Coffee house excels at java, tea

Stevenson University has taken another big step in its infrastructure development by introducing the Garrison Coffee House to the Owings Mills campus. This new space is operated by Sodexo, but stands out from existing cafes through its introduction of Starbucks coffee.

Students and faculty congregate in the newly open Garrison Coffee House during the ribbon-cutting ceremony. (Photo by  Emma Cathy Smith)

During the opening week of the coffee house, I sampled multiple drinks and a few food options. Some of the drinks are my all-time Starbucks favorites, like the mocha and their shaken tea lemonades. Others, I decided to try for the first time, like the caramel macchiato and the famous pink drink.

Every previously mentioned drink is not currently covered by a meal plan swipe – students will need to use flex, cash, or debit. The majority of the items on the coffee house menu require monetary payment, except for tall (small) black coffee and brewed teas, Simply To-Go products, and some of the bakery items. The full list can be viewed in-store; a convenient pop-up usually sits on top of the bakery display.

My favorite drink from Starbucks is the London Fog Tea latte; the instant I noticed it on the new menu, it became my staple drink on campus. With that being said, I may be one of the only people on campus to order it – a Sodexo employee actually said so after my order momentarily confused the staff. Every time I ask for it, as a result, it tastes a bit different, but not enough to turn me off. It still has that signature taste that I’ve consumed for years.

Other than that drink, all of the other drinks I’ve tried taste exactly the same compared to retail Starbucks nationwide. My twin brother, who is currently a barista and shift supervisor at a Starbucks in Baltimore county, made the same drinks for me when I went home for a weekend, and I couldn’t taste a difference. Peeking behind the counter, I could tell that even set-up and cleanliness standards have been ingrained into the new Garrison Coffee House employees, which I appreciate.

Due to cost, I have only sampled two of their food products– a buffalo chicken panini (which I got to try for free at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, but otherwise costs money), and a red velvet yogurt muffin. Both were fantastic, and I would recommend trying them if you want to sample something new. The display closest to the register houses all of the meal plan options, while the monetary products are closest to the main entrance.

The physical set-up of the Garrison Coffee House is a perfect replication of what a modern coffee house should look like. Complete with multiple lounge chairs and couches, large tables and workstations, and generous overhead and natural lighting, it’s very welcoming. Despite it being so far away from my residence hall, I’ve found myself walking over a few times to get coffee, and staying longer than anticipated because of how comfortable it is.

My main question regarding this opening is – why? The concept of a coffee house where students can relax totally belongs on a college campus…however, we already had that niche filled through multiple other spaces on the Owings Mills campus. The new reading room in Garrison Hall serves as a great, quiet place to lounge and relax (along with the Ratcliffe Community Center and other spaces in Garrison Hall North), and Jazzman’s had already established itself in two central hubs on campus. The location in the School of Business in particular was very heavily frequented; many students who have more than one class in that building a day found themselves down there for a pick-me-up.

Personally, it would have made more sense to build a coffee house or cafe on the Owings Mills North campus, in the south side of the building. It would provide students on that campus an additional food source, and it makes sense to put a cafe in a part of campus whose infrastructure will continue to grow exponentially over the next few years.

Another complaint is the extremely limited meal plan menu. When compared to Jazzman’s — whose smallest size is a good 2-4 ounces more than the tall in the coffee house — a swipe goes a very long way. Blended ice beverages, lattes, and more can be swiped in Jazzman’s, but we are being asked to pay for these same types of beverages in the coffee house while actually getting less product. Admittedly, the taste of Starbucks is enough for me to personally want to pay that up-charge, but it can be hard to justify the difference when you consider the target consumer. College students tend to carry around less money than working professionals.

However, I do appreciate the Sodexo staff’s willingness to listen to student feedback. Many times when I walked in during the first two weeks of business, I noticed the general manager and the marketing coordinator talking to students and asking for their opinions. I have been asked on multiple occasions if the drink I had lived up to my expectations, and if there was anything I’d recommend changing. As a result, I have faith in their ability to adjust the menu and meal plan options to better suit our needs down the road, and I look forward to seeing what changes will be made by the start of their first full year on campus.

The Garrison Coffee House is open from 7:30 a.m. to midnight from Mondays to Thursdays, and closes at 2:30 p.m. on Fridays. For the rest of their hours, and a full menu, visit the dining services website.

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