In the spirit of caffeine enthusiasts everywhere, the team that runs Espwesso—Wesleyan’s only late-night student-run café—is constantly working on about 10 things at once. Aside from providing coffee, tea, and specialty drinks to campus night owls, Espwesso’s managers and staff have a mission to promote social justice, to maintain an economically and environmentally sustainable business model, and to perfect their latte art.
Perhaps the biggest task at hand right now, however, is the expansion of the café’s hours, staff, and role on campus.
Early last semester, when the administration called for White Papers–proposals from the community that would improve the campus experience–Andrew Trexler ’14 took a closer look at how well Espwesso works as a spot for casual gatherings and conversations. He began collaborating with the café’s current managers, Samantha Sikder ’14 and Jasmine Masand ’15, to submit a proposal calling for the expansion of the café’s hours and space, with an eye toward transforming it into a hub for student-faculty interaction.
“What we do not have at Wesleyan is a centrally located physical space for informal conversations and relationship-building among students and faculty,” part of the proposal reads.
Although Wesleyan has a few spots that fulfill this role to some extent, the proposal notes, none of them completely fit this model.
“Usdan Cafe is not exactly a conducive space to casual conversations or just conversations in general,” Trexler said. “The space is very loud and very busy; people are always going in and out. And then Pi Café is equally loud and boisterous, shall we say.”
The Daniel Family Commons [DFC] offers vouchers for professors and students to get lunch together, but Trexler and the café’s managers agree that the relative formality and time limitations of this setup aren’t ideal for everyone.
Espwesso, according to the proposal, would be the perfect space to fill this void.
“In some part, that was the idea of the cafe being established at first: that it could be a space that was conducive to these types of conversations and interactions,” Masand said.
However, the café is only open from 9:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. Although the café space is open and available to everyone during the day, the café itself doesn’t operate during a time when professors are typically on campus.
“That creates such a weird time constraint for us, which is great for the student body, but not at all conducive to the faculty or staff, who aren’t trying to be here at that time,” said staff member Maureen Gorman ’14. The proposal’s suggestion that the café’s hours be extended to 1 p.m. to 1 a.m. would eliminate this limitation.
The café was set up as a strictly late-night space in part because of the University’s contract with Bon Appetit. As it stands now, Bon Appetit is technically the only food service allowed to serve campus, and Espwesso’s hours cannot overlap with those of Bon Appetit’s dining facilities. This is also the reason that the café runs on suggested donations rather than mandatory prices: it is a nonprofit that does not receive funding from the University.
“When the cafe was first established, being a late-night cafe was the idea behind the establishment, but it also was the easiest way to get it established at the time,” Masand said. “And now that we’ve evolved and become something more legitimate on campus, and now that we have this larger expanding customer base, we’re outgrowing our constraints.”
According to Trexler, most of the ideas outlined in the proposal are on the road to being fulfilled.
“In the proposal, I had some visions for physical changes to the space, but those are really expensive and are just not going to happen,” he said. “However, the hours change is almost definitely gong to happen. The negotiation is complete, and I have an agreement from the administration that that will happen. They just need to work it out with Bon Appetit.”
During Winter Session, the Espwesso team got to test out the idea of being open during the daytime.
“I opened the cafe on the first day of classes, and we got a few people at first,” Sikder said. “Towards the end of the week, it definitely picked up because a lot of senior thesis writers told other senior thesis writers.”
Word spread quickly as Winter Session progressed, and soon, faculty members were filtering in as well. Espwesso’s staff members agreed that being open during Winter Session definitely helped make Espwesso a better-known entity on campus.
Then again, Espwesso’s popularity had already been growing for some time. Gorman, who has been on the café’s staff since its opening in 2010, recalled that Espwesso used to be much more of a niche space that could seem unapproachable to “outsiders.”
“At the beginning, we had this very small group of really intense regulars, and now people are more likely to flow in and out; it’s not as if you have to be connected to the cafe to come in,” she said. “It’s not intimidating.”
Masand, who has been involved with Espwesso since the spring of her freshman year, agrees that the space has become more inviting.
“I think that one thing that has really changed is the culture,” she said. “Having that tight-knit group of regulars was great and really important for developing a real place, but [last year] we really made an effort to push ourselves out there to the incoming freshman class and even the sophomores.”
Aside from tapping further into campus culture, Espwesso’s managers have recently made some changes to the product at the core of their business: the coffee itself. Espwesso used to get its coffee from Supreme Bean, a roaster based in California. However, in an effort to go more local, they switched to the Rhode Island-based New Harvest Coffee Roasters. Transitioning to New Harvest has made Espwesso’s business model more environmentally and economically sustainable.
“As a roaster, Supreme Bean, as far as I know, had organic and fair trade coffees, but New Harvest is part of this new network of roasters and distributors who work directly with farmers,” Masand said. “In the coffee trade, there are all these middle men: there’s the actual farmer, and then there’s the importer, and the exporter, and the distributor, so there’s all these people who basically just take money away from that direct connection [to the farmer]. New Harvest actually goes out to these farmers and works with them on their growing techniques.”
When Espwesso switched to New Harvest, the staff did a tasting to choose the types of coffee beans they would use.
“You know like at a wine tasting, all those weird, pretentious terms that you use for wine? That’s sort of the way it works for coffee, as well, because the flavor profiles are so subtle,” Masand said.
Espwesso continues to change up the menu every time they order more coffee, and they typically offer two types of coffee at a time, each with a distinct flavor.
“Every once in a while someone’s like, ‘I don’t understand. Which one has more caffeine?’ And I’m like, ‘I can’t help you with that,’” Sikder said.
The transition to a new coffee roaster is in keeping with Espwesso’s mission to use the café space, and to tap into the coffee industry in general, as a way to promote social justice.
“There are so many different ways you can make coffee, and so many different ways you can use it to get engaged in what you care about,” Sikder said. “For instance, if you care a lot about social justice or peace reconciliation, there are examples of that in the world of coffee. Or if you’re really interested in science, there’s so much science behind coffee.”
Masand agreed that the café is about more than just fueling tired students.
“I think every time we train somebody, or every time I’m even in the cafe, I discover something new or read something new [about coffee], and it just refreshes my passion for what we do,” she said.