Contemplation, Coffee, and Computations (Passion #5 Spring 2018)

After two semesters of writing about various coffee shops and cafes, I’d like to spend some time looking back on the role coffee played in my daily life.  I sipped on an iced caramel coffee from Starbucks every Friday morning while attempting to complete my Quantum Physics labs.  I drank black coffee with my best friend at a band conference, talking effortlessly like we’d known each other for a lifetime as opposed to a day.  I conversed with an Engineering professor about my career goals while waiting in line at Dunkin’ Donuts.  The list goes on, as coffee serves as an integral part of my livelihood.

Instead of reviewing yet another proprietor of my caffeinated indulgences, I’d like to explicate one of my most recent places where I brought coffee.  This afternoon, I attended a GAP Seminar hosted by the PSU Math department titled “The Axiomatic Microlocal Category.”  For the past few months, my peers in Honors Chemistry have spoken about attending Chemistry seminars and writing about the content for extra credit.  While students complain about the complex nature of such talks, I’ve wanted to gain exposure to these upper-level academic experiences for quite some time.

I chose a math seminar because of my recent elevated interest in the subject.  Despite receiving a B in Math141, something motivated me to keep exploring different topics in the discipline.  I signed up for both Math220 (Matrices) and Math251 (Differential Equations) this semester, initially expecting to drop one of the two.  However, I ended up exceeding in both and (while I hate to admit it) actually found completing my work for them enjoyable.  I eagerly read the textbook or supplementary notes before class, understand the lectures fairly well, and spend a good chunk of time competing practice problems.

I was secretly hoping I disliked thing 6 credits of Math so I could shut down the possibility of studying it completely and stick with Engineering.  However, the exact opposite occurred.  I signed up for a 400-level Math elective next Fall and at the very least hope to pursue a minor in Math.

I expressed my thoughts about a minor/switching my major to one of my professors, and actually found he experienced a similar transgression of thought.  I’ve been hovering between Physics, Engineering and Math for quite some time now.  At first, I thought I loved Physics enough to pursue it, regardless of any fear of what I’d do for a living.  However, as I pursued classes here, I could succeed after putting time and effort in, but found the overall process dreadful.  Then I switched to Engineering because I felt like it encompassed the components of Math and Physics I enjoy without restricting my future career.

However, Engineering may be more restrictive in the long run.  It was my safety net: a course of study (basically) guaranteeing a stable future.  My professor considered Aerospace Engineering for some time before realizing he wasn’t ready to commit to the field.  Sure he’d excel in it, but he didn’t necessarily love it.

With our talk in mind, I hoped this seminar would reaffirm my choice to make Math a larger part of my university career.  I stopped by Starbucks, purchased an Almondmilk Latte, and made my way to the third floor of Whitmore Lab.

To my surprise, my professor was in attendance as well, so I took a seat and conversed while waiting for the seminar to begin.  The man speaking was a professor at Northwestern University, and he seemed deeply interested in his research.  While I had nowhere near enough mathematical knowledge to comprehend all of what he was saying, I recognized bits and pieces from my Linear Algebra, Differential Equations, and Quantum Physics courses.  While my professor said he usually understands about 35% of each talk he attends, I think I comprehended about 3.5% of this one.  However, I still found the experience extremely valuable.  The coupling of the speaker’s passion and my professor’s ability to explain the topic at a more  understandable level made the seminar easier to grasp.

Overall, this semester has helped me gain new insight on my future as a student.  I spent most ofmy first semester precariously juggling my courses, mental health, and social well-being.  My experiences during those 4.5 months helped me adjust to the independence of my life here and begin exploring a realm beyond studying and doing homework.  Through a balance of building strong relationships with my peers and professors, exploring academia outside of my classes, and taking time to relax every once in a while, I simply feel more well rounded and stable.  While I’ve changed a lot as a person this last year, one thing’s held constant: my love for coffee.

Thanks so much for sticking with me through this blogging adventure! 🙂

The Wild West: Breakfast at Westgate (Passion #4 Spring 2018)

What’s the only thing worse than Quantum Physics at 8:00am?  A lab for that same class at 8:00am, on a Friday may I add.  After a long strenuous week abounding with difficult classes, multiple extracurricular events, mountains of homework, stressful group projects, and nightmarish exams, I awoke at 7:00am on Friday mornings to conduct monotonous laboratory activities with a room full of upperclassmen

Since Physics 214 is not an entry-to-major requirement for Mechanical Engineering, many students postpone enrolling in it until their junior year.  However, my overly-ambitious self decided it would be a fantastic idea to take it my first semester, hence forcing myself into multiple labs in one semester.

