Coffee Beans

The Story Behind the Sip

Our coffee queen, beverage director Myrna Adolfo, shares the one elusive secret to making great coffee.

Although Myrna Adolfo admitted to having two cups of espresso prior to being interviewed for this article, it wasn't that she needed a lift. She's just passionate about her job. 

As the beverage director here at for Panera Bread®, she's responsible for "anything served in a cup," and coffee is her biggest responsibility. She travels regularly to Costa Rica, Colombia, Guatemala and Brazil. But while there, she's not sipping coffee perched in some wicker chair. In the Tarrazú region of Costa Rica, for instance, she's in the mountains picking the beans, riding the trucks, and watching how the harvest is processed. And it's the same way in Colombia, where she's often in the fields ankle-deep in mud. 

Myrna explains that coffee is one of the most challenging products to get right. First, you need to find conscientious farmers, who are growing and harvesting quality beans. That's why she's out in the fields. Next, you need an artisan-roasting process that brings out their subtle flavors. "Our suppliers use vintage World War II cast-iron roasters," she says. "They're less efficient than bigger modern units, but they produce a more consistent heat and better taste." 

Finally, there's the brewing process itself. In many respects, this is the most important part of the entire chain. All that previous effort and attention to detail, all the hard work of those farmers and roasters (and Myrna!), can be foiled if the water isn't right or if the finished product is left out too long. Panera's bakery-cafes actually have a four-chamber purification system that filters water down to one micron, which is one-tenth the size of a droplet of mist. 

"Water is key," she explains. "Coffee is very sensitive to excessive mineral content and things like sulfates and phosphates. That's why you've probably had the experience of buying coffee you like at some place, but then never being able to get it to taste the same way at home. It's the water." 

Unlike some coffee purveyors, Panera Bread only serves four basic types: a classic Light Roast blend from South and Central America that's excellent with a little sugar and cream; a Dark Roast from Costa Rica that's more robust (with a chocolaty undernote) and is best taken black; a Hazelnut from Costa Rica that has a subtle nutty flavor; and a Decaffeinated style from Colombia that's still abuzz with richness and taste. 

You'll also find brew tags on our coffeepots that tell you the exact time it was made. And we brew fresh batches every 60 minutes. "I've actually been in cafes where customers notice that we'll be brewing in 10 minutes and wait," adds Myrna. "Giving people that kind of control is wonderful. That's what Panera Bread is all about."