A piercing whirring sound permeates the buzz of hushed voices every so often. A pleasant aroma wafts through the still air, and beside many of the books or laptops that occupy most tables, a tall white disposable cup sits.
This is the typical scene at the MSU Student Union. The screeching noise is the sound of a barista steaming milk. The sweet aroma is that of ground coffee beans. And the tall white cup is the characteristic container of lattes from Biggby Coffee.
A similar scene can be found in Wells Hall, where there is a popular Starbucks, as well as nearly any other location on campus that serves coffee.
College students’ increasing consumption of specialty coffee can be attributed to convenience, the necessity for an energy boost, the atmosphere of coffee shops, and also an element of indulgence, according to two baristas and an expert on consumer behavior.
Starbucks supervisor and MSU junior Emily Kaip said that at the Wells Hall location, the busiest time of day is when people are in class and on campus.
“Definitely in the morning starting around nine, and probably up until about three o’clock,” Kaip said.
The location of these two shops on campus is a major component of the convenience students depend on, considering that they do not have to stray far from their classes to acquire a latte of their choice.
Kaip said she agreed that likely the greatest factor influencing students’ decision to purchase specialty coffee is convenience, but offered a different perspective as to why.
“I don’t have a coffee machine at home – coffee machines can be kind of expensive,” she said. “Also, you’re brewing a whole pot, and if you’re the only one drinking it, you would not need ten cups.”
On the other hand, MSU junior Athena Smith said that she purchases coffee if she is tired or for exams.
“I wasn’t a big coffee drinker to begin with in high school, and then once I came to college I drank more,” Smith said.
Smith said she typically only drinks coffee to stay up and keep studying, a phenomenon Ayalla Ruvio, an MSU marketing professor and expert in consumer behavior, said is the notion of caffeine to boost your performance – at least for the short-term.
It is this shared notion that causes coffee shops like Starbucks and Biggby, according to Kaip, to see drastic spikes in their numbers of customers during stressful school weeks such as midterms and exams.
“For the closing shift, it’s usually pretty dead,” said Biggby barista and fifth-year student at MSU Michelle Cusick. “But when midterms and finals and stuff come – that’s when you get a lot of people, because they’re here studying at the Union and are pulling late nights.”
But Ruvio revealed that based on basic human nature, another reason students are likely to be found near coffee shops while studying for exams is so that they can reward themselves for some of the hardest work they will do all semester.
Ruvio said that during exam week, it’s almost as if students “get more value for the same price” for their cup of coffee, as it both makes them more productive and rewards them for their studying efforts.
“There’s a lot of rational decision-making that needs to be done by students to survive their college years,” Ruvio said. “But we all have the need to splurge every once in a while, to indulge ourselves, to pamper, to reward our hard work.”
Nonetheless, most people – especially college students – can’t afford to treat themselves by purchasing the latest Gucci purse, Ruvio said.
“We have to really focus on things that we can afford that still will give us that feeling of pampering,” she said. “And coffee is a really great option…It’s here, and it’s available, and it’s trendy, and it tastes good,” she said.