On a winter morning, I climb up a steep hill, away from the familiar part of DC, into a world all its own. It’s midterms week up here at Georgetown University, and student-owned and operated cafes Uncommon Grounds, MUG (More Uncommon Grounds), and the Midnight Mug are packed with students—coffee of course being the catalyst to change exam denial into determination.
The Corp (the student organization behind these cafes) has recently reworked their coffee offerings by partnering with DC roaster Compass Coffee. The switch is part of their larger initiative to bring a higher caliber of local offerings to Corp cafes, stores, and their catering program.
All these studying, laughing coffee drinkers I see belong to a demographic referenced by Tracy Ging in her 2014 Symposium talk as the “young millennials”. According to her presentation, these age 18–24 consumers gravitate toward handcrafted, customizable espresso-based beverages, and the more demonstrated knowledge and know-how by the barista, the better. As Ging notes in her talk, this is a group of coffee drinkers who started drinking coffee at a younger age, and typically drink coffee away from home; with higher exposure to cafes come higher and more nuanced expectations. Here I was, in a wonderland of solely that demographic, and at Corp cafes, that demographic makes up both the customers and the baristas. “The student-run aspect of these cafes is huge,” incoming Corp CEO Marnie Wallach tells me as we sit at Uncommon Grounds. “We understand our primary customer base because we’re a part of that demographic, too.”
“When it comes to coffee drinks, it’s most important that the drinks are creative and well-made, adds Midnight Mug barista Allyn Faenza, when speaking to what drives college-aged customers. “Students love to try new drinks, but the coffee they’re made with must be quality.”
According to Patrick Moore, the Corp COO, the choice to work with Compass was made for a number of reasons. “We want to endorse innovation and leadership, on and off-campus, plus we got a lot of feedback that our student customers really wanted good coffee. Compass came in and it was immediately apparent they weren’t just trying to ‘sell themselves’ to us: they wanted to invest in us.” Compass co-owners Harrison Suarez and Michael Haft devoted a full week in late January this year to refitting equipment and training staff, and the Corp shut down their coffee services for that full week in order to completely focus on training. Suarez and Haft offer ongoing wholesale and quality control support, and student baristas are encouraged to come by Compass to further learn and experiment. “It’s so much fun,” says Suarez. “I’ve never met a group more eager to learn.”
With new Curtis batch brewers and La Marzocco Vulcano Swift grinders, plus upgrades to the cafes’ La Marzocco Lineas, the student-run shops are showcasing local specialty coffee, done fast and well. If good coffee on campus is becoming a trend at Georgetown, what drivers and patterns will we see from young millennial cafe-goers at other institutions in years to come?
Dawn Shanks is a coffee professional based in Washington DC. Read more Dawn Shanks on Sprudge.