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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)

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. 

Yes, he’s actually the professor!

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!