A nutritionist I saw a few years back asked me, “what’s your drug of choice?” The question seemed slightly offensive to me, as I did not want to consider myself as using (let alone abusing) any “drug.” As she went on to explain, her point became clearer: we all utilize something to relieve stress and to cope with our realities, a drug can be any substance used to enhance our mental well-being. For me, the answer was simple, caffeine – in the form of coffee – and I am not alone. Between eighty and ninety percent of Americans (depending on who is doing the math) consume caffeine on a daily basis, and the average consumption is three cups of coffee per day. We are a nation fueled by caffeine. (There are over 10,000 Starbucks stores in the United States.)
Is this a bad thing? I will be the first to say that I derive a great deal of pleasure from coffee. The smell in the morning is synonymous with waking up, and the ritual of coffee drinking makes me feel focused and ready to work. But much can be said about the negative side-effects of caffeine. Chinese medicine calls caffeine “false energy,” and caffeine dependency is even listed in the DSM-IV as a psychological disorder. Whatever the downsides, caffeine has been consumed by humanity for roughly 4,700 years, making it so commonplace that to think of it as a drug seems antithetical. In fact, it is notable that coffee consumption seems to be the highest in first world economies. Does a capitalist economy encourage this form of self-medication? Perhaps it could be argued, caffeine is undoubtedly good for the economy.
Personally, I wish there were more days when the pleasure of coffee outweighed its utility, but lately that has not been the case. I rely on coffee to help me to stay focused and get through an appreciable amount of work when I would rather curl up and read a book (one without Blue Book citation). Sometimes, false energy is better than no energy, but the point is that caffeine should be used – and enjoyed – in moderation.
In State College, there are a few wonderful places to enjoy a great espresso or regular cup of coffee, here are some of my favorites.
Saint’s Café on Beaver: Pros – everything they do is great and they offer free wireless access. Cons – they close early (6pm on weekdays).
Webster’s Bookstore Café on Allen: Pros: great food, coffee and tea; used bookstore provides great ambience; free wireless. Cons – it can get crowded.
Peet’s Coffee and Tea in the Smeal College of Business: This isn’t the traditional Peet’s store, but the coffee and teas are and it is great proximity to the law school.
Wegman’s Café: Pros – lattes and sweet drinks, free wireless. Cons: cappuccinos and espresso.
Panera Bread on Beaver: Pros – wonderful sweet drinks and great bagels and pastries. Cons – the hearty espresso drinker would prefer to go next-door to Saint’s.
Starbucks, of course, is great for consistency. The Starbucks on College Ave. is close enough the University to get the PSU wireless signal, but it is often packed and the lines are long. The Starbucks on N. Atherton has a drive-through. A new location is opening up soon on Garner at Beaver.