Beverages: A little jolt

Espresso-based drinks deliver lucrative margins and satisfy customers.

Published in FSD Update

After months of deliberation, Brandon Durio, executive chef for the Cherry Creek School District, in Colorado, piloted a coffee program in one high school. “We wanted to focus on the basics and retrain students’ palates to know what real espresso drinks are supposed to taste like,” Durio explains. He’s now able to offer students Americanos, cappuccinos, iced or hot lattes and mochas, all under 60 calories.

“Espresso-based beverages have a higher price point and a higher margin than drip-based coffee, so they’re an absolute must on a café’s menu,” adds Michael Wuest, marketing manager for the University of Missouri Campus Dining Services, in Columbia, where espresso-based drinks like Pumpkin Spice and Raspberry Vanilla Cream lattes are offered in three of the school’s self-branded coffee shops.

Both operations purchase local products. Cherry Creek works with Coda brand coffee, which delivers fresh on demand, and Rocky Mountain Spice Co., which helped the district make a low-calorie cocoa powder for mochas. Mizzou’s cafés use Kaldi’s coffee, a St. Louis-based company with ownership ties to the university, and The Roasterie, a Kansas City-based company.

Variety and promotions

“Coffee, like wine or beer, is a highly individualized experience, and the beans themselves can deliver a huge variance in flavor and expression,” says Kevin Aubrey, marketing manager for dining services at the University of Rochester (UR), in New York. “We try to serve that by offering numerous ways to cater to the taste of our customers.”

This extends beyond the beans themselves—be sure to offer variety in caffeine levels, milk and flavors. Using simple recipes and high-quality ingredients is paramount, adds Rachel Ciccaglione, location supervisor at UR, who uses a combination of chocolate sauces and syrups to boost flavor in lattes, like mocha, vanilla and salted caramel. “[Espresso drinks] are very popular in the late afternoon, [when] our customers tend to look for that pick-me-up in a latte or cappuccino, rather than a brewed coffee.”

Seasonality is also important. Durio offers seasonal options like white chocolate in February for Valentine’s Day and Irish Cream in March, and Ciccaglione offers specialties like eggnog and gingerbread lattes in December.


Durio considers QSRs that serve specialty coffee his competition: “Starbucks’ Caramel Macchiato has three times the calories than any of our espresso drinks, and McDonalds offers a $1 coffee, so we offer our Americano straight up for the same price. The students love it because of the convenience and the great product served right at their school.” 

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