illy coffee

United starts pouring illy coffee on July 1.

United coffee art

You can stop saying “No, thank-you” when flight attendants on United Airlines flights come around offering coffee.

That’s because starting Friday, July 1, the carrier will start serving a specially chosen dark roast coffee from famed Italian coffee roaster illy on all flights.

“We acted on customer feedback and are delivering a product our employees are proud to serve, while bringing excellence and passion to every one of the 72 million cups of coffee we serve inflight every year,” said Jimmy Samartzis, United’s vice president of Food Services and United Clubs in a statement.

After merging with Continental Airlines, United had stopped serving Starbucks brand coffee in favor of the brand Continental had been serving. Customers noticed.

To fix that, United went all out – sending Illy coffee experts and caffeine-conscious employees into airports and onto flights to do taste testing and gather feedback on which coffee blend might be the best replacement – and the dark roast blend “won.”

United began serving the illy coffee in its United Club locations in December, 2015. Now that illy has had time to ramp up a special production line to make enough pillow-packs to supply United with the 50 tons of coffee it needs monthly, United passengers will be getting the better brew too.

United was really serious about this coffee switch and back in April, sent a team of key personnel to illy’s intensive University of Coffee at the Culinary Institute of America’s campus in St. Helena, Calif., where they learned about growing, roasting and preparing great coffee.

United team wiht their cups

I got to go along and wrote a piece for USA TODAY about the experience – and about United’s goals in making the switch.

You can read those stories here and here.

Coffee University_United's Jeffrey Pelch conducts taste test at illy University of Coffee in March 2016

United perks up its coffee offering

United coffee art

If you’ve been disappointed with the quality of the coffee being served on your United Airlines flights, get ready for a tasty jolt of something far better.

As announced last November, United is bringing on board coffee from Italian roaster illy – starting in July.

Coffee is so important to so many people that United has not only gone to Italy to get the new coffee, in preparation for the July roll out the carrier sent a team of managers to illy’s intensive University of Coffee at the Culinary Institute of America’s campus in St. Helena, California to learn just what goes into growing, roasting and preparing great coffee.

I tagged along and, during the highly-caffeinated course (at one point I had to go walk off the buzz) students conducted many tastings and learned about everything from the “discovery” of coffee to how coffee is best cultivated, harvested, processed, roasted, stored, ground and — of course — brewed. Grounds covered included the many variables that can affect the taste and quality of coffee, how to make a perfect espresso and how to add foam art to espresso-based drinks.

It takes at least 50 beans to make one cup of coffee, but just one bad bean to ruin a cup. Class exercise-find the bad beans.

Take a look at my USA TODAY story about how United’s newly minted Coffee Experts will spread the word.

United team wiht their cups