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Miami feels the buzz: Campus coffee culture turns students into addicts

By Amanda Hancock
On February 18, 2014

Between long hours at the library and a strenuous course load, the secret to surviving the college lifestyle for many students seems to be in a simple cup of coffee - or one of those venti skinny vanilla latte, hold the whip cream and add soymilk concoctions.

With its smooth taste and many variations, a tall or grandé cup of coffee is quickly becoming part and parcel of the college experience, especially at Miami University. But there may be a few flaws in this plan of action, according to Gretchen Matuszak, director of Miami's Program in Dietetics.

There are a number of dangers that go along with coffee consumption, she said.

"One concern is that students are drinking coffee instead of milk, which is necessary for bone development," she said.

Drinking coffee as a part of a well-balanced breakfast, however, has its own positive traits. Matuszak said coffee contains magnesium, potassium, niacin and vitamin E, which are essential aspects of a healthy diet.

"The key is moderation, having one or two cups per day, and drinking early in the day," she said.

As much as students may enjoy the nutty, dark roast aromas and the warm temperatures, coffee is often simply a way to deliver energy to a groggy brain. But, in a four-year world where sleep-deprivation is a main ingredient, a hot cup of coffee is in many students' recipe for success.

Miami is perpetuating this coffee-drinking trend. Whether students are seeking their beverage of choice in to-go cups or in a mug, with or without room, virtually every campus dining venue is outfitted with plentiful amounts of coffee.

According to Teresa Baker, general manager at King Café, the popular refueling location at King Library serves 300,000 students, faculty and staff and guests each fiscal year and the Culinary Support Center (DCSC) issued 30,859 pounds of coffee to all campus dining locations.

Will McLain, the food service supervisor at Dividends, said they received 2,990 pounds of coffee so far this year. They also offer Starbucks-brewed coffee.

"Coffee is very important to our success at Dividends," McLain said. "That station is always busy with a long line of students."

Junior Erica Howes stops by once or twice a day for coffee.

"It's just really convenient when I'm in between classes or studying at the library," she said.

In fact, Howes attributed her current intake to both the convenience and availability of coffee on campus.

If coffee is an acquired taste, college seems to be the time to acquire it, Howes said. She sensed a habit forming during her first year and it is now in full swing.

"I never consistently drank it before. I didn't like it because it was too bitter and it wasn't always around me and my parents wouldn't let me drink it," she said.

Matuszak attributed this growing routine to the evolution of coffee from drink to prized possession.

"It is definitely something that has become a status symbol. A cup of coffee is now an important part of a social occasion," she said, adding that coffee drinking can become more prominent at a socializing haven, such as college.

Many years ago, she said, there was "just coffee," black or with cream or sugar.

"Now there are countless ways to make coffee. Most individuals don't like the initial taste of coffee but they will start with half milk and half coffee in a cup and gradually add more coffee and less milk to try and develop a taste for it," Matuszak said.

This can lead to other issues with swigging down a cup of joe.

"Another concern is the excess calories from mochas, lattes or cappuccinos, which are extremely sweet coffees that can have up to 600 calories versus black coffee which has zero calories," she said, noting it can easily become a source of weight gain.

"It's easy to get a bottomless cup of coffee at a shop and just forget how much I have or to keep stopping places on campus and it adds up fast," she said. "But when I go over three cups a day, I start to feel way too hyped up and jittery. I do think there are some negative side effects of an overload of caffeine."

This aspect is where Matuszak stands firm, saying the key to coffee is moderation.

"Dehydration, rapid heart beat and nervousness are all side effects of the caffeine that is present in coffee," she said. "One or two cups of coffee is not a problem, but if you start talking about five cups of caffeinated coffee in a day, you may have nutrition concerns that will affect your health."

But, for those who have gotten in the routine, this is hard news to hear.

"I honestly don't know what else there is. I've to a point where I don't feel like myself without coffee in my system," Howes said.

And this seems to fall in line with the trend for many post-college people across the nation. According to a recent National Public Radio study, approximately "80 percent of caffeine is consumed in the form of coffee, and in the U.S., the average is about two cups of coffee a day. Two hundred milligrams of caffeine affects our brains, our performance and maybe even our health."

This is clearly not just a one or two-person undertaking. At Oxford's local joint, Kofenya, which is located Uptown, coffee is what brings people through the doors. Kofenya is not only a comfy alternative to a library or classroom environment, but it also serves a variety of coffee drinks, said junior Jessica Watson, who often goes there do schoolwork.

"I always study where I can get coffee, the two things just kind of go together for me and my friends," she said. "I think the coffee shops are our generations' library."

And now, good or bad, there is a culture of college-aged-adults welcoming a new lifestyle, with coffee cup in hand.

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