Dining Services considers changing coffee suppliers

Students say they’re excited about the possible change


Café 77 offers patrons Royal Cup coffee. Photo by Hannah Denham.

Jin Ni

Washington and Lee Dining Services plans to switch out its coffee supplier—and Starbucks may be a contender.

At the moment, six suppliers, including Royal Cup, have submitted bids for becoming Washington and Lee’s next coffee provider. Contenders include Peet’s Coffee and Nestle Professional, the distributor for Starbucks Coffee.

Director of Dining Services Jen Hickey said the change is just another step in a series of moves to overhaul the dining experience at Washington and Lee University.

In the past year, this has included expanding allergen awareness across dining facilities, as well as the summer renovation of The Marketplace.

The change in suppliers is significant, considering the amount of coffee that students drink every year on campus. According to documents Hickey showed The Ring-tum Phi, in the 2018-2019 academic year, W&L students drank more than 106,000 cups of coffee.

For more than 20 years, the university has used Royal Cup as its supplier, a major importer of coffee and tea, owned by a Washington and Lee alum of the Class of 1973, Hatton Smith.

Hickey said the reason for the change is Dining Services does not have the ability to set clear expectations between Dining Services and Royal Cup because they lack a set contract.

“It’s not about getting rid of RC, it was about being able to articulate what our expectations as a campus dining program are,” Hickey said. “The program we’ve had here has not functioned like a campus dining program. It’s more like we just provide coffee.”

Hickey also pointed to lack of sustainability information from Royal Cup.

“It’s been a struggle to get sustainability information. They’ve said they’re Rainforest Alliance and Fair Trade Certified. That’s great, but that’s an expectation,” Hickey said. “Our students want to know where the coffee is coming from, how is it helping the communities they’re in, do the farmers have a dog?”

Besides sustainability, students said they also care about the quality and taste of the coffee.

“I don’t really enjoy the coffee at our dining facilities,” Enkhee Dendev, ‘21, said. “I would appreciate them switching it out to a new brand, but that would depend on the brand and the price increase if there were one.”

Dendev also said she was in full support of the university switching out the coffee if it meant they were becoming more sustainable.

“I’m really happy they’re changing the coffee,” Emily Hassid, ‘22, said. “It’s too acidic for my taste.”

Hickey emphasized that while taste would not be one of the deciding factors, she is confident that the coffee will be of good quality, considering who has submitted bids.

Some other expectations that Hickey laid out during the interview included the ability of the coffee supplier to provide efficient and timely service, sustainability information, and established recipes.

With Royal Cup Coffee, Dining Services has had to create their own recipes.

“That’s just not our job,” Hickey said.

The evaluations for which coffee will come to campus will take place this week, and a decision will come at the end of February.

But Hickey said that if there is a change, campus coffee drinkers won’t taste it until fall 2020.