For the final laboratory activity of the semester, the teaching assistants in charge offered more help than usual and reduced the amount of data collection needed, leading us to finish an hour early.  While the early finish benefited my friend Amanda (she was speaking at an information session for the Engineering Science major in Leonhard Building), I couldn’t think of anything to do before my Chemistry class.  While I could get ahead with schoolwork or studying, I tend to spend my daytime breaks watching Netflix on Fridays.

Due to my uncertainty, I just decided to keep walking and talking with Amanda until we reached the Westgate Building.  Then she said “Kristin, I noticed you didn’t have Starbucks today!  There’s an Au Bon Pain in Westgate if you wanna grab breakfast before your next class.”

From there, she proceeded on to Leonhard and I entered Westgate, as I woke up too late for coffee before lab.  While I passed this unique building multiple times on the Blue Loop, this was my first time actually entering.  The first thing struck me about Westgate is its open, spacious feeling.  The large windows overlook North Atherton Street and the natural light which pours in yields a welcoming vibe.  

I then proceeded to the Au Bon Pain housed here, which holds the name “Reese’s Cafe.”  Upon entering, I was slightly taken aback by how small the establishment.  As opposed to the full menu offered at the locations in Kern Graduate Building and the Visual Arts Building, this cafe serves as more of a breakfast destination or mid-day coffee stop.

Since I tend to not be much of a breakfast person, I purchased a hazelnut coffee and a cherry danish, then proceeded to sit along the vast stretch of windows.  Since I typically stop by Au Bon Pain at lunchtime, this was my first time trying their pastries.  Expecting an extremely processed, subpar danish, pure shock overcame me when it abounded with delicious flavors, flakiness, and a fruit center which wasn’t too sugary.  The flavor complimented my coffee nicely, and although I purchased the same flavor I typically would, the temperature of the drink impressed me here!  In Kern, I’ve purchased both overly hot and lukewarm coffee beverages, but this one proved just right.

Without Amanda’s comment I wouldn’t have discovered Westgate or Reese’s Cafe until far later in my Penn State career.  While the building isn’t exactly the most conveniently located, I typically take the White Loop to Westgate to study during exam weekends, since I’m practically forced to stay there for a prolonged period of time.  If you’ve never studied here, I suggest you give it a try, and pick up a baked good from this superb Au Bon Pain location while you’re at it!

Twice as Nice: An Old Favorite in a New Location (Passion #3 Spring 2018)

As my first week of the spring semester came to a close, I marveled at my unusual distribution of classes throughout the week.  While Mondays and Wednesdays seemed never-ending and exhausting, the rest of my week abounded with free time, especially on Tuesdays, when English served as my only class.  However, the second week of school brought about the addition of Symphonic Band: a two-hour time commitment on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.  

Overestimating the time gap between English and Band (1.5 hours), I retreated to my room for lunch and proceeded to board the Blue Loop around 1:10pm.  Unfortunately, Tuesday also happened to showcase the first major snowfall of the spring semester.  Resultantly, about 3/4 of the student body decided the busses were the best method of transportation s well, leading to a ride as cramped as the final bus departure from the Magic Kingdom to the Disney hotels. Packed in tight as sardines, I made a mental note to just find lunch near the Music Building on Thursday.

As I ascended the hill from Sparks to Pattee Library, I began assessing my options for food.  Being about equidistant from two Au Bon Pain locations, I decided to abandon the comfort of last semester’s “go-to” destination (Kern Graduate Building) before Math141 and check out the location in the Visual Arts Building.

After cutting through the dismal circle of Forum Building, I ascended the steps to the cafe and took a glance around the establishment.  Immediately, I sensed a much different vibe than in Kern.  The dim lighting, circles of art students, and limited seating starkly contrasted the wooden accents, open feel, and myriad student-professor meetings typically seen in the other location I typically visit.

Due to astronomically long lines, I opted for a pre-made Two-Tomato Caprese Sandwich with a cup of soup and proceeded to the only vacant table in the small cafe.  Overall, my lunch tasted no different that what I typically order in the Kern location, hence the consistency of the Au Bon Pain chain impressed me immensely.

