News, On Campus

Caffeine On Campus: A Look At Coffee Suppliers’ Role Within BC Dining

From the independent coffeehouse to college campuses across the world, the impact coffee has had on innumerable lives is something that will undoubtedly last longer than even the toughest coffee stain. Boston College students are not immune to the siren song of caffeine, and there is a noticeable influx of coffee consumption over the course of the day and at certain peak times of the year. BC Dining goes through a meticulous process of selecting coffee companies which will provide coveted caffeine for the BC community and prides itself on offering high-quality products to satisfy student demand while keeping in mind its emphasis on social justice in the coffee industry.

BC maintains business with three main coffee suppliers: Peet’s Coffee & Tea, offered in the Chocolate Bar; New England Coffee, offered in the Rat; and Equal Exchange, offered at Hillside Cafe, the Bean Counter, the On the Fly Minimart, and in all campus dining halls. Between 8 and 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. are the most popular times of the day to buy coffee, while midterms and finals cause an even larger spike in sales. While each company offers its own unique variety of flavored coffee, all three are socially conscious, certified “fair trade” companies.

“The only coffee we use at BC is ‘fair trade,’” said Michael Kann, associate director of food and beverage of BC Dining Services. “‘Fair trade’ is a program that guarantees the end farmers more dollars per pound of coffee beans. Fair trade companies pay the end farmers almost three times more than do other conglomerate companies.”

These companies are heavily involved in the production and marketing of coffee, working directly with farmers to ensure that both parties benefit in the market. The farmers, most of whom work in developing countries, receive a better income based on the quality of their product. Becoming fair trade certified is a large investment for the company itself—consequently, BC Dining holds these companies in high esteem when they consider potential suppliers.

BC Dining considers new coffee companies every other January in an exhaustive process that takes into account the company’s social mission, product quality, equipment cost, and potential location on campus. Being able to own equipment makes selling coffee on campus an easier process, and the specialty flavors of coffee a certain company can offer gives it a competitive edge. After agreeing on a prospective company, BC Dining considers its possible location on campus. Often, the atmosphere of a dining location is a deciding factor in determining where a certain brand of coffee will be offered. It is important that the type of coffee that is eventually incorporated into a certain location provides the best complement to its dining atmosphere. “Certain dining locations such as the Chocolate Bar or Hillside offer hand-crafted drinks,” Kann said. “Dining halls like Mac and Corcoran Commons have a more ‘grab-and-go’ service.”

Peet’s Coffee & Tea, New England Coffee, and Equal Exchange share among them almost 20 years of partnership with BC. BC Dining depends on the suppliers’ recommendations as well as individual feedback to satisfy the changing tastes of its clients, often holding focus groups and managerial meetings and asking for student input to improve service. More coffee locations have opened to meet the students’ demands, such as the coffee bar in the On the Fly minimart next to Mac, which opened last week, and the Bean Counter in Fulton Hall, which opened last Christmas. Other ways BC Dining seeks to help students is by offering free coffee in libraries during finals. BC Dining Services also encourages students to participate in other sponsored events, such as the annual Barista Competition.

The annual Barista Competition will be held next Wednesday, Feb. 25th at 7:30 p.m. in Hillside Cafe, at which students can support their favorite baristas as they are brought together from the different dining locations on campus to face off, head-to-head in making specialty drinks for a panel of judges, representatives of the coffee companies at BC, and staff of BC Dining alike to determine the best BC barista. The competition organizes the baristas into a tier breakdown as their drinks are judged for different components—such as presentation and taste—for several rounds. Featured performances by several student clubs and organizations stud the event. “It’s like March Madness,” Kann said, a judge in the competition himself. “Whether they’re full-time employees or students, it’s really fun to watch. It’s a fun atmosphere.”

In the end, coffee has a complex history that often goes unappreciated, even by avid coffee drinkers. In recent years, coffee companies have done much to brand the drink, especially on college campuses. Marketing aside, coffee has always been more than a combination of flavor shots and sugar. “I think coffee has a ‘class status,’” Kann said. “It still evokes some memory and has a special place in our hearts.”

Featured Image by Arthur Bailin / Heights Editor

February 23, 2015