Coffee Seminar: A Cup of Life Lessons

Teaching and learning comes in many forms – in this anecdote, Stony Brook University Writing and Rhetoric’s Joe Labriola explains the scholarly value of his end of semester fresh pour over coffee seminar!

The end of the semester is a time of substantial stress – for both students and teachers alike. The former often find themselves immersed within panicked, self-insomnia-forced study sessions, while the latter face the alternate side of the finals madness spectrum: grading. We writing teachers in particular have our work cut out for us. A crude calculation will reveal that on average, one can expect to grade over 350 papers in little more than a two week period, easily totaling at least 2,000 pages.

Now that’s no small beans.

Luckily for us, beans come in all shapes, sizes, and most importantly, flavors. And so, enter the coffee bean: our warm dark friend and savior. There’s a long-form joke of sorts every

The brewfessor in action.

semester where I note the number coffee cups (or lack thereof) dotting my students’ desks during the first week, commenting, “Wait until finals.” Fast forward three paper drafts later, and voilà, the winter forest of greeny Starbucks Choka-mocha-lattes is in full bloom.

In crafting my own last day of class activity, I thought about what lesson I really want my students to walk away with. While I could have chosen to focus on re-emphasizing any of the broader skill-sets of rhetorical analysis, audience awareness, modes of persuasion, etc., I realized that it is truly the desire to learn, the passion to do something well and effectively that lies at the heart of my teaching.

If you can inspire somebody to want to learn, then you’ve helped them to strive forever beyond merely memorizing the obvious material lessons.

A coffee seminar works well in this sense due to the many misconceptions of what makes a good ol’ cup o’ Joe. Students start the last day of class asking “Where’s the milk and sugar?” and end with “So what size Chemex do you recommend?” (A freshly brewed pour over coffee should be flavorful enough where adding sweeteners would be a crime.)

Our final day coffee seminar shows that with a little bit of time, care, and patience, you can craft a warm brew that will redefine your sense of how coffee should taste. One student who emailed me after class, describes this realization perfectly:

I am more than grateful I had you as my writing professor — I mean, who would have known you’re not just a writing prodigy but also a self-taught barista? Now my Starbucks Americano that I get every morning tastes simply “meh” (and not worth the price) after having your freshly brewed coffee. I think you should definitely consider opening your own café one day. Thank you once again for guiding me to succeed in this course, and I wish you a cozy winter! (Kim)

A standard medium sized Chemex Coffeemaker along with cone filters and freshly brewed whole beans.

This sentiment is echoed by many others, who come to similar conclusions as we walk through the purpose and process of how to reach such a delicious final product.

I won’t go through each step here now (but click here to check out a video tutorial). Amazingly, having internalized the process myself, I forgot just how much there is to discuss; what I thought would be a five or ten minute talk evolved into a 45 minute hands on lecture. But the short of it is that via the steps we walk through – from grinding to temperature/weight calculations of water and beans, to other points of chemistry – students are able to see up close how attention to detail can redefine a common commodity in life that you may have thought you knew everything there was to know about.

And herein lies is the last day of class lesson. Always keep learning – even about what you already “know”. You might like how it tastes.

So how do you teach the last day of class? Do you have any strange/unique/delicious traditions? Please share in the comments below!


Work Cited

Kim, Ji Hae. “Re: Portfolio.” Received by Joe Labriola, 12 Dec. 2017.


About josephtlabriola

Joe Labriola is an author, blogger, and lecturer of Writing and Rhetoric at Stony Brook University. He enjoys writing, swimming, and cooking crazy Joe-coctions. His more eccentric hobbies include collecting beach glass, reading great books at bars, and describing himself in the third person when writing "about me" biographies. Please visit some of his very professional social media sites for more info!
This entry was posted in Miscellaneous, Supporting Students, Teaching Anecdotes, Teaching Tips, Teaching Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Coffee Seminar: A Cup of Life Lessons

  1. MaryAnn Duffy says:

    What could be better than pedagogy tips on a cup of Joe, by Joe? Lucky students!

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