My Cappuccino Problem – an entirely true story

Generally speaking, I like my coffee like I like my women: strong, full, rich, and apocalyptically dark. Wait. What? That can’t possibly be true.

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The coffee machine

I drink coffee. I’m drinking coffee right at this second. In fact, since I’m a grad student, drinking coffee is like a quarter of my job description. If you were wondering, the other three quarters are devoted to drinking beer, doing actual research, and stalking people on Facebook reading France24. That’s also why I’m writing a blog about liquids: only about 15 people in the world care about my research, and there are about as many people who write blogs about the news as there are who read blogs about the news.

I make a small enough amount of money that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts would subsidize my health insurance if my university didn’t just give it to me. The upshot of this is that you won’t find me at Starbucks every day (though I’d go to Cosí first anyway. Or Tosci’s if they’ve paid their taxes this week).

But I’ve gotta have my coffee. I can’t read papers without it; I’d fall asleep in 10 minutes. It’s empirically true for all grad students — I’m a scientist; trust me.

Thankfully, my department anticipated this and installed a coffee machine in our lunchroom/library/spare meeting room. They know how to keep us happy, I guess. Of course, it benefits them, too (not having to leave to get coffee means we work more, at least in principle), and it’s not very expensive. It’s a nice perk, though.

This is what you do to get coffee:

  1. Go to the coffee machine.
  2. Pick one of the several different kinds of coffee available. The coffee in little single-serving plastic cylinders with foil lids, called K-cups by the company that hawks them, which reside in boxes next to the coffee machine.
  3. Open the tray on the coffee machine and put the cylinder into the tray. Don’t mess with the foil!
  4. Important: put your mug under the spout.
  5. Press the green button. It’s the only button on the machine.
  6. Wait about 20 seconds. Coffee!

In other words, it’s so simple that even a grad student can do it. The machine has an internal storage compartment that collects spent cylinders. The only time you have to interact with it beyond what I just outlined is if you draw the short straw and try to make coffee when the trash bin is full, or when the water jug is empty (it draws water out of a water-cooler-sized jug of New England’s finest because there’s no plumbing in that room).

The coffee selection isn’t terrible. There are four kinds of regular coffee (though I only drink the “Extra Bold” – which isn’t all that bold in my opinion), two kinds of decaf, and three kinds of tea. The tea is the most insipid stuff I’ve ever encountered, but the coffee isn’t ghastly, just a tad weak.

Now, as I’ve mentioned, my politics might be described as left-of-center. The fact that every single time I make a cup of coffee I produce a K-carcass that goes directly into the trash doesn’t make me entirely comfortable.

On the other hand, it’s free coffee, and it’s not really any worse than the mountains of paper cups a routine Starbucks-goer would produce (the department provides us with mugs). The coffee is even free-trade, even if the water might not be.

For better or worse, the coffee machine is a fixture in my life. Every day at or just after lunch, I grab a cup of coffee in a combined effort to fend off food coma and avoid working for a few more minutes. There’s usually a fair number of people in there eating lunch and drinking coffee; it’s sort of the social anchor of my day.

Sometimes, though, early in the morning or late in the afternoon, I’ll sneak over to Cosí by myself to grab a cappuccino.