The Caffeine Fix: Dining Hall Switches to a New Brew
March 13, 2016
Filed under Features
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During Winter Term, the dining halls welcomed a new brew at the beverage station: coffee by local roaster Vermont Coffee Company. Based in Middlebury Vermont, coffee from the Vermont Coffee Company is fair-trade and certified organic. The move to serve it in the dining halls has allowed the College to meet its promise to serve 30 percent Real Food in the dining halls by 2016.
The switch from New England Coffee, served in dining halls previously, to Vermont Coffee Company, is receiving hearty approval from the student body.
In an online survey conducted by The Campus, 81 percent of the 105 students surveyed said they noticed a change in the dining hall coffee. Seventy percent of students said they “like” or “love” the new coffee, whereas only four percent of students reported liking the New England Coffee and 64 percent said they “disliked” or “detested” it. None of the students surveyed said they “loved” the old coffee.
The majority of students said that they like the new coffee because they think it has a better taste than a cup of the New England Coffee.
The Decision to Switch
Executive Director of Food Service Operations Dan Detora was the driving force behind the move to Vermont Coffee Company. Detora explained to The Campus that refreshing the College’s coffee inventory has been on his radar since at least fall 2014 after Dining Services received multiple complaints.
“I don’t think it was anything specific, just the fact that we received a lot of [comments like], ‘The coffee is terrible,’” Detora said. “It just wasn’t a high-quality coffee.”
Detora considered a switch to Vermont Coffee Company’s locally-roasted, fair-trade organic coffee after the business moved to its new headquarters on Exchange Street. Last summer, VCC helped the College to secure specially sourced brews for the Language Schools’ 100 Year Celebration.
“We were trying to do desserts and coffees from different countries, and they helped us with that,” Detora explained.
Since then, Detora said the College has a “great relationship” with the Vermont Coffee Company. When Dining Services, in partnership with the SGA, decided to upgrade coffee in the dining halls, they chose Vermont Coffee Company to increase the College’s use of Real Food. Real Food is food that meets certain criteria such as ‘local- and community-based,’ ‘fair,’ ‘ecologically sound’ and ‘humane.’
“When President Leibowitz committed to 30 percent Real Food, we were at roughly 23-27 percent when he signed that agreement last year,” Detora said. “[Vermont Coffee Company] came in, and we did some tasting, but the big thing was that they met our Real Food criteria. That was about $125,000 [of the dining budget] switched over to Real Food, which got us over that 30 percent to meet our goal. So we got a better product and better Real Food, and it was basically awash in terms of funding.”
The increased expense, however, encouraged Dining Services to economize. SGA President Ilana Gratch ’16 was collaborating with Detora to establish 10 O’clock Ross when Dining Services considered the coffee change. They decided to open Ross Dining Hall later on weekends, from 7:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. This minimized food waste and reduced labor costs, and helped shrink the expense of high-quality coffee.
Eat Real Weighs In
Eat Real, the student group which encouraged the College to sign the Real Food agreement in 2014, published an op-ed entitled “Wake Up and Smell the (Fair-Trade, Organic) Coffee!” in The Campus in January, applauding the switch to the Vermont Coffee Company.
“We are excited by Dining Service’s commitment to supporting real food and the values real food represents,” said Eat Real Co-Presidents Sarah Koenigsberg ’17 and Elaine Forbush ’17 in their op-ed.
Eat Real has been collaborating with the College for the past three years by helping them identify foods served in the dining hall that could be switched to Real Foods without too much extra cost. In the past, Eat Real assisted Dining Services in their switch to local beef for hamburgers and local, organic tofu.
While Eat Real celebrates the improvements that the dining halls have embraced thus far, the group is far from satisfied. Eat Real research interns are currently examining other food options that could be switched to Real Foods like buying whole chickens as opposed to chicken breasts. Moreover, the interns are also working on collecting data to help encourage the College to bump up their Real Food agreement to 50 percent Real Food.
Eat Real urges the College and students to become cognizant of the changes they can provoke with their food choices.
“We encourage the Middlebury community to recognize the purchasing power we have as a residential college that feeds thousands of people multiple meals a day,” Koenigsberg and Forbush wrote. “It’s easy to forget the flaws inherent in our modern food system when we only see the food that magically appears in our buffets every day.”
Coffee Sales Around Campus
According to our survey, 39 percent of students report that they buy less coffee now than they did when New England Coffee was served in the dining halls.
How is this change affecting coffee sales at vendors around campus?
Detora said it’s too early to know. Vermont Coffee Company was available at Crossroads and Wilson Cafés before the upgrade inside the dining halls.
Birgitta Cheng ’17, one of four student managers of Crossroads Café, reports that coffee sales at Crossroads have remained consistent despite the new coffee in the dining halls.
“We cater to students on specialty drinks more [than drip coffee],” said Cheng. “Our drip coffee sales usually come from faculty and staff who come to get a drink between work shifts so they are not going to the dining hall anyways.”
Cheng estimates that Crossroads sells approximately 200 cups of coffee per day.
Still, even if sales at some College vendors do decline slightly, buying more coffee from the same vendor will lower costs for the College. Previously, College vendors bought coffee from 14 different coffee companies; Crossroads alone served three different companies’ coffee.
Now Vermont Coffee Company is the only coffee served anywhere at the College.
“Because we went to Vermont [Coffee Company], we increased our purchasing power with them,” Detora said. “They decreased the price of the product pretty considerably so we feel that any sales loss would be picked up by the price savings we have overall.”