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Danya Henninger

‘Part art, part science’: Everything you always wanted to know about Wawa coffee

Mayor Jim Kenney’s favorite thing about Wawa? His morning cup of joe.

Mayor Jim Kenney’s favorite thing about Wawa? The coffee.

“What do I love about Wawa? Their coffee is the best ever, a perfect start to the day,” the mayor said this morning. Speaking at a press conference on “Wawa Day,” during which the Delco-based chain will give away 1.7 million cups of joe for free, the mayor was preaching to the choir, but that didn’t make it any less true. Sipping hot liquid from his brown and red paper cup, Kenney went on to laud the cleanliness of Wawa stores and Wawa’s general commitment to the city.

“Philadelphia couldn’t ask for a better corporate citizen,” he said.

Yes Philly, Wawa is back. After a slew of Center City store closures in the late ‘00s, the convenience chain — which last year was ranked America’s favorite — is making a strong return to the urban center. When it launched a new flagship at Broad and Walnut seven months ago, that was considered a trial store. It turned out to be a huge success.

“This is no longer a test,” said Wawa president and CEO Chris Gheysens. “We’re going to open more stores in Center City.”

Mayor Jim Kenney toasts Wawa with a cup of his favorite coffee

Mayor Jim Kenney toasts Wawa with a cup of his favorite coffee

Danya Henninger

Next up is a store at 1900 Market Street. The location, in the ground floor of a large office building and across the street from an under-construction condo tower, will be one of the biggest Wawas anywhere — 7,000 sq. ft — and will have 25 bar seats (more than double the number at Broad and Walnut).

It will also have two entrances, one on Market and one on 20th. Which probably means the Starbucks across the street should be a little bit worried about its morning crowds thinning out. Per Wawa PR director Lori Bruce, who cites a StudyLogic report, Wawa is the No. 1 purveyor of brewed coffee by volume in Philly.

“We treat coffee as part art, part science,” Bruce says. Considering how big java is to the company, it’s not surprising some details about where the coffee comes from and how it’s made are kept secret, but she did share some insights about what makes Wawa coffee so beloved.

  • Wawa sells an average of 195 million cups of coffee a year, making it either the No. 6 or No. 7 brewed coffee seller in the entire country, according to StudyLogic industry reports — impressive considering it only operates in six states.
  • The milestone of the billionth cup of Wawa coffee sold was passed all the way back in 2008.
  • Wawa coffee beans are sourced by a team of in-house specialists who visit countries of origin and develop the proprietary blend brewed in stores.
  • Coffee beans are roasted “somewhere in the tri-state area,” then ground and portioned into vacuum-sealed foil packs for shipments to stores.
  • Wawa associates who open stores and make the morning coffee are referred to as “daybrighteners,” and are considered a crucial link in company culture.
  • Remember the days of glass coffee pots? They disappeared in favor of colorfully decorated, thermally-insulated airpots in 2010, when every single Wawa got a coffee bar makeover.
  • Wawa’s eight to 10 person engineering operations team spends a significant portion of its time studying coffee service, both in a special research facility at corporate headquarters and in the field.
  • The “brew island” — where you fix up your cup — gets the most attention; ops associates study the average amount of time customers spend there and measure how far customers have to stretch to reach sugar, creamers and other condiments (like mini marshmallows).
  • Also studied is the “brew cell,” making sure store associates can be efficient when they prepare the drip coffee.
  • On the competing with Starbucks front, many stores now feature actual, hand-pulled espresso drinks, from true cappuccinos to caramel-salted lattes, all drawn from Swiss-made machines. Just like the hoagies, these are ordered via touchscreen, and are customizable with what seems like unlimited flavors and styles.
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