Amid the unceasing pressure of deadlines given by professors convinced theirs is the most important class, papers stacked up from procrastination, events for clubs, fraternities, and sororities, and meeting with friends, there is one constant: coffee.
Coffee is often a lifeline, especially toward the end of the semester, for students whose spirits are broken and their bodies tired, and the coffee communities on campus can replenish student energy as well as lift their spirits.
Jitters Coffee Cart and A.J.’s Café are the only on-campus coffee joints, and they do their best to keep students caffeinated whenever they need a fix. Their cultures, however, are starkly contrasting.
Jitters is only open in the morning and early afternoon, and its location in Lane Hall means that it tends to get rushes in between classes.
“It’s kind of a hot-and-cold thing,” senior Jitters student manager Joel Haines said. “We don’t have as much to maintain here, so there’s definitely more stretches of time when everybody’s hastily going about the business of maintenance and upkeep, and we go from that to about 30 people in line. We have 10 minutes to make 15 drinks, which is nuts, but I kinda like it. It’s like this fun little buzz. It’s like a quick sprint.”
But he said the downtime in between the class period rush is also a lot of fun.
“We work in pairs and the space is so small, we’re in such close proximity that it forces us to get to know each other,” Haines said.
“I think the downtime is what helps friendships grow,” Assistant (“to the”) Student Manager junior Lydia Seipel said.
Last semester, Haines held a traditional feast for his student workers featuring bacon, apple-cinnamon pancakes, White Russians, and more.
“The managers typically throw a dinner, of sorts, for the employees just to bolster and enrich this community. We’re all like-minded people here. We all really love coffee. Jitters used to be super, super hipster. We’re not as much hipster, we’re more just normal folk but still appreciate some Mumford and Sons,” Haines said.
“I feel like not everyone necessarily falls into the hipster category, but every single person I think has a streak. Just like a hint of it you, know? Not too much,” Seipel said.
Besides the hipster vibe, Jitters also has a lot of character in the art on the register and the walls.
“There’s a lot of art, again, it’s like little flairs of personality or artistic streaks. It’s not always our primary focus over here, but for some reason, a lot of us have random artistic abilities,” Seipel said. “I just feel like everyone here is very comfortable with who they are.”
And in this environment, people who otherwise like separate things enjoy making coffee together in a close-knit environment.
“It’s a very comforting place… It never feels like work. I come here on my off times, and I would even step in. There have been times when I’ve stayed over,” Seipel said.
“It’s like a little sanctuary from schoolwork,” Joel said.
A.J.’s and Jitters share a culture of students who love their work. While Jitters is only open in the first part of the day, A.J.’s is open from 7:30 a.m. to midnight most days. Employees prepare and serve food and ice cream as well as coffee drinks.
“I think we have a lot more busyness going on just because we offer a lot more things than Jitters does, Jitters is more laid-back and they have the music and the really good coffee, and we have good coffee too, but it’s just a totally different kind of atmosphere,” sophomore Assistant Student Manager at A.J.’s Makenzie Self said. “But with food and ice cream and milkshakes and everybody doing something at every moment, I think it makes for a slightly more fast-paced environment. You have to be really energetic and welcoming all the time.”
Self said she really likes interacting with customers and with the same employees who have the same schedule all year. She said she knows exactly which drinks to make for regulars and when to leave room for cream.
One of the specific aspects of A.J.’s is the customer of the week award, formerly employee of the week.
“When people find out that they’re customer of the week, they’re like, ‘No way!’ It’s really fun,” Self said.
This week, however, the customer of the week is a hamster named Cervantes. A senior employee really wanted her pet hamster to receive customer of the week before she graduated, Self said.
Self is not the only one who thinks it’s a great time. Junior A.J.’s employee Colette Peterson has worked there since the first week of her freshman year. She ordered a latte and asked if they needed help, and they did so she was hired.
“It’s a lot of fun. I really like it because it’s a good way to interact with people and wind down after doing a bunch of school work. It’s technically a job, but it’s so much fun.”
When asked what Hillsdale would look like without A.J.’s, Peterson responded, “A lot of sleep deprivation.” She added, “A.J.’s has a really good community in the union especially. It’s a really great place to go to study. It has that coffeeshop atmosphere that I think for me is really productive.”
Both Self and Peterson agree that A.J.’s is a central part of the Hillsdale experience. At Jitters, Haines and Seipel have found a special family that allows them to express their artistic side.
So wherever students get coffee to fuel their late night studying or replace the sleep they should have gotten a long time ago, the coffee will be there for them and the specific coffee cultures on campus that go along with them. Either way, they are a part of one of the unique cultures on campus.