There is a special bond that exists among co-workers forced to endure a terrible cup of office coffee.
“Sludge!” “Bitter, acidic swill!” they declare each morning in the kitchen. When the afternoon slump sets it, if they haven’t already scurried to a coffee shop for a cup, they’ll commiserate as they dredge the carafe.
But now, several savvy companies are angling to give the crummy office coffee machine a pink slip. Seeking to carve out a piece of a $2.6 billion office coffee service industry, they’re promising break room access to many of the same coffee trends now percolating in “third wave” cafes: single origin beans from high-end roasters, bean-to-cup brewing machines that can prepare coffee and espresso drinks, and kegs of cold brew coffee on tap.
“There’s a new coffee renaissance, and people are more discerning about what their coffee should taste like,” said Shea Coakley, cofounder of Boston-based office food supplier LeanBox. “But as the coffee palate is getting more sophisticated, the office market hasn’t kept up.”
Coakley’s company, which stocks break rooms with refrigerators filled with healthy food and snacks, has recently begun offering specialty coffees — and the cafe-quality equipment to brew and serve them — through its new drink program, Grind.
He and his cofounder source their beans from farms in Costa Rica, Kenya, and Ethiopia and are partnering with Atomic Coffee Roasters in Beverly to roast them. In February, they will open a 16,000-square-foot facility in Wilmington where they will roast coffee and produce as many as 10,000 kegs of cold brew a month, both for offices and coffee shops.
Last year, office coffee supply companies served up 4.4 billion cups of coffee in the United States, a 5 percent uptick over the previous year, said Samuel Nahmias, president of the market intelligence firm STUDYLOGIC. A significant portion of those cups are sourced from office food supply giants such as Aramark and Keurig Green Mountain, the Waterbury, Vt.-based maker of K-cups.
But 50 million of those cups were cold-brewed, he said, which represents a 165 percent spike up from 2015. He expects the trend will “continue to grow as coffee companies introduce more efficient cold-brewed processes for at-work.”
The current cold-brewing process, which involves steeping coffee grinds in cold water for up to 24 hours, produces a fuller, less acidic drink that doesn’t get watered down like iced coffee. Kegging it keeps it fresh for up to six weeks. Coakley said he invested in the facility in part because he could see cold-brew kegs “replacing old wireframe soda machines as the focal point of a beverage program.”
But another corporate coffee competitor, Joyride, will be following on his heels. The New York-based company, which has outfitted Google and Uber offices with its high-end coffee service, is expanding into Boston with its own 4,000-square-foot facility in Waltham in early March. Officials there say it has a double-digit wait list of clients.
In addition to its hot coffee service, Joyride specializes in “craft on draft,” said its marketing manager, Paul Toscano, partnering with prominent roasters such as Blue Bottle, Counter Culture, and Stumptown to keg cold-brewed coffee. The 6-year-old Joyride is also in San Francisco and Los Angeles and now serves 1,000 offices and cafes nationwide, with annualrevenues of over $10 million.
Joyride’s success, said Toscano, came from the company’s realization that it needed to think differently to do coffee right. Most high-quality coffee should be consumed within two weeks of when it’s roasted. But the supply chains in place to deliver office coffee necessities weren’t in sync with that schedule.
“The current office coffee distribution channels are not made for coffee,” Toscano said. “They’re delivering snacks and office goods and toner for your printer.”
These new coffee providers say their product is not only higher quality, it can be similar in price, for example, to the cost of K-cups.
That’s led traditional coffee suppliers to snap to attention. Steve Serino, sales manager of the 58-year-old company BostonbeaN , says that in addition to providing his accounts with K-cups and Flavia supplies, he’s begun offering local roasts and craft coffee beans such as Intelligentsia to his menu.
About two years ago, he began noticing kegs of cold brew cropping up in some of his clients’ office kitchens. He eventually tracked down the brewer, Jaime van Schyndel, owner of Barismo coffee company based in Arlington, who was struggling to deliver the 85-pound kegs by cargo bike. A partnership emerged, and BostonbeaN now delivers about 500 cold brew kegs of Barismo coffee each week. Van Schyndel says it’s been such a success that he’s spun off his cold-brew business, Draft Coffee Solutions LLC.
And while he’d like to credit the demand for his beans alone, the Barismo owner realizes there are bigger economic factors.
“What we’re facing here in New England is the convergence of a modern economy,” van Schyndel says. “There’s all these new tech jobs and there’s not enough people to work them. Recruitment is so fierce that every amenity you can get gets thrown down to recruit people.”
The fact that millennials not only expect coffee in the office, but are more apt to drink flavored or espresso-based beverages over drip coffee, is also helping to drive the trend, said Aaron Bullock, the author of the Buzz coffee and tea tracker report from the food industry research firm Datassential.
People who manage office high-end coffee programs also say it improves employee satisfaction, Bullock added, meaning happier workers who are less likely to duck out of work and cut down on productivity.
“Offering more than the standard can of Folgers shows that the higher-ups in the company are actually thinking about everyone,” he said.
Janelle Nanos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @janellenanos.