On a freezing Sunday morning, we made our way up the narrow staircase to the second floor of Literati where The Espresso Bar is located. We were prepared for an evening of finals studying with some much needed caffeine involved. However, once we reached the top, we were surprised to find that there were zero tables open. So with a look and shrug, we trudged down to the street, looking up more coffee shops near our location on our way out.
We then proceeded to travel to three different coffee shops that Siri promised were within walking distance. The first one was full, the second one had an “off” sort of feeling and smelled like the music store where I used to take lessons, and the third one actually didn’t exist because we were apparently staring right at the shop when all we could see was an empty brick wall. (Potentially there’s a Diagon Alley sort of thing going on; I’ll investigate later.)
The point is, we spent the better part of a half hour looking for a new coffee shop to study at for a change of scenery before eventually just settling on our usual venue — Starbucks. So can anybody tell me why we wasted so much time scouring the city, hell-bent on studying in a coffee shop when there are dozens of options Ann Arbor and the University have to offer?
If you asked me on a normal day why so many college students flock to coffee shops like they’re Noah’s Ark, I’d probably tell you it was because of the caffeine. The revered coffee, or the “Holy Starbucks” as I have affectionately coined it, keeps us running late at night, promising us that yes, we will in fact finish this paper before its midnight submission deadline.
I have a strange relationship with coffee. The smell of the fresh grounds at Meijer always drew my head, but when my dad let me try my first coffee during my sophomore year of high school, I pretended to like it even though it was probably the most disgusting thing I had ever tasted. (Disclaimer: It was probably some kind of caramel latte that I would find too sugary today. What can I say? I was young and innocent.)
So, in preparing to begin my journey as a college student, I was suddenly assaulted with birthday, graduation and “thinking of you” cards stuffed with Starbucks gift cards. I was confused — my family and friends know that I don’t drink coffee, so why are they sending me these? On possibly the seventh Starbucks gift card, I finally spoke up.
“You know I hate coffee. Why are you giving me a Starbucks card?”
My friend was confused at my question: “Oh, you know. Because you’re going to college soon and you’ll need it.”
At the time, I thought that maybe this was a good thing. I’d finally like coffee, which would make me more mature, right? And thus began my coffee journey. I started off small, taking on the decked out frappuccinos first before moving on to lattes. Eventually, I was drinking a caramel macchiato, which makes you feel more like an adult rather than a high school teenager snapping selfies with her “créme frapp” (fun fact: those don’t actually have coffee in them even though they’re delicious; I learned the hard way).
So I naturally became a bit of a coffee addict, drinking it as both a means to drag myself out of bed in the morning and to stay up on nights that the work never seemed to end. We’re all a bit of a mess, though, aren’t we?
Surprisingly enough, most days that I find myself sitting in the Michigan Union Starbucks, I stay for the ambiance: the warm glow of the chandeliers, the Christmas music filtering through the speakers and the smell of freshly brewed coffee. I go with friends and walk away with homework assignments completed — it’s a beautiful cycle that’s backed up by research.
According to a study led by Ravi Mehta, a business administration professor at the University of Illinois, “Modest background noise creates enough of a distraction to encourage people to think more imaginatively.”
So the ambiance in your local coffee shop isn’t only great for your mind, but for your work as well. The research actually suggests that “walking out of one’s comfort zone and getting into a relatively noisy environment may trigger the brain to think abstractly, and thus generate creative ideas.”
Even though we’re packing coffee shops for a much-needed caffeine fix, we’re actually doing our studies some good in the process.
In an article in The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf suggests that research shows some people are motivated to get more done in coffee shops due to social pressures; we are more likely to get work done in public in order to present ourselves as having a purpose to be there. And I mean, who hasn’t used that as a motivation before? Working on research at Starbucks while watching other students becoming distracted by the pull of Facebook notifications, I have felt like I was the “good” student who was constantly doing my work without checking Facebook. Whereas in my room, I would oftentimes find myself changing songs on YouTube or 8Tracks and becoming distracted finding something to listen to, which negatively impacted my learning in the long run. There was no pressure to keep doing work.
Even if you feel like you’re not getting much done, I think you’ll be surprised realizing how much work you actually accomplished during your time at the “Holy Starbucks.” That, and you’ll get a pretty sweet coffee fix out of it.
So go and enjoy your peppermint mocha frappuccino, you beautiful mess, you.
Megan Mitchell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.