Ritz-Carlton launches new proprietary coffee brand

Ritz-Carlton Hotels and Resorts in the United States are brewing a new private label proprietary coffee brand, the Maryland-based hospitality company announced today. Named First Drop®, it is made from coffee beans harvested by Rainforest Alliance Certified® farms in Mexico and Brazil.

I had the opportunity to speak with Rainer Zinngrebe, Vice President Culinary & Corporate Chef for Ritz-Carlton. “The coffee we served up to this point was a product that was developed for the [Ritz-Carlton] brand 11 years ago. The flavor profile preferred by our guests has evolved in the years since then, so we started to look at our coffee product and ask if it was still the right flavor profile, if it was still relevant.”

After conducting market research, Zinngrebe and his team learned that American guests’ tastes in coffee have changed over the past decade, with the growth of brands like Starbucks as well as many smaller-format artisan roasters. Where the preferred flavor by Americans was once a weaker, less-bold brew, tastes have moved in the direction of a stronger flavor.

Another question the team posed was whether the existing coffee product was in line with the social responsibility standards that were subsequently implemented by the rest of the brand. This was determined to be another area of importance for selecting a new coffee.

Once it was determined what was important from both a guest and corporate responsibility perspective, the question became “What are we going to do about it?” Thus began a years-long project to find the perfect social responsibility certification (there are several) and, of course, the perfect flavor; this involved several discussions with their roaster, and several tasting panels to find the perfect bean and blend.

The result was a blend of 90% Mexican and 10% Brazilian beans for the core product, and a premium First Drop® Reserve product, which is a blend of small batch premium artisan coffees from East Africa and The Americas. These single origin beans are roasted one bag at a time and blended after roasted to the best specification for each particular batch of beans. All of the beans come from Rainforest Alliance Certified® Farms, which were felt to offer the best approach to sustainability that was most in line with The Ritz-Carlton’s social responsibility objectives.

The Mexican coffee beans blended into the core First Drop® product come from Finca La Puebla, in the mountainous Sierra Norte de Puebla in in East-Central Mexico. Approximately 40,000 families in the region make their living from the cultivation and harvest of coffee.

The new blends will be rolled out to banquet and Ritz-Carlton Club lounges to start; hotels will have the option to add the new brand to in-room dining and F&B outlets in the future. The in-room Nespresso coffee product will remain the brand standard, as with lower use coffee pods were found to be shelf-stable than drip coffees.

Zinngrebe is excited about the prospects the new coffee contributes to the Ritz-Carlton brand identity. “We could easily have partnered with any of the large commercialized [coffee] brands,” he explains. “We looked for an an elevated program that speaks more to the luxury segment. Luxury guests today want to identify with a story. Previously in a lot of hotels, banquet guests would get coffee out of an urn that said ‘coffee’—they don’t know exactly what’s in there. We hope to elevate our experience for those guests with a premium branded coffee product, but also tell the guests the story behind that product.“

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company operates over 90 hotels and resorts throughout the world, with another 40 hotel and residential properties in their development pipeline. The company is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Marriott International.

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