However, it was the overall ambience which made my experience less enjoyable.  From the cramped seating and droning roar of voices derived more of a social hangout location as opposed to a studious setting for work.  While such an atmosphere may be nice at times, I typically prefer working through my lunches, and would choose the Kern location over this one in a heartbeat.

I quickly want to clarify my previous statement and assure you that the Visual Arts Building’s version of Au Bon Pain prevails as a lovely establishment suited for a specific audience.  Many of my friends stop here for lunch following classes in Forum and spend their break chatting or watching Netflix as they eat.  If this sounds like you, I highly encourage you to check this location out.  However, if you prefer s solitary, work-oriented lunch break (if that can still be classified as a break), try Kern instead!


Don’t Rain on my Parade! (Passion #2 Spring 2018)

Much like last semester, I love to focus my coffee runs around odd gaps in my schedule.  However, most all of my current classes coincide in a small area, yielding limited cafe-type options.  After three hours of consecutive classes last Friday (and skipping breakfast…oops!) I was in dire need of something savory to indulge in.  My Engineering Design course ended in Hammond at 12:00 and it happened to be pouring rain, despite the fact that we’re in the dead middle of winter.  Lacking a coat with a hood, I simply wasn’t willing to make the trek uphill to the West Dining Commons.

I exited the classroom and took a seat at one of the tables which overlooks College Avenue.  For those of you who typically don’t visit Hammond Building, the third floor houses all of the Engineering Design classrooms (lecture-style rooms for note-taking, computer labs for designing, and workshop areas for assembling aforementioned designs).  A narrow hallway takes you in a loop around these rooms, leaving just enough space for small tables along the windows.

Gazing out the window, I evaluated my options within walking distance.  While friends of mine constantly rave about Fiddlehead’s salads, I didn’t want to deal with leftovers, given the weather situation.  Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks both serve satisfactory coffee, but lack filling meal options.  Then I glanced upon Irving’s, a location I had not visited since my first week at Penn State.

Located directly across from Old Main, Irving’s serves myriad cafe-style beverages, breakfast, and substantial sandwiches for lunch.  Upon entering, the unique, modern ambience caught my attention first.  Multitude metal tables, pastel-colored wooden fixtures, and the stick-figure logo boast an edgy feeling which several restaurant startups seem to be mimicking these days.  

I proceeded toward the line and waited about 5 minutes before ordering a Pina Colada smoothie with a Lox and Cream Cheese Bagel.  The former serves as something my best friend and I love at a cafe closer to home, and the latter I fell in love with on a trip to Boston last summer.

My only complaint about Irving’s would have to be the amount of time I waited for my food.  I understand the high volume of customers they serve, but 20 minutes passed before my bagel and smoothie arrived at the pickup desk.  Even after this prolonged duration of time, the rain failed to lessen whatsoever, so I retrieved my food and descended the stairs to an area of additional seating.

In the basement, the atmosphere proved to be quite different.  An unusual bench-seat wraps around the majority of the seating area, with tables and chairs pushed up to it.  A mirror wraps around the room directly above the bench and a warm, yellow light glows throughout the room, starkly contrasting the blue-tinted fluorescents upstairs.  While the overall noise level seemed about the same as upstairs, conversations composed the roar as opposed to baristas yelling coffee orders and blenders whirring.

Opting for a seat in the corner of the room, I retrieved my laptop from my backpack, started an episode of Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix, and tasted my delectables.  The smoothie may be one of the greatest I’ve ever had, and surely surmounted the similar version back in Buffalo.  Subtle flavors of pineapple and coconut collide in a perfect combination, yet don’t present an overwhelming sweetness.  Addtionaly, the bagel was quite impressive.  Occasionally, lox yields an artificial “smokey” flavor which I did not encounter here.  The food, overall, was above average, but not nearly as impressive as my drink.

Despite a fairly long wait at a “quick-service” establishment, I found my overall experience at Irving’s to be quite spectacular.  I am considering making it my go-to destination every Friday after Engineering Design and highly recommend you give it a try as well!

Economics and Espresso (Passion #1 Spring 2018)

All of my friends know I’m one of the most indecisive people out there.  When it comes time to choose a location for dinner, a Society of Women Engineers event to sign up for, or a weekend activity to enjoy, they know consulting with me proves useless.  Resultantly, such tentative tendencies emerged as I created my schedule for the spring semester.

