Coffee – is there anything that people complain more about at Maastricht University? “Sorry, I can only offer you coffee from the machine”, is a much-heard apology. But is it really that bad? Or is the complaining just a habit, like grumbling about the weather? Observant asked three Italians – the world’s self-proclaimed coffee experts – to put UM’s coffee to the test.
It’s Tuesday morning, 9 o’clock. The test panel – students Salvatore Pascapè and Eugenio Troia and professor of Neuroimaging Methods Elia Formisano – still looks a bit sleepy, although Formisano later confesses that he had already had a cup of coffee at home. “I needed it; my son has to be at school at 8:30.”
The first cup is the most important one of the day, they all agree. “That has to be a proper one”, says Troia. Let’s see if Coffeelovers (inside the Student Service Centre) can offer that. Although the menu offers all kinds of variations, from hazelnut coffee and latte macchiato to sweet mocha, the test panel quickly agrees: three espressos please. “For me, espresso is coffee”, says Formisano. “After fifteen years in the Netherlands I’ve got used to the long drinks, but I drink them like I drink tea; when you want something warm.”
Three small cups (at €2 each) come over the counter. The first impression is not too good. “I don’t like that they serve it in these paper cups”, says Pascapè. “They use too much water”, adds Troia. “In Italy, this would already be considered a long drink”, agrees Formisano. He takes a sip. “Mwah, maybe a 6.5. It’s Starbucks-like, internationally reasonable coffee.” Troia tosses up between a 6 and a 6.5, but Pascapè is stricter: a 5.5. “The beans are good, but it’s not really espresso. They should do much less coffee in the machine.”
On to the second test spot: the Douwe Egberts Café (in the cafeterias at the UNS 40 in Randwyck and the School of Business and Economics). Here, the coffee is considerably cheaper, at €1.30 a cup. “But it’s still too expensive, like everywhere here”, says Troia. “In Italy coffee usually costs 80 cents. If the price isn’t mentioned anywhere, it’s 80 cents.” Formisano explains that it used to be a tradition in his hometown, Naples, not to get change when you pay for your coffee. Instead the money is saved for the first person who comes in with not enough money for a coffee. “So when you walk into a café, you can always get a cup of coffee, even if you don’t have any money on you. I wonder if they still do that.”
They take a sip from their espressos. Troia immediately grimaces. “The beans are really wrong. You can already see it’s bad by looking at it.” Pascapè agrees. “You can find out a lot from the cream on top”, he explains. “It should be golden, like the one at Coffeelovers. This is too white. And the pressure of the machine is bad.” They settle on a 3 (Pascapè) and a 3.5 (Troia). Formisano grins – he knows the people behind the counter. “They’re my friends, so I’ll give it a 5. But I won’t finish it, it’s too watery.”
Heading for the free coffee machines (in all university buildings), Pascapè suddenly gets worried about the results of this test. “I don’t want to put anyone out of business.” Formisano smiles. “I don’t think we’re that significant.” As we arrive at the machine at Sint Servaasklooster 32, Pascapè mentions an article he read about coffee machines in Italy. “Apparently they’re now putting automatic machines that serve quite good coffee in offices and schools.” This machine would not fall into that category, it soon turns out. “Well … if you really need a cup of coffee and this is the only thing around, and it’s for free, then … you still need to be brave. Even the water is bad”, says Troia. Formisano agrees. “It’s actually quite admirable that people dare to drink this.” Pascapè, meanwhile, simply shakes his head. “What is this? I can’t say anything about the pressure or the cream – it’s just not there.” “Don’t be so mean”, laughs Formisano. “It’s a machine”, says Pascapè. “I can be mean to a machine.” And his coffee goes where the other two have already put theirs: down the drain.
Next stop is the coffee corner at the Faculty of Law, which also serves Douwe Egberts coffee at €1.30 a cup. “This one is very similar to the one at the DE Café”, says Formisano. “Yes, but your friends aren’t here so you can be honest now”, Troia smiles. “I like this one better than the one at the DE Café, but that might be because I had the free coffee in between. The cream is a bit more golden.” Pascapè agrees. “Did I say a 3 at the DE Café? Then this is a 3.5. And what did I say at Coffeelovers? A 5.5? After tasting the other coffees, I want to change that to a 6.” “I would drink this if there was no other coffee around”, says Formisano. “The free stuff, I wouldn’t.” Troia agrees. “If this was free, it could be acceptable.”
Then, last but not least: Banditos (at Oxfordlaan 55 and the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences), where an espresso costs €1.10. “Ah, proper cups”, says Pascapè delighted. And for the first time this morning, some appreciative noises follow the first sips. “There’s really no comparison with the other ones”, says Formisano. “In Randwyck it’s even better; it depends a bit on who makes it.” Here at FASoS, the staff press the coffee too much, according to Pascapè. “If they were trained a little, it would be even better.” He gives a 7.5, as do the other two. “Even in Italy, this would be considered reasonable coffee”, says Formisano. “Yes, when you’re waiting at the station for instance”, agrees Troia. “Not when you sitting down for a really good coffee.”
And with that we can conclude that, in spite of a few silver linings, the coffee at UM is nothing to rave about. We could have known. When looking for panel members for this article, it turned out that a lot of Italian UM employees work from Italy. We now know why.
Elia Formisano (42), professor of Neuroimaging Methods, head of the Department of Cognitive Neuroscience and scientific director of the Maastricht Brain Imaging Center (MBIC)
Drinks: 5-6 cups of coffee a day
Salvatore Pascapè (19), first-year student of International Business
Drinks: 2-3 cups of coffee a day
Eugenio Troia (20), second-year student of UCM
Drinks: 6-7 cups of coffee a day