Big Metal Bird Episode 7: Beverages


If there’s one thing I’ve learned in all my travels, getting through airports and to my final destination sure makes me thirsty. Serving the quality brand drinks people know and love on the ground is part of the United experience in the sky. And that unassuming little beverage cart does some serious heavy lifting. Think about it… United flies 375,000 passengers every day. So, in a year, flight attendants go through 55 million pounds of ice, 22 million liters of water, 44 million cans of soda, over 5.8 million bottles of wine and 1.7 million pounds of coffee. And when it comes to coffee, United knows its beans. I’m in San Francisco, home of some really steep hills, and some really great coffee. A few years ago, United upped its game in the coffee business. And if you know coffee, or if you’re just Italian, you know how delicious illy is. What you might not know is that illy started as a little coffee company in Trieste, Italy back in 1933 and is now being served in every class on every United flight. And serving coffee at 30,000 feet is trickier than it looks. I’m heading over to illy’s flagship café to meet with Mark Romano to learn more. That smells so good. Can I just wear that as a cologne? It’s amazing. Now you actually did a taste test in-flight, to pick the best coffee. We did a number of taste tests first on the ground… Then we had to take it into the air. And at this altitude, the problem is two-fold. Number one is that we lose 30% of our perception of sweet and salt. And number two, because of the very low humidity we have a much lower perception of flavors. And so we have to compensate potentially by the dose of ground coffee or the grinding consistency in order to really maintain our flavor profile. Tell me about the packaging. We installed an exclusive line to produce the United packs. As you can see it’s a vacuum pack but there’s two packs per bag, which is a more sustainable packaging as well. And this has worked out actually quite nicely. What can you tell me about illy and sustainability? So illy has been working directly with the farmers for many, many years. Implementing the sustainable agricultural practices and really improving the quality of the coffee. And you have this ultra low-emission facility. That sounds pretty fancy, tell me about it. We, we capture the heat from the roasting exhaust stacks and we heat the building with that. This is a serious deal for you. It’s an experience that thanks to United, they can enjoy in flight and on the ground. Alright Mark, I uh, think I’m gonna take this with me. OK Phil. There is a time for coffee, but it’s five o’clock somewhere and I’m ready to talk wine. When United dreamt up the United Polaris Business Class experience, they wanted the wine to live up to the United Polaris standards. So, master sommelier Doug Frost introduced them to Colby Red. Wine with a cause that’s made with a whole lot of heart. Today I’m in Sonoma to meet the Groom family, makers of Colby Red Wine, and a very special partner with United Airlines. When it comes to your family, your journey with wine is beyond personal. This has been life changing for you. How did Colby Red Wine come to be? So our journey started when Colby was born, and we heard congenital heart disease. Uh, Colby had his first open-heart surgery when he was uh, eight years of age. One day he came to me and said, “Dad, um, can we make
a wine together?” I asked him, ”Do you think if we
can sell the wine,” ”we could donate the proceeds” ”back to heart research?” ”For the community
that saved my life.” And from that moment on, my parents have been the biggest supporters of the adventure with Colby Red. How did the partnership with United Airlines start? So, when we got to a stage with Colby Red that it started to grow, um, I submitted the wines to United Airlines to go through the taste process and it got selected as one of the really great wines that came through on a taste and quality profile. How is this United partnership allowed you to help those in need? You know, we’re a father and son project and it’s hard to get the word out there. We don’t have the marketing dollars. We don’t have the reach. So for us to have Colby Red served on United Airlines and the number of people that get to taste that wine and see the bottle, it’s just… it’s just amazing for us. The beverage partnerships United has curated for its travelers are sure to quench and delight. And we can all raise a glass to that. Is that bottle still open?

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