Initially, my Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays began at 8:00am with CHEM112, followed by MATH251 (which meets Thursdays as well) and EDSGN100H.  My Tuesday, Thursday classes would be ECON102, ENGL138T (indisputably the best course of my spring semester!), and MUS080.  However, I ended up changing the times of a few courses, putting myself on 4 waitlists, signing up for 4 different math courses (all of which satisfy my major), and swapping a few classes (including BIOL141 and MUS004).

After various aforementioned revisions, my schedule boasted two large differences: enrolling in MATH220 instead of CHEM112, and moving ECON102 to Mondays and Wednesdays from 4:00-5:15.  While the idea of a light Friday seemed amazing at the time, my lack of stamina never occurred to me regarding other days of the week.  I wouldn’t classify myself as either a “morning person” or “night owl,” but it turns out I am not the greatest at trying to be both.


On the first day of classes, I stopped by the HUB Starbucks on the way to the first of my math classes.  My Iced Blonde Americano quickly awoke me and the caffeinating effects kept me focused until the end of my Engineering Design class, which let out at noon.  Then, I returned to my dorm, watched some Netflix, and read a book until it was time to leave for Economics.  It wasn’t until I sat down in 010 Sparks that sleep began luring me in.  In order to remain attentive and engaged in that class, another caffeine fix was a must!

On Wednesday, I set about finding a location for coffee before that class.  Since I chose to practice my flute around 3:00, I cut through the library on my way to Sparks.  As I passed the Knowledge Commons, I remembered some friends of mine mentioning how much they enjoyed MacKinnon’s Cafe, especially during finals week.  Therefore, I set about searching for it, but landed myself in various areas of the Pattee Stacks along the way.  Following 10 minutes of fruitless searching, dead ends, and unusual elevators, I found the cafe.

Housed in the basement of Pattee Library, McKinnon’s Cafe serves myriad basic Starbucks beverages, pastries, and sandwiches.  Additionally, they offer limited seating and the ability to purchase items with meal points.  Since I had about half an hour free, I ordered a caramel iced coffee and a chocolate chip muffin to enjoy while documenting my assignments for the next few days.  After enjoying my consumables and observing the overall atmosphere of the cafe, the only word which really comes to mind is “fine.”  The service proved satisfactory, my coffee tasted much like it would at Starbucks, the muffin paralleled your average processed bakery treat, and the ambience served as acceptable.  The seating area tended to be on the noisier side (very likely since the vast majority of the library is not), tables were quite close together, and the lighting was not the greatest

While I was not amazed by my experience at McKinnon’s Cafe, the coffee shop serves as a suitable option for an iced coffee to-go in the near future.  Its convenient location and recognition of a campus dining plan serve as all I really need in order to be satisfied with a takeaway purchase at Penn State.

There’s No Place Like Home (Passion #5 Fall 2017)

While I spent most of the semester discussing cafes and coffee shops on and around campus, I’d like to shift gears for a moment.  While one of my favorite study places of all time, Tim Hortons, doesn’t exist around Penn State, it ties into my overall story quite well.  


After not seeing my parents for two months, I walked out of math class on a Friday afternoon and saw my mom’s green Jeep Commander in a parking space.  All week we texted each other raving about the abundance of shopping we’d do and coffee we’d drink.  She used to despise the taste of the caffeinated goodness which gets me out of bed each morning, but now we’re almost as bad as Rory and Lorelai Gilmore.  


Another key point I failed to mention about my mom and I: neither of us have a sense of direction.  We drove away from home approximately 10 miles for lunch and then began driving back towards the university.  While Siri instructed us to take the Penn State exit, my mom stayed on the highway, insisting that since home was the destination, there was no reason to get off there.  

Google Maps was sending us to SUNY Geneseo, the location of the first Tim Hortons on our trip, but not exiting made the trip duration significantly increase, most likely since the new route we embarked upon diverged from the one which goes to the college.  However, neither of us even considered just skipping the coffee, so we travelled toward Lockhaven for a while.  As soon as I realized how far away from the initial path we were, our phones lost signal and we were stuck on a 50 mile long winding road.  


With dirt roads serving as the only opportunities to leave this road, we stayed on it and hoped for the best.  When we finally arrived in New York, my phone began working again, and I truly realized how far from home we were.  After driving a little over 4 hours, Google Maps claimed the tip still had another hour left.  While seeming bad, the extra time wasn’t the end of the world.  We could still make it home before dark and have our coffee.  The only issue?  We were an hour from Geneseo.  Buffalo is at least another hour farther.  


