It’s Likely Your Coffee Was Roasted at This New York Company

White Co!ee, a family-owned business, has endured since 1939 through its willingness to produce any kind of co!ee for any kind of customer


What do the Yale Club, Pret a Manger and your corner bodega have in common? They all buy their coffee from the same local roaster.

White Coffee, a family-owned business in the Astoria section of Queens, has endured since 1939 through its willingness to produce any kind of coffee for any kind of customer. Yes, it roasts snob-friendly, single-origin, organic beans for upscale cafes and restaurants. But it also has produced a peanut butter-banana coffee for the Elvis estate and a bourbon coffee for Jim Beam. It even makes a “Donut Shop Blend” for delis that want their coffee to taste just like the brew served at Dunkin’ Donuts.

“Whatever my customer likes, I love!” Vice President Gregory White says. The company offers more than 13,000 different coffee products to wholesale and retail customers. “It drives us crazy,” says Gregory’s brother, Executive Vice President Jonathan White, who helps run the company with his mom, President Carole White.

If you live in New York City, you probably drink more White Coffee than you realize—its myriad varieties are offered in thousands of locations around town. It’s served at many area restaurants and hotels including Hilton and Marriott. It’s sold both by the pound and the cup at shops like Grace’s Marketplace. Check any deli and you’ll likely find the company’s commercialgrade brands.

White Coffee is also sold under private label and brand licenses including Entenmann’s and Kahlua at supermarkets and club stores across the U.S. I toured the Astoria plant last week. At 50,000 square feet, it’s smaller than you’d expect for a business roasting 9 million pounds of beans annually. But it packs a lot in. “It’s a roasting plant, a warehouse, a manufacturing place, a place I love to walk around in,” Jonathan White says.

The warehouse is piled high with 70-kilo burlap bags of green coffee, fresh off container ships.


White stocks more than 50 kinds of bean sourced from more than 20 countries, including Ethiopia, Colombia and Papua New Guinea.

Basic raw beans cost about $1.20 a pound, while premium varieties cost $3 a pound or more. White Coffee typically charges customers $5 to $10 a pound for roasted beans—a price that includes delivery, brewing gear and equipment service.

Consumers, meanwhile, will pay $7 to $15 a pound for these beans at the store, and anywhere from $1 to $4 for a single cup at a deli or restaurant.

On the factory floor, about 40 of the company’s 105 workers operate mechanical contraptions that wash, roast, flavor and grind the beans before packing them into K-cups, foil pouches for commercial use and bags for retail display.

“I love it in here,” Mr. White shouts over the din. “The smells are great. The level of activity. It’s organized chaos!”

Hot off the conveyor belt: A new maple-vanilla coffee developed for a gas-station chain. Maple is huge this year, Mr. White says.

They’re always inventing new flavors—like jalapeño.

“That did not go well,” Mr. White recalls.

Neither did a lemon-flavored brew.

“It tasted like Pledge,” he says.

The process for developing a new coffee can be less sophisticated than one might expect, Mr. White says. A buyer for a convenience-store chain, for example, might commission a blend that tastes like her favorite supermarket brand. And that’s on a good day. Sometimes, the buyer doesn’t even drink coffee. She’ll bring a sample back to her office for co-workers to try. “And then you’ll have that big chain serving that coffee for the next 10 years,” Mr. White says.

After the tour, I attended a tasting so I could sample a few basic and higher-end options.

The Parker House brand—typically served in places like hospitals where cost is the main consideration—was on the watery side, even when prepared to ideal specifications.

“It tastes like diner coffee,” I say.

“That’s the idea,” Mr. White explains. “It’s supposed to be very mild.”

The Pinnacle brand, which includes flavored coffees such as hazelnut often served in delis and convenience stores, costs about a dollar more a pound. It was a real improvement.

“It’s smoother, more body, more flavor notes,” Mr. White says.

I didn’t care for the expensive Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, a fashionably light roast with citrus notes. But I loved the midprice 100% EuropeanPrepared Organic Colombian. It was full-bodied and straightforward. “It’s like comfort food,” agrees Mr. White.

If maple and light roasts are hot right now, what can we expect 10 years down the line? Mr. White doesn’t hesitate with his bold prediction: “People will still be drinking lots of coffee.” Write to Anne Kadet at