For decades, the coffee served at Walt Disney World’s parks and resorts was infamously subpar. The website Disney Food Blog puts it delicately, saying it was not long ago that “Disney coffee wasn’t a highlight of your visit.”
But for guests in the know, there was another option. Tampa’s first specialty coffee roaster, Joffrey’s Coffee & Tea Company — which celebrates its 35th anniversary this year — had provided coffee to a number of carts and restaurants throughout Disney World since the mid-1990s.
“Guests knew that there was a better coffee on property, which was ours,” says Ted Abrams, who has been Joffrey’s CEO since 2001. “When guests wanted a better cup, they sought us out.”
The two companies took the relationship to the next level when Joffrey’s was named the official specialty coffee of Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Disney Vacation Club and Disney Cruise Line in 2012. Now, nearly all of the coffee served across the Disney property bears the signature purple Joffrey’s logo. COO and Roastmaster Chris de Mezzo collaborates with Disney chefs to create the dozens of blends in the Disney Specialty Coffee Collection. Joffrey’s now operates more than 20 kiosks around Disney World — where they serve up hot and iced coffees, lattes, specialty drinks and teas — plus a full-size café at Disney Springs.
In fact, it was Joffrey’s original café in Hyde Park Village that led to the Disney deal in the first place. Unbeknownst to de Mezzo, who has been with Joffrey’s since 1986, a member of Disney’s operations team happened to stop into the shop for a cup of coffee. Not long after, he called Joffrey’s roasting facility, then located in Tampa’s Drew Park neighborhood. de Mezzo’s wife, who also works for Joffrey’s, took the call. Her husband was busy roasting and didn’t believe who was on the other end of the phone.
“I thought she was joking,” de Mezzo recalls. “I turned to walk away, and she grabbed me and threw the phone. I still thought she was joking. I picked up and went, [gruff tone] ‘Yeah?’”
The man on the other end gave his name and employer. de Mezzo gasped.
“[I said], ‘I’m sorry, sir! How can I help you?’ That began our relationship with Walt Disney World.”
de Mezzo says Disney was attracted to his team’s dedication to roasting only the highest quality, specialty coffee, which makes up about 10% of the coffee grown in the world. Each year, de Mezzo travels across the globe to regions like Central America and Africa to meet the farmers growing Joffrey’s coffee and certify that they are using the proper techniques to create specialty coffee (like ensuring at least 95% of the coffee beans that move on to the processing stage are ripe).
“These [farmers], what they do is amazing,” de Mezzo says. “They make us look good by supplying us with great coffee. We have the easy job, turning what Mother Nature gives us into something special.”
Before coming to Joffrey’s, de Mezzo wasn’t really a coffee drinker. He grew up in an Italian New Jersey household — “On my mother’s apron,” he says. She taught him to measure ingredients by taste, rather than calculation, while cooking. It stuck with him when he began roasting coffee.
“After a year of roasting, I said to myself one time, you know what. I’ve been doing this for a year now. I should probably taste what it is that I’m doing,” de Mezzo says.
So he tried a freshly roasted cup of Mocha Java. An epiphany struck.
“Oh man, that’s not bad!” he recalls thinking. “Then the bug Mom had built years ago kicked in. This is pretty darn good, and I did it this way. I wonder what would happen if I did it this way. Thirty-three years later, and I’m still looking for that. Coffee changes from year to year, crop to crop, place to place, so there’s always something different that you’re trying to coax out of it to share with people.”
Coffee is what de Mezzo — and Joffrey’s — knows best. It’s a fact CEO Ted Abrams discovered quickly when he joined the company in 2001. At the time, Joffrey’s was on shaky financial ground, in part because of the brand’s struggling coffee shop business. “When I got there it was a question of, what is it the company does well? Because they had to be doing something well to be in business for [17 years at that point],” Abrams says. He turned to de Mezzo, the longest-tenured member of the Joffrey’s team.
“I said, what we do well is we roast the best darn coffee in the southeast United States,” de Mezzo recalls. “What we don’t do well is operate retail stores.”
Joffrey’s eventually closed all of its brick-and-mortar locations outside of Disney, focusing instead on roasting and wholesale. But that came at the price of losing a bit of the company’s brand identity in Tampa, something de Mezzo is itching to get back. Joffrey’s is currently in talks with the developers of Water Street Tampa to open a flagship retail store and café in the new development sometime in 2021. Both Abrams and de Mezzo stress that they are not looking to get into the coffee shop game. This hometown location would introduce Joffrey’s to a new audience and bring back fond memories for longtime Tampa residents.
“You could come in and get an experience of what Joffrey’s is all about,” de Mezzo says. “Those that might have forgotten that we exist can come in and be like, ‘That’s the Joffrey’s I remember!’”
As the first specialty coffee roaster on the west coast of Florida, Joffrey’s blazed a trail for the innovative independent shops popping up all over the Tampa Bay area. But even with the company’s success over the last decade-plus, Abrams says it would be “silly” for Joffrey’s to move its operations anywhere else.
“I think that Tampa is just a great place to do business,” he adds. “We’re honored to be a Tampa-based company.”
Having been with the company longer than anyone, de Mezzo is passionate about keeping Joffrey’s tied to its Tampa roots. He needs no prompting to detail his love for the city.
“I fell in love with it the first time I came here, and I would never want to live anywhere else,” he says. “I travel all over the world buying coffee, and I’ve seen some really beautiful places, but there’s no place like home.”
Joffrey’s has developed three coffee blends that benefit charities, with a dollar from the sale of each bag donated to the organization. The initiative launched with the Valor Blend, which benefits Task Force Dagger — a nonprofit that assists members of the Special Forces — and was inspired by the son of a Joffrey’s team member who served as a Green Beret.
“He served many, many tours of duty in the Middle East, and we just felt that it was incredibly important for Joffrey’s to be able to recognize the importance of our military and what they do,” Abrams says.
After Abrams joined the board of the local Make-A-Wish Foundation chapter, Joffrey’s developed the Wish Maker’s Blend, followed by the Rise and Shrine Blend, in support of the Shriners Hospital for Children. Abrams says the company as a whole is particularly passionate about supporting causes focused on children, so both Make-A-Wish and Shriners were natural fits. Through the sales of the Wish Maker’s Blend, Joffrey’s has granted eight wishes to date.