Once in New York, we navigated the Stony Brook Forest (yet another series of winding country roads void of cell reception) and finally were prompted to enter a highway.  Impressively, my mom kept her cool up until this point.  However, as soon as Siri mentioned entering a road bound for Binghamton (3 hours east of Buffalo) she panicked.  She pulled over and just didn’t understand how we ended up closer to Syracuse than Buffalo.  I reminded her that we let the coffee dictate this whole trip and she just laughed and said “oh..yeah you’re right!”  


Therefore, we proceeded to Geneseo as the sun began setting and ordered both food and drinks since we hadn’t eaten since we left Penn State.  Despite the rough drive, an old friend from high school was working the register and “accidently” made me a large Iced Cappuccino instead of a medium! In addition, we ate pretzel bagels (something I have yet to find here!) and bought a few in bulk to bring back to school.  


We got back on the road shortly after and continued the journey home, but it flew by extremely quickly.  My only explanation for that is the coffee!


So what’s the moral of the story here?  Even if coffee causes your problems, it can fix them too!  Some of my greatest friendships, funniest encounters, and most memorable moments derive from experiences involving cafes or coffee shops.  While the consumables themselves emerge as an important aspect of the experience, the proceedings which occur at these places serves as a key component of the experience as well.  Whether I am at home or in State College, coffee shops and cafes serve as social locations, study spots, are just a place to relax for a few minutes.  

Lunch in a Time Crunch (Passion 4)

As I mentioned in a previous post, I typically don’t have time for lunch.  My Math 141 class meets four days a week, and I have another class following it three of the four days.  Therefore, I face two options: eating around 11:30am or 3:00pm.  

I feel the need for a disclaimer here though.  I did not walk into NSO with the intention of scheduling classes all afternoon long.  My original Math 141H class took place much earlier in the morning, but simply was not feasible.  We started with a 30 student class which immediately dropped to 15 due to the professor’s accent and constant contradicting of himself.  When I decided switching classes was in my best interest, the other section of honors math was filled to capacity.  I turned to the LionPath Class Search and saw two options for a new class which fit the parameters of my schedule: the first taught buy a man with “no social skills” according to “Rate My Professor” and the other taught by someone who did not exist on the internet.

I show up to the first day of the new class and a guy who looks like he’s no older than 20 walks to the front of the room.  “Okay, he’s probably a TA or something” I think to myself.  Then he logs onto the computer, says “hey guys” and just starts teaching. 

While I was taken aback by this at first, the switch proved good for me.  Now, the Steidle Building has become my go-to late-night study location (a place I never would have discovered without this class).  

You know you’ve been studying in Steidle too long when the multi-colored lights kick in!

While both the time and location of this class can be inconvenient, the experience led me to a great location of the Au Bon Pain Cafe in the Kern Graduate Building.  Facing Math and a four-hour Chem 111 lab back-to-back, I needed to find something to eat in order to keep my focus in lab.  Between Chem 110 lecture and Math, I have an hour free, and pass Kern, so it proves quite convenient.  A friend of mine who takes an Economics class in Kern mentioned the cafe one day and suggested I try it out.  

Outside view of Au Bon Pain in Kern Graduate Building

Much like Cafe Laura, Au Bon Pain is surrounded by classrooms.  However, the seating area is much larger, with tables and couches both outside and inside the establishment.  Upon entering, the eatery seemed reminiscent of a Panera Bread.  While they serve specialty espresso beverages, coffee, and smoothies, their baked goods and sandwiches prove more popular.  Each station has a different line, and once you order at one, you can proceed to another while waiting.  In my case, I ordered a smoothie and then went to the hot sandwich station while waiting for the smoothie.

I had mixed feelings following the overall process.  This Au Bon Pain tends to be loud, chaotic, and crowded at this time.  The customer service proves fair, but the food takes a long time to receive.  However, the delicious chicken margherita sandwich and refreshing strawberry peach smoothie make up for it.  

Featuring sundried tomatos, mozzarella cheese, basil, and warm, tender chicken, this sandwich is a must!!

Ultimately, I recommend Au Bon Pain for the great tasting food and beverages, but do not prefer the atmosphere.  Since everything is packaged in a travel-friendly style, I typically proceed to Steidle Building with it and eat in their quiet lounge!

