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Today we bring you more insights on superior coffee from NY-based coffee-oracle Oliver Schwaner-Albright. To distract ourselves from the Sisyphian nightmare that is trying to find a coffee good enough to make our daily commute tolerable (mission: impossible, unless you can make a lengthy detour to Monmouth, purveyor of the best coffee in London, according to Oliver), we’ve decide to pose him an altogether more inspirational (and stylish travel-related) question:

So, London coffee fantasies set aside for a moment, where can we get the best hotel coffee in the world?

(Mr & Mrs Smith’s first suggestion would be Losari Coffee Plantation Resort & Spa, a boutique hotel in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, where you can drink a cup of Javanese coffee grown a stone’s throw away, while you look at a volcano from your verandah – but Oliver hasn’t been there yet)

Ah yes, Monmouth: waiting for a cappuccino at the Borough Market branch of Monmouth is one of the best ways to start a day in London (if you work near there, obviously). I also hear great things about the roaster Square Mile Coffee, but I’ve never tried it.

The best hotel coffee in the world? Easy: the Ace Hotel in Portland, Oregon, because they invited Stumptown, one of America’s best coffee roasters, to open a café in the lobby. Stumptown is legendary for its discipline, standards and skills — they will grind and brew a single cup of microlot direct trade coffee to order — but this is Portland, one of the most friendly and relaxed cities anywhere, and even if you’re tasting a work of art it’ll feel like you’re at a party.

I wanna get me to Portland! Maybe we need to check out this Ace Hotel (great marketing-savvy name, for starters. and their website is pretty funky)…Actually I just asked Katy in our office and she’s already on it! She’ll be heading out there in September to sniff out more US boutique hotels for Mr & Mrs Smith, so we’ll be able to give you the low-down when she gets back. Things move so fast at Smith HQ…

Why is it that so many hotels get it so right in the bedroom department but can’t sort out a decent cup of coffee do you think?

I don’t know why hotels don’t take their coffee more seriously. The same hotel that puts so much into the thread count of their sheets and electronics hidden in their cabinets will soft-pedal when it comes to coffee, sticking a cheap brewer in the room and delivering hours-old urn coffee for room service.

I’m waiting for a hotel to outfit their rooms with Technivorms, the Dutch coffee brewer that’s unquestionably the best machine in the world. But that’s just the first step: the hotel would also need to refresh each room with fresh-ground coffee every day. Once coffee is ground it deteriorates quickly — vacuum bags only do so much — and the best way to make a good cup is to grind the beans as close to brewing as possible. It’s a lot to ask, but someday a hotelier with taste and style will make the commitment.

HOTELIERS: ARE YOU READING?! Urn-brewed coffee?! <gags a bit> Urrgh, I thought (hoped) that stuff died along with loon pants and platforms. Though sadly, I should know better, having stayed in establishments that probably made up their breakfast trolleys days in advance (these are not hotels that made it into Mr & Mrs Smith’s boutique hotel collection though, I can tell you).

Can hotels do anything instantly to make things better, without one of these wünder-machines?

It’s not a lot to ask for a hotel to get its coffee from a good local roaster instead of from the same food-service company that delivers its cooking oil and flour. Stumptown, say, will happily deliver or mail coffee on a regular basis to a hotel (or restaurant, or individual), ensuring a steady supply of freshly-roasted top-grade coffee.

And yes, it’s inexcusable when room service delivers urn coffee that was brewed hours earlier. Coffee should be brewed to order and delivered hot, and made with some attention and skill. A bad cup of coffee won’t spoil the morning, especially when you’re traveling and standards are lowered, but an exceptional cup might be memorable, and is as salient as any of a hotel’s amenities.

I hate to disagree with you there Oliver, but I think a bad cup of coffee can ruin your morning! (and I know Mary would agree with me on that front, based on her comment.) Especially when travelling. Unless it’s ’emergency coffee’, if you know what I mean. Imagine my elation when, this morning, on the way to work, a shiny new coffee stand had appeared at the train station <me: drooling at prospect of Brazilian-style cafezinho>. And imagine my dismay, if you can, when said coffee outlet handed over another tiny but devastating portion of disappointment.

I think the only option really now is to just stop being so LAZY and make my own. Is there any special kit I need? I think a Gaggia machine is a little out of my price range (and a bit impractical for the kitchen at Smith HQ), but I think I could stretch to a cafetière (or French press, as you say in the States – tomarto, tomayto, etc) and some good coffee. So tell me: anything else I should spend my dosh on?

As far as I’m concerned, the most important piece of coffee equipment, and the first thing you should buy, is a burr grinder – the kind where the beans go in the top and the grounds come out the bottom – because the first step to making superior coffee is grinding each pot to order. Coffee grounds oxidize quickly, and you should no sooner use grounds from the day before as you would serve somebody a bottle of wine uncorked last night. (Which of course you might do at home, but which would cause a fuss at a good restaurant.)

That’s taking me back to my childhood (no, I wasn’t necking espressos when I was 8 years old – ok maybe one or two): my mother used to have a wall-mounted coffee grinder with handle on top and a little drawer that the coffee came out of. But then she’s Continental, so she understands about such things.

Anyway thanks again for all your superior coffee knowledge Oliver – now we all know how to turn the daily grind into a less forehead-smackingly frustrating time! (And we have a whole new criterion for how hotels make it into the Smith collection!)

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