White House’s Classified Coffee
April 3 - 2021
Coffee Geography Magazine
People always notice coffee mugs and cups in front of the presidents and their aids in the Oval office or elsewhere in the White House during meetings or press conferences. But the White House has such historical secrecy not to reveal their favorite blend or coffee beans. The Obama administration had shared the wine lists served during the state dinners, but not the coffee used.
It has always been said that the West Wing is proud to have all American. That is not actually true when it comes to wine and cheese preference. Best Vintages and well matured French and Italian products are noticed by dignitaries without going to far for questioning where they came from. What about the coffee which is often asked but never properly answered to the media?
In an environment where hectic schedules make the powerful decision makers stay up late at night and some times miss their whole sleep, caffeine is the handy substance to keep them floating for the next day.
Look at almost any photo of a meeting inside the Situation Room from the killing of Osama bin Laden to preparations for a hurricane and coffee cups are spread around the table. When foreign dignitaries come to visit, they are offered coffee.
But what is served in the residence? Or when the White House pulls out all the stops for a state dinner? And is the First Lady a loyal coffee drinker?
Presidential candidates show their affection to the coffee by visiting local diners in New Hampshire and Iowa by grabbing the big cup as a common sacrament at the primaries. Once he becomes president, the coffee mug is the first to notice during the morning briefings. However, the White House is hushed on his preferences over the years during different administrations.
“It was enjoyed every day,” said John Moeller, who served three presidents working in the White House kitchen from 1992 to 2005.
Moeller is honest as history tells us the behavior of all U.S. presidents on coffee consumption.
Imported beans from East and West Indies were stocked in Thomas Jefferson’s cellar at Monticello. Tea as the common hot drink for the British royals, he honored the coffee for “civilized world” without mentioning the “Tea Party” gathering.
The Boston Tea Party was a political protest that occurred on December 16, 1773, at Griffin’s Wharf in Boston, Massachusetts. American colonists, frustrated and angry at Britain for imposing “taxation without representation,” dumped 342 chests of tea, imported by the British East India Company into the harbor. The event was the first major act of defiance to British rule over the colonists. It showed Great Britain that Americans wouldn’t take taxation and tyranny sitting down, and rallied American patriots across the 13 colonies to fight for independence.
Franklin Roosevelt preferred to brew his coffee himself by having dark French roast brought to him on a tray. Teddy Roosevelt’s exceptional choice Maxwell House was phrased as “Good to the last drop,” by the president what would become the coffee company’s catch-phrase.
In 1997, the White House brought bigger espresso machines for use during large events.
“We were making espresso drinks for the first lady. Both Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. Bush enjoyed a nice latte in the afternoon. It wasn’t unusual getting a call at 1 or 2 in the afternoon: ‘Time for a latte.’ ” said Moeller, a chef for the Clinton and both Bush administrations.
In the residence, Moeller said, there was a Mr. Coffee drip machine, while downstairs there was a larger machine to serve the masses. Several French press devices were kept nearby, but were rarely used.
If there is the only common thing what President Obama and Trump agree to, that would be their discontent to the coffee.
Obama almost always has a cream-colored, gold-trimmed porcelain cup in front of him. But inside those cups, aides say, is almost certainly tea (his favorite is Black Forest Berry made by Honest Tea) in the Oval Office, aboard Air Force One, inside the Situation Room.
“Very honestly, I do not recall him drinking coffee ever,” said Arun Chaudhary, his former videographer.
“Obama’s not really a coffee drinker,” said Jon Favreau, who is the president’s former speech writer and most definitely a coffee drinker, often grabbing a cup of Dunkin’ Donuts on his way into work. “I’ve seen him order tea quite a few times but never coffee.”
The same is true about President Trump’s habit in regards to hot drinks. Once he has been spotted sipping espresso in Miami in public as if that was his first time. The billionaire stopped by the local restaurant Versailles and ordered a cafecito espresso drink to accompany his croquetas and empanadas, according to the Miami Herald. He lifted the small cup of Cuban coffee briefly to his lips long enough to be caught on camera, afterward declaring it "strong."
His staff in the White House has never seen him having one other than tea. What is his secret to wake up in the middle of the night to twit and able to do his morning duties just like every one of us without any Kick from the Caffeine?
During their terms, the White House was reluctant to announce the source of its coffee. Maybe the Obama White House relies on Intelligentsia, the roaster from his hometown Chicago? (Company officials say no, but the president was known to visit one of their stores before he ran for president). What about Blue Bottle, the buzzy brewer out of California? (They insist no, although they once served Michele Obama a French press brew during a breakfast fund-raiser in Berkeley).
What about Black Rifle Coffee, a proud coffee for veterans with AK47 on its bag whom President Trump praised it simply “fantastic.” The company denied their involvement with the White House.
Lyndon Johnson was proud to have only American wines to be served at official functions. So if the White House wanted to ensure the same for coffee, they could only rely on two places to grow their coffee: Hawaii, or Puerto Rico.
So a brief research was needed to find out the facts where WH coffee come from.
A plantation in Puerto Rico was reached by The State Department to order beans in a small batch.
The White House could have access to that order. There is also some hint where the coffee brewing takes place. Kona Rainforest Farm, a four employee, 12,000 tree- farm in Captain Cook in Hawaii, turns out the source of coffee for the first family.
The White House has ordered from the farm four times, for Independence Day, for a total of about 50 pounds. They always get the same brew: the Extra Fancy Blend, which goes for $45 per pound.
“Initially they were buying pretty frequently. And our coffee’s not cheap,” said Robert Barnes, the owner.
The White House sommelier, Daniel Shanks, also told them the White House doesn’t serve caffeinated coffee after noon, and asked where he could get some Hawaiian decaf. Barnes turned him toward nearby Pele Plantations and Shanks once ordered about 25 pounds of it, according to the plantation owner, but hasn’t ordered since.
But here’s the thing. While we’ve tracked down the only known supplier of White House coffee, there is no way it is the only supplier. With about 50 pounds of regular, and 25 pounds of decaf, on the books, that would not be enough to keep the building going over the years.