Me and my friend Steph on the steps of Steidle Building

A Hidden Gem: Cafe Laura (Passion 3)

Sitting in calculus on Thursday, it finally hit me: the first exam of the semester was only 5 days away.  While I aced each weekly quiz, I did not feel prepared at all.  All of the homework for my Math 141 class is optional, and the quizzes are designed as grade boosters.  As soon as my professor announced the review session that evening, I immediately committed to attending.


Unsure if I should eat dinner before or after the class, I looked at a Penn State map in search of any eaterys surrounding Keller Building.  I knew the student next to me mentioned how Keller is “way out in the middle of nowhere” but I refused to believe the remark until scanning the map.  Quite close to the Nittany Lion Inn, no dining halls border Keller, but a place called Cafe Laura caught my attention.  I searched for the restaurant and found it on a Hospitality Management site from the university.  Boasting a “grab-and-go” bar which serves Starbucks, delectable lunches, and divine themed dinners, I knew I needed to try Cafe Laura.  

Cafe Laura from the outside

Since the cafe operates on very limited hours, I returned today since I normally have classes from 11:00am-1:00pm.  While I have, hands down, discovered my new favorite lunch option at Penn State, Cafe Laura isn’t really on the way to anything.  Unless you have classes in Keller or spend time in the Recreation Building often, this isn’t an ideal every day lunch stop.  


Upon entering Cafe Laura, the first thing grabbing my attention was the modern decor and lovely natural light.  A beautiful window of geometric patterns extending from the ceiling to the entry door creates a lively ambience.  Turning to the left allows access to the classrooms in Keller Building, while the dining options are found in the other direction.  While this appears to be a mini dining commons from a distance, the quality of the food is too delectable to compare it to the cardboard pizza and frozen veggies of Pollock or Redifer.  Stations today showcased entrees ranging from a gourmet 3 cheese grilled cheese with fries, to freshly made salads (much like those in Au Bon Pain, but cheaper!) to chili-lime tacos.  

In addition to the stations above, there are salads and a daily feature around the corner!

While all of this looked delicious, I opted for a cheese tortellini soup with Italian bread since I am typically in Calculus during lunch.  I hesitated for a second since I despise the tomato soup at Redifer’s City Grille.  However, this rich, creamy soup absolutely pleased!  The portion size was just enough, and didn’t taste as if it came directly from a can.  In addition, the tortellini served much more pleasing than the same pasta coming from the “Late Night” buffet.  

My lunch: cheese tortellini soup, Italian bread, iced coffee, and a mini cannoli!

Additionally, I decided to explore the King’s Espresso Bar housed in Cafe Laura.  Open much longer than the cafe itself, the espresso bar sells a limited selection of Starbucks beverages along with myriad baked goods: Irving’s bagels, cookies, and 50 cent mini cannolis to name a few!  While you can only order iced/hot coffee or select frappuccinos, the service is incredible (run by eager, kind hotel management students) and the cannolis taste amazing!  Oh, and did I mention that everything here accepts your dining points?


After eating and studying in the the beautiful establishment of Cafe Laura, I highly recommend making the trip out here at least once in your Penn state career (maybe if your parents are visiting and willing to drive you!)

“Confession: I’ve never had Starbucks”

After constant encouragement to “step out of my comfort zone,” I joined the Model United Nations club my sophomore year of high school.  Being new members, my friend Alice and I received limited options for committees to serve on and countries to represent.  Ultimately, we chose the nation of Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) on the Security Council during the Cold War.  Our recent discussions of the war in AP European History provided us with substantial background information, but we knew nothing about Ceylon.  After ransacking local libraries for any books referencing the area, we agreed to share our research over coffee.  


As soon as we approached the cash register at Starbucks, Alice looked at me with wide eyes and exclaimed You’re gonna think I’m crazy, but I’ve never had Starbucks!”  At this time, we had been friends for a little over a year, and I just assumed her caffeine addiction contained a link to the trendy chain adored by teenage girls nationwide.


Alice and me on the final day of the Gannon University Model United Nations Conference.  In addition to the great debating which occurred, we met another prospective Schreyer Scholar too!!


While my current go-to Starbucks beverage is a Vanilla Cold Brew, my younger self jumped for sugary, dessert-like drinks, such as frappuccinos and customized latees.  My favorite being a Java Chip Frappuccino, I immediately recommended that Alice try the same.


Following a lengthy phone call with Alice today, I opted for the Starbucks in the HUB as a study spot.  With her in mind, I dropped my things on a chair and entered the seemingly infinite line to order the Java Chip Frappuccino.  


