages of planning, such as figuring out Fast Passes (which you better do months ahead of time if you wish to get on the popular stuff quickly) and where we would stay. This time though, instead of writing off Disney World coffee as a lost cause based on prior year experience and just packing my coffee travel kit, I decided to reach out to Disney to see if I was missing something.

After pestering the marketing folks at Disney with my plea, they referred me on to a company I remembered seeing before, a Tampa company called Joffrey's Coffee. Holding the title as the official specialty coffee of Disney, I was intensely curious to see what they offered. Over the course of several emails, they informed me of several kiosks that they run and operate in three of the four parks (no Magic Kingdom) as well as locations outside the parks such as a coffee bar in the Contemporary Resort (pictured above) and a stand at the Transportation Hub. With this information in hand, I mapped out some coffee stops and got ready for the trip.

When the magical day finally arrived for Disney, we made our first stop in the Magic Kingdom. Upon walking down Main Street USA, I noted a Starbucks-supplied bakery on Main Street (aka Disney runs it and uses Starbucks coffee), but after some initial inspection there was little difference than what one would see inside a Barnes and Noble, so I held off and waited until later when we would head to Epcot.

A Joffrey's kiosk in Disney's Hollywood Studios

Lo and behold, that early afternoon my eyes laid upon the geodesic sphere and without delay, I made a bee line off the monorail and headed to the World Stage for my first cup of Joffrey's Coffee. The kiosk is fairly large and aside from coffee and espresso, they had a nice array of large pastries. Wanting to pace myself, I simply ordered a cup of their Rwanda from a thermal dispenser and went on my way. As I sipped I found the coffee quite pleasant, with smooth notes of chocolate, berry and walnut.  All together, the coffee was just a touch dark from being amazing, but in the name of accommodating folks who drink ultra-Italian roasts thick with heavy bitter profiles, not to mention people looking to drown the coffee in cream and sugar, I found the coffee resided in a pleasant middle ground.

Later on in the day, I ordered up an espresso from another Epcot kiosk. To Joffrey's credit, they use Nuova Simonelli semi automatic espresso machines, a welcome and familiar sight versus the typical sight of super automatic machines one will catch elsewhere in the parks. They also grind their beans and tamp prior to each drink (thank God) instead of using pre-ground coffee or pods. Sadly the process became slightly unraveled with the barista, as he made a couple of errors in his prep, and hence the espresso that came out was long with a thin crema, doling out notes of chocolate, toasted nuts and pepper.

Over the rest of my time in Disney World I made my way to several other locations, and found the results consistent; good drip coffee but not-as-great espresso. Thus, despite Joffrey's baristas not being the savviest behind their espresso machines, I was relatively pleased with what I found. Were Joffrey's to further shore up their espresso skills and maybe add a full-service coffee bar reminiscent of a truly excellent coffeehouse (were Disney to allow it of course), Disney World could finally have everything a coffee geek could want in a resort vacation.

If you're heading to Disney World, seek out Joffrey's for your coffee.

Note: Joffrey's, being the super nice folks that they are, did provide some fare free of charge. Nonetheless, the above review is completely objective feedback. 

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