Caffeinated campus: Coffee culture on the Hill
Published: Monday, April 9, 2012
Updated: Monday, April 9, 2012 12:04
Among the copious student graffiti on the Tufts campus, from bathroom stalls to the desks in Tisch, one scribbling asks fellow Jumbos to list “things that make [them] happy.” The first item in response is coffee and, somewhat surprisingly, the last is beer.
But it’s no coincidence that this caffeinated beverage is at the top of the list and the forefront of people’s minds. In fact, this graffiti is a signifier of an overall consensus — that, for many, coffee is crucial in college. Tufts students, professors and administrators, as well as current statistics, echo this view. A coffee culture is brewing.
At its core is the drink itself. Coffee, made from the beans of the coffee plant, is low in calories and fat and high in energizing caffeine.
But there’s even more appeal to coffee, according to Tufts students.
“I used to drink a medium latte a day because I love the taste, and I also love the social culture of it,” junior Alexa Stevens said. “It feels like what a college student should do: go to class with a tall Starbucks coffee in hand. I’d go [buy a latte] before class, and it was part of getting ready for the day.”
At the same time, Stevens explains that she tries to avoid coffee now due to health concerns, even though it’s difficult.
“One of the things caffeine is said to do is spike your insulin because your blood sugar spikes, so now I drink tea and the occasional latte but it feels different. Tea is something you’d drink on a Sunday morning; it doesn’t feel as ‘American’ and trying to cram in those hours.”
Other students are also careful with their coffee binges, but they still admit it is a necessity for them.
“I drink coffee when I need it,” senior Usamah Suhrawardy said. “My sister can’t function without a large coffee once a day, and I don’t want to be dependent on it. But, when I have a lot of work and need to stay up, I do drink six to seven cups of coffee in a day.”
From the coffee culture to health concerns to the need for caffeine, Tufts professors echo the same concerns about and views on coffee as their students.
Interim Dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy Robin Kanarek explains that opinions on the healthiness of coffee are largely polarized, and students should not be too concerned as long as they drink coffee in moderation. However, there are some points she urges students to keep in mind.
“If you drink coffee on a regular basis, you may have less of a response,” Kanarek said. “For breakfast, you should have something healthy with your coffee and watch out for calorie counts on a mocha and a macchiato and others.”
Associate Professor of Sociology James Ennis has studied the styles and patterns of taste in great detail. He is intrigued by the present dual interaction between needing caffeine and drinking coffee but also wanting to participate in the greater coffee culture.
“There’s the idea of coffee as a stimulant versus coffee as a ceremony that people get together and share. It’s about the ritual — a mode of sociability,” Ennis said. “When it goes to the question of social meanings, coffeehouses are interesting sociologically, and going back to the 17th century this German sociologist [Jurgen] Habermas talks about the emergence of coffeehouses as places where there can be conversations about civic issues across social hierarchies.”
The Tufts administration does its best to provide a range of coffeehouse options on campus to meet the popular demand for coffee and conversation.
Students have their own favorite locations, like the student-run The Rez.
“I go to The Rez everyday — I love the atmosphere. I’m a little obsessed,” Stevens said. “Plus a lot of the baristas are really cute!”
“People go to the Rez religiously,” Suhrawardy said.
In addition to the Rez, the Commons, The Tower Cafe, Brown and Brew and Hotung Cafe hope to provide variety and convenience for students.
“We built Tower because the library requested to have something for students within the library — and Brown and Brew, there was nothing over there. Within the Commons, we wanted to make sure we have coffee early in the morning and late at night,” Unit Manager of Dining Services Sabrina McCarthy said. “Each operates entirely on student funds and not for profit, which I think makes Tufts unique as other schools have corporations coming in. Coffee sales have definitely gone up over the past 15 years. I think it’s just because it’s so accessible.”
One important reason for the range of accessible locations is also to offer different kinds of coffee.
“We try to bring a variety of coffee to please the palate,” McCarthy said. “There’s a different price range because of that and different flavors.”
This variety of coffee begins with the beans themselves.
“All our beans are equal exchange and fair trade,” Rez manager Chloe Tomlinson, a senior, said.