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Campus coffee comparison

September 20, 2019

I’ve always held that the coffee from Bowdoin’s Cafe is superior to the brew in the dining halls. Even though both locations carry the same types of coffee made by the same company, the Seacoast Coffee Company, I thought I could taste a difference.

To test this, I arranged a blind taste test in Moulton Hall. Into one mug I poured the Cafe’s Italian roast and into the other, Moulton’s version of the same thing. The results were shocking. Student after student found the two impossible to tell apart. Thinking it was a fluke, I asked one of my subjects to give me the test, and predictably, I could not tell the difference either.

Why, then, did I and so many others perceive a difference in taste when we knew where the coffee came from? Two answers: aesthetics and price.

Aesthetics: In the Cafe, you press the steaming coffee out of a carafe into a clean paper cup. The setting is calm and you don’t need to watch your elbows as you put on a lid or stir in milk and sugar. In the dining hall, by contrast, you flip a switch and watch the coffee spill down a dirty glass tube into an undersized greyish mug. The area is more cramped, and you may need to wait your turn. The experience of getting coffee from the Cafe is vastly superior, and this experience might trickle into how I and others perceive the coffee to taste.

Price: The coffee in the Cafe has a fixed price which you pay by handing over cash or swiping a card. The exchange you make, money for coffee, is extremely clear. When you go to the dining hall, by contrast, you pay by swiping in. You are effectively buying a whole meal and a place to sit. The fact that you are paying for the coffee at all is obscured. In fact, getting coffee in Thorne or Moulton feels free—you can have as much as you want once you’re inside. According to a report from The Telegraph, wine tastes better if we believe it is more expensive. Perhaps Bowdoin students, including myself, systematically overrate the Cafe’s coffee precisely because we have to pay for it.

All of this leads me to a few suggestions for Bowdoin Dining Services and Bowdoin students. To Dining Services: the time has come to get rid of Jamaican Me Crazy! and the other flavored options. Removing these disgusting and unpopular varieties would provide students with better access to and greater enjoyment of your excellent unflavored coffee. It would also make room for different beverage options and cut down on dangerous spills and burns. To students: if you are a regular dining hall user, consider bringing a travel mug to fill up while you’re there. Don’t have one? Your author has recently observed dozens of them available for free near the Thorne dish bussing area.

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One comment:

  1. Nicole Tjin A Djie Class of 2021 says:

    I really appreciate this piece for several reasons. The author illuminated a daily ritual that many of us have in common, but few think about, our daily cup o’ joe in Moulton or Thorne. He also shared a novel and interesting discovery about a campus staple. I speak for many when I say that I was unaware that the coffee in the Cafe was the same as the one in the dining hall. Lastly, he did what more Orient writers should do, he offered solutions to the problems he identified.
    However, I think that the flavored varieties should stay. They mark the seasons, have delightful titles, and like coffee generally, don’t taste good on their own but are loved for more than that.


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