Want to avoid the line?  Come to the HUB Starbucks before your 8:00am class (if you can manage to get up that early)!


While us college students constantly complain about too much work and extremely limited time, masses of scholars find time to wait in a Starbucks line which can be up 45 minutes long at peak time.  However, this blog served as a totally valid reason to endure the wait today!  


After placing my order, I stood to the side of the barista area waiting for my drink.  This location prevails as a principal example of organized chaos.  Behind the counter, baristas yell to each other and frantically dash from the blenders to the ice coolers.  New trainees appear almost daily with looks of panic plastered on their faces.  Despite such insanity, my beverage not only tasted amazing, but the baristas presented it beautifully, too.  


Totally picture-worthy chocolate drizzle!!


Next, I searched for an area to sit.  While this location boasts the same modern ambience as any other Starbucks, the types of seating arrangements are quite unique.  A long high top table appeals to study groups and people looking for more room to spread their books out, the bar-type seating along the opposite wall is populated by a row of individuals with earbuds in, while the students on the couch and cushioned chairs converse or watch Netflix.  Wanting a work area, but not the dim lighting and seclusion of the seating along the wall, I decided on the high top table.  While most people seemed to prefer working alone, no one acted rude or annoyed.  The overbearing workload experienced by all creates a type of unspoken bond.  We’re in this together, and wish success upon each other, even if not consciously.  


After about an hour and a half of work in the HUB, I decided a change of environment would bpost my productivity.  However, the friendly atmosphere, excellent service, and delicious drinks of this Starbucks impressed me and make me desire to return in the near future.  

Conversations Over Coffee

When my friend Greg met my parents for the first time, he exclaimed “Kristin’s famous in the band room!  Of course she’s an amazing musician, but she’s always spilling that coffee of hers too!”  Basically, I have my phone in one hand and some type of caffeinated beverage in the other no matter where I go.  I completed my summer reading at Goodrich Coffee Company, said farewell to my high school friends at Clarence Center Coffee, and conducted a college interview at Spot Coffee.  From the delicious beverages to the inviting ambience, cafes and coffee shops entice me and provoke a sense of calamity when I need to get work done.  


While the food and drinks taste amazing, cafes also serve as the home to some of my greatest memories.  I got to know one of my best friends of high school through our mutual affinity for music and coffee.  


When I arrived at the NYSBDA (statewide band conference in New York) Honor Band, fear consumed me.  In addition to anxiety associated with seating auditions, only one other girl from my school attended the event and she was a freshman.  Waiting in line for lunch, I was extremely nervous about having to eat with total strangers, so I approached her and introduced myself.  The reserved but kind tuba player became the spontaneous, exuberant, amazing individual who I now call my best friend.  


Talking throughout the day acquainted Stephanie and me, but our true bonding time resulted from a “coffee date.”  After the coffee cart was put away for the night, we went to a small cafe in the hotel and talked for hours.  From our favorite classical pieces to the various idiosyncrasies of our director back at school, we bonded over a vast array of common interests.  


Weeks after our first encounter, we visited Eastman School of Music.  While thoughts of a dual degree program through University of Rochester and Eastman popped into my head once or twice and interested me, Steph is obsessed with Eastman, but for good reason.  She serves as principal tuba in the Greater Buffalo Youth Orchestra, performed with Eastman’s “Tuba Mirum,” participated in the “Summer at Eastman” Wind Ensemble program, and receives endless comments from accomplished musicians.  Much like I felt when touring Penn State, she adores the surrounding area and overall atmosphere of Eastman, including the neighboring Java’s Cafe.  She invited me to Eastman so we could enjoy a chocolate sitch (a drink resembling a mocha frappuccino, but richer!) and talk.  


Pictured Above: Our first chocolate sitch Snapchat picture of many!


Defined by a plethora of music students being interviewed or working on transpositions, quirky photographs lining the walls, and retro music, the cafe served as an exceptional location to bond with my relatively new friend even more.

Since the first visit, we have returned to Java’s (once we went four times in one day!) for rant sessions, casual chats about life, and people watching.  Every time, the thought of our initial encounter comes to mind: both centering around coffee and music.  


As I embark upon my blogging journey, I hope to build friendships as strong as Steph and mine’s while educating fellow Penn Staters on the greatest cafes and coffee shops both on campus and in downtown State College.  If you have any suggestions on where I should begin my journey please let me know!