A case study on the Hewitt coffee machine chemicals and/or microplastics by Viviana Pereyo and Gina Brown

Hewitt is somewhat of a mystery to me. Hewitt is both consistent and inconsistent, loud and quiet: a Barnard dining hall, yet somehow still full of Columbia students at all times. Whoever they may be or at whatever time they frequent this dining hall, Hewitt regulars have a certain passion for it that expands into every area of their life. This passion almost swirls in their eyes and shaking hands. There is a single reason why this insanity is so all consuming, so vivid and tremulous, and it is the famous Hewitt coffee machine.

Picture this—it is 7:50 am and you are a first year student who signed up for only 8:40 classes. You are close to passing out as you walk up to the liminal space that is the Barnard Hall underground tunnels and at the end of the path there is a light—it is not some mythical creature, or some sort of spiritual sign, it is the artificial lights at Hewitt Dining.

You swipe in and stare around with lidded eyes to look at the seven other people who have decided to show up to the dining hall this early. Only some of the stations are open, so you begin to toast a bagel and stare up at the only thing you can rely on as a consistent presence in your life: the Hewitt coffee machine. 

I do believe that it has eyes. When you stare mindlessly into the Hewitt coffee machine, it stares back. It can see your soul, and one hot cup of chemical-microplastic Hewitt coffee at a time, you and the Hewitt Coffee begin to emulsify into each other. Need each other. Become each other. 

As you bring back your half toasted, half burnt bagel to your table and drink the coffee, you can almost feel the way it brings you back to life. It does more than just wake you up… it’s almost as if the Hewitt Machine is Frankenstein: fiddling with his tools and taking out your tired eyes to put new glassy ones in your sockets. You are his damned creation, trying to modify yourself so you are a person who has the capacity to make it to an 8:40 class after famously not being a morning person your entire life.

Alternatively, you could be a student coming back from a class that ended around 5, with an awkward chunk of time before your discussion section at 7pm that feels the farthest a class has felt for potentially all time. It is crowded everywhere, and though the food and stream of people are never ending, the forks are not. And in your burnt out moment of insanity, you begin