Posts Tagged ‘Coffee’

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

Every Thursday night as I walk across Robert Morris University’s Chicago campus to my night class, I stop to get a cup of free coffee – or as I call it, liquid supplemental income – from one of the faculty lounge areas.

I didn’t drink coffee regularly until I was 21 when I started management training at the Chicago Tribune to run a Distribution Agency. This required me to be up through the night, seven days a week. My bosses offered me coffee the first night and I politely declined, but like java-pushing drug dealers they said, “Oh, you’ll be drinkin’ coffee by the end of training.”

I said, “No chance!”

A week later, they found me outside a 7-11 in the fetal position, jittering and surrounded by empty styrofoam cups, my nose caked in powder creamer.

These days, I have coffee only a few times a week at most. On Thursdays, the coffee is more for routine than effect, because it no longer perks me up. It’s one of the few beverages that doesn’t have a measurable effect on me. For example, milk makes my bones strong, Gatorade rehydrates me, and tequila makes me think I’m attractive to women.

I get my coffee from a delightful, space age coffee machine with a digital screen, fancy buttons, and coffee packets that look vaguely like birth control pill cases. I always select the “Donut Shop” coffee, and consequently feel saddened and misled when it doesn’t also produce a donut.

After adding a packet of creamer, I come to the hard part: the sweetening options.

Morpheus SweetenersI have convinced myself that I have a preferred artificial sweetener, though I can’t tell you which one, partly because I don’t identify the options by name, but by color. There’s the blue, the pink, and the yellow. They’re probably all the same, and they may not even be sweetener. There’s a good chance it’s just drywall dust from inside the Blue-Pink-Yellow factories. But I’ve convinced myself I need to select the correct color as if it won’t just determine the outcome of my coffee, but of my entire night. It’s like having Morpheus as a barista.

I consider using regular sugar to avoid this problem. It would be the healthier option, after all. Recent studies have shown that regular consumption of sweeteners will gradually turn you into something artificial and overly sweet.

We get it, Rachael. You're chipper and happy. Now stop it.

We get it, Rachael. You’re chipper and happy. Now stop it.

This explains Rachael Ray.

The problem with real sugar is that it is antisocial. The coffee and creamer mingle with ease, but the sugar granules just want to hangout together at the bottom of the cup. Stir all you want. You have a better shot of mixing the boys and girls at a Bayside High dance after a Zack Morris prank.

Limbo brought Bayside back together. You might even say Tori got "Sweet n' Low" to win.

Limbo brought Bayside back together. You might even say Tori got “Sweet n’ Low” to win.

That’s why I like the artificial sweeteners – they’re the social butterflies of the beverage world. They come dressed in colors and fit right in.

By the way, have you ever thought about how someone had to discover that stirring coffee was the most effective way to equally distribute sugar and cream throughout a beverage? There had to be unsuccessful early attempts to mix components, like drinking without stirring, or shaking, or blowing bubbles with a straw. Somebody had to be the first to tell his friends, “No, no, no. You’re doing it all wrong. Check THIS out….”

Fun fact: The person who discovered it was Alfred B. Stirrin of Bournemouth, England in 1610. Share that with your friends.

During the short walk from the lounge to my classroom, I inevitably spill some coffee on my hand. I wipe it off with handouts or quizzes when I get to the lectern, making sure to pass those soiled versions out to create the illusion that I stayed up all night preparing for class.

Is this a scene from Office Space or me lecturing on Thursdays? It's hard to tell.

Is this a scene from Office Space or me lecturing on Thursdays? It’s hard to tell.

For the first half of class, I lecture with Bill Lumbergh breath and even continue to take a few sips from the cup after it’s empty, just because I feel I teach better when I have a prop.

And a week from now, this will all happen again, because routines are hard to shake, particularly when coffee is involved, and my Thursday nights are already set to brew.


By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

Why do our food tastes change over time?  Is it culture or nature?  Just like all arguments regarding nature vs. nurture, it is actually a bit of both. Natural changes of taste are no big mystery, and not really surprising.  A person despises olives at 10 years old, but finds them irresistible at 30.  Tastes for food and drink transform; desires evolve. We’ve all been there.  More intriguing is when culture forces a change; when nurture is the cause of evolving tastes.  My gradual love of coffee is a perfect example.  


When I was a kid, I remember my Grandpa Jocks would often have a post-meal coffee.   As it brewed, the aroma was wonderful!  Once ready, he poured just a little cream in the black, steaming drink, and stirred it around with the handle of his spoon (I don’t know why he liked to use the handle).   Anything that looked so creamy, and smelled so incredible must be delectable.  At 10 or 11, I finally asked for a taste. The family laughed. I took a sip.  God, it was nasty.


My coffeehouse crew.

Fast forward five years.  I tried coffee again.  This time, I started to go with friends to local coffeehouses on the weekend.  I would order a latte, and it always came with these little, buttery cookies.  It was a good thing those cookies were included, because I needed something to eat before and after sipping the milk-laden espresso.  I used the cookies to hide the acrid coffee flavor. The Italian concoction tasted just as I remembered my grandpa’s brew: Burnt, sour, bitter, with a terrible aftertaste.  But, I kept ordering those lattes. I kept forcing them down.

Why would I drink something I didn’t like? Simple.  I wanted to be a coffee drinker.  Dare I dream it, perhaps I could even become a coffee aficionado.  When I started to frequent coffeehouses with my friends, coffee was going through a rebirth of cool.  It was the early to mid-1990’s, and the independent, local coffeehouse (no Starbucks please) was where young, fascinating, intelligent and, yes, pretentious kids went to converse, and be seen.  In our little town, this coffeehouse crowd was ‘alternative’ from the mainstream,  and drinking coffee at 17 was as important as understanding who was a sell-out in the world of music. Coffee identified you as a member of the group.  I wanted into the club.


My 24 hour college haunt.

By the time I began college, I kept pushing the coffee.   Coffeehouses were still the place I went to be seen, but now for different reasons. In my mind, coffeehouses were ground zero for university intellectualism.  At the 24 hour coffee joint I frequented, graduate students would be working on their dissertations at 2AM; professors might show up between classes to order an espresso; college kids may sit for hours acting like they understood Heidegger or Derrida. Mocha lattes were no longer appropriate in this world. Those who ordered a drink that required a blender need not apply to the intellectual realm. To be a part of this culture, you drank straight coffee. And so I drank straight coffee. I felt like I belonged.

By graduate school, a taste switch had flipped. I loved coffee.  I needed coffee.  I was addicted to coffee….literally. I had physical symptoms of withdrawal if I did not drink my morning cup. No longer did I only drink coffee to be part of a scene.  The earlier desire to partake in a specific cultures started me on coffee. Now, there was no stamping out the desire.  Culture 1, nature 0.