Philly food and drink scene

We taste-tested Wawa’s fancy new ‘Reserve’ coffee

Spoiler: It was great.

Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

Wawa is the Philly region’s go-to for a regular cup of joe. But that wasn’t enough for the popular convenience store.

At the beginning of January, the brand jumped aboard the specialty coffee train by introducing a line called Wawa Reserve.

With annual sales near 200 million cups, Wawa’s not in danger of being put out of business by the continuing proliferation of high-end cafes. But in general, drinkers have become more well-versed in specialty coffee lingo. So the beloved chain is dipping its toes in a bit of coffee hipsterization.

What makes Reserve different? Mostly, the beans.

Reserve uses beans of the more expensive arabica variety (as opposed to a mix of that and robusta). And their provenance is identified, just like at third wave shops that sell you on $6 cups of “single origin.”

First up in the rotating lineup of what a spokesperson called “small-batch, specialty grade” coffee is a varietal called Kenya AA.

Available now at most stores, the new offering is found in the row of airpots with the other gazillion flavors. Is it noticeably different from the rest of those java jolts?

Without a doubt, the answer is yes.

Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

We compared the Reserve to several other, non-flavored Wawa coffees, including Regular, Colombian and Dark Roast. All coffees were tasted hot, within minutes of being poured, and all were black, with no milk or sugar added.

Wawa’s Regular blend has a very distinctive taste. It’s not quite as plasticky as Dunkin’ Donuts signature sip, but there’s a kind of papery-earthy mouthfeel and bitter finish that’s immediately recognizable. The Colombian was even more bitter, with a sourness mixed in. The Dark Roast tasted mostly like brown-colored hot water.

But the Wawa Reserve — it was great.

It might not make waves in a fancy coffee shop, but to an experienced coffee palate, it blew the other Wawa contenders away.

The Reserve Kenya AA drinks extremely smooth. Its flavor is round, almost sweet — one reason Wawa marketing materials suggest drinking it black — and has very little bitterness on the finish.

Even independent local roasters admit it’s not half bad.

Wawa doesn’t release who exactly does its small-batch roasting, saying only that it “strive[s] to partner with vendors who have the capabilities.” But the company does have its own roast master to oversee the process, and a licensed “Q grader” (aka coffee somellier) to give feedbak on the results.

In this case, their efforts produced a very worthwhile result. Even more so because Reserve is not priced any differently than the rest of the chain’s java. It’s even part of the current $1 any-size coffee promotion, which runs through Feb. 4.

Just a buck for a cup this smooth? Impressive moves, Wawa. Impressive moves.

Want some more? Explore other Philly food and drink scene stories.

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Coffee, Wawa