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Alaska Airlines has created a coffee that it says tastes better in the sky

Alaska Airlines is making a custom coffee.
Alaska Airlines
Alaska Airlines is making a custom coffee.

By Jordan Valinsky, CNN

New York (CNN) — Drinking bad coffee is just one of the many downsides of flying. Alaska Airlines thinks it has a solution.

Alaska has created a custom blend with Portland-based roaster Stumptown to make a coffee that’s immune from the altitude-changing effects that airborne-served coffee typically creates, including tasting bitter and weak.

The custom coffee, a first for a major airline, will exclusively be served on every Alaska flight, including its regional carrier Horizon Air, by December 1.

Taste and smell are inextricably combined and people’s sense of smell is significantly altered in the sky. Food and drinks taste different because pressurized cabins lower blood oxygen levels, which reduces the ability of olfactory receptors (i.e. the ability to smell). The extremely dry air of the cabin, with its humidity levels lower than that of the Sahara Desert, also affects the nose.

To combat those effects, Alaska turned to Stumptown’s Holler Mountain, a medium-dark blend, for the base, then infused it with punchier notes that taste like marshmallows, browned butter and toffee as well as a “delicate hint” of citrus oils and cherry essence. As a result, the coffee’s notes have a more “complex” taste when consumed in the air.

The coffee has been in development for a year, with the airline telling CNN that 20 different versions were tested, including during flights and with blind surveys. Alaska even taste-tested the blend with creamer and Biscoff cookies to “ensure the best combination.”

However, the freshly brewed partnership with Stumptown means that Alaska is ending its decade-long partnership with fellow Seattle-based coffee company, Starbucks. Alaska said it is “grateful to our friends at Starbucks and proud to have served their coffee on board our flights for years.” (Delta Air Lines, which has a major hub in Seattle, still serves Starbucks on its flights).

“Airplane coffee is often a joke for many travelers,” Edward Russell, editor of the Airline Weekly newsletter for travel industry publication Skift, told CNN. “That’s why airlines often try to up their game with various global coffee brands; despite that, most onboard options are mediocre.”

He added that he doubts the custom coffee will attract new customers to the airline, but the new partnership with Stumptown “looks more like what the airline does best,” which is boost businesses from the Pacific Northwest. Other regional companies served on Alaska include Tillamook cheeses, Salt & Straw ice cream and Straightaway canned cocktails.

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