Coffee may seem like it has exploded in popularity in the last decade, to the point where you can now select the country of origin for your fresh-roasted coffee beans at the café down the street. The extra-large triple-shot caramel oat milk latte may be a distinctly contemporary invention, but at Princeton, the coffee boom has been going for some time now.
And while a simple “cup of joe” may not cut it for tastes of the current crop of Princetonians, there is no shortage of coffee options available to a caffeine-seeking student. On campus, undergraduate dining halls have regular and decaf options hot and fresh at every meal, and cafés litter campus — including in Chancellor Green, Frist, and Frick Chemistry — serving up cappuccinos, espressos, and myriad other options to meet students’ desires.
Off campus, specialized roasts and high-end sourcing can be found at Small World Coffee, Rojo’s Roastery, and Sakrid Roasters, where students can select from a range of blends, bean sources, and espresso drinks. For those who prefer the tried-and-true coffee behemoths, Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts can also be found on Nassau Street, their recognizable green and orange-and-pink signs beckoning to those looking for a familiar taste.
Other coffee options include Chez Alice, where one can go for looking for the French café experience transported to New Jersey; Olive’s, where fresh-brewed is available for as little as $1.40; or even Small Bites by Local Greek, if one is looking for the Hellenic take.
Compare all this to the coffee scene that then-graduate student Gayle Wald *95 documented in PAW 31 years ago. She sought to discover the ins and outs of early coffee culture on campus, from where the best brewed cup could be found, to even how Princeton President Harold Shapiro *64 took his own morning joe: black, for those curious at home.
Princeton’s Other Brew
By Gayle Wald GS
(From the Oct. 24, 1990, issue of PAW)
If there is truth in advertising, then Princeton students of the eighties and nineties are members not of the Baby Boom Generation or the “Me” Generation, but of the Coffee Generation. Fetishized in the television series Twin Peaks and billed as the drink of overachievers — who want to relax with a drink that will pick them up, not slow them down — coffee is a vital substance on the campus and a drug many students will continue to use after they leave Princeton.
William C. Porter, the head of purchasing for the university’s food services department, estimates that ten thousand pounds of regular coffee are consumed on campus every year, but, he says, Princeton’s coffee consumption has decreased 50 percent in the last eight or 10 years. Porter attributes the decline to a “general nutrition trend” among health-conscious undergraduates who worry about the detrimental side-effects of caffeine. Consumption of decaffeinated coffee is increasing, he says, along with regular and herbal teas.
But can a sleep-starved student or professor find a good cup of coffee on the campus — the kind of steaming brew that tastes good even without three creamers and five packets of sugar? “As long as everyone keeps the coffee equipment clean and uses boiling hot water,” says Porter, “you get a good cup of coffee” with the university’s blend, a custom mixture of Robusta, Colombian, and Brazilian beans from the Ellis Coffee Company, in Philadelphia.
If, however, students or faculty members venture off-campus for an afternoon “cuppa” joe, they find that the pickings are rather slim. Several restaurants near the campus serve regular coffee (and, more rarely, espresso or cappuccino) after their regular lunch hours, but Princeton has no café proper, a gathering place that at many universities serves as an intellectual hub.
So when haggard professors and graduate students want coffee, they tend to congregate at the coffee machines in their departmental offices and lounges. Among the undergraduates, upperclassmen turn to the eating clubs. “Terrace drinks a lot of coffee,” says Michael E. Graff ’91, the club’s house manager, but according to Barton Rouse, Terrace’s steward and head chef, an increasing number of students choose cola drinks as their stimulants of choice, even in the mornings. Terrace, the only club to own an espresso machine, also provides stronger brews for its students “when they need to pump up at night” before midterm and final examinations, Rouse says.
If students need to calm down after this caffeine-induced stimulation, they can gather at the Murray-Dodge Café, a cave-like basement beneath Murray-Dodge Hall where, oddly, a cup of coffee is nowhere to be seen. The Murray-Dodge Café, known to its devotees as, simply, “Café,” serves only cocoa and teas (mostly the naturally uncaffeinated herbal variety) — in the interest, says its managers, of fostering a relaxed atmosphere, free of coffee-stimulated over achiever nervousness. Founded 20 years ago by Princeton’s United Campus Ministries as a gathering place for students who wanted a nonalcoholic alternative to the eating clubs, Café “has continued to be a vital place and an alternative-type place,” according to Sue Anne Steffey Morrow, the associate dean of the Chapel and adviser to the Murray-Dodge Café. In the same vein as its paradoxical name, Café’s motto — that it is devoted to “The Fine Art of Being Open” — refers not to its hours of operation (10 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., Wednesdays through Saturdays) but to its openness to all students.
The most recent addition to the campus’s coffee scene is the Chancellor Green Café, which occupies the rotunda adjacent to the Student Center. Opened in 1985, shortly after New Jersey raised its drinking age to twenty-one and forced the university to close its on-campus pub, Chancellor Green operates from 5 p.m. to midnight and is popular with students who want to take a break from studying at Firestone Library, Edward M. Nase, the assistant director of food services. In addition to regular coffee, the café serves cappuccino, espresso, and six to eight flavored coffees each day.
Patricia L. Naylor, who until last June served as Chancellor Green’s coordinator, supervised the renovation of the old pub into a more intimate facility. With help from the Coffee Development Group, an international organization interested in increasing the coffee-drinking market in places where the bean is not cultivated, she helped transform Chancellor Green into an award-winning coffeehouse — based on the quality of its coffee and programming — and awarded Princeton $1,000 for its scholarship fund. Last year, Chancellor Green’s patrons, many of them graduate students without access to the eating clubs, downed 16 pounds of coffee a week.
President Shapiro, who takes his coffee black, acknowledges that Princeton needs more facilities like Chancellor Green, but he says that the university has no new plans brewing. Elaine Showalter, who chairs the English department and drinks iced coffee year-round, says that professors also need more such places. She suggests that the University use the faculty club in Prospect as a café during mornings and afternoons, when lunch is not being served.
In the meantime, graduate students and professors in the English department can get their caffeine fixes in the Hinds Library, a lounge in the basement of McCosh Hall where, according to department manager Beth V. Harrison, the department spends about $600 a year on coffee and related supplies. Professors of English have been known to quibble over the best way to brew a pot, but those in the comparative literature department seem more resigned to their fates. “Please do not criticize the coffee,” reads a sign over a well-used coffee machine in a cramped corner of East Pyne. “Some day you too could be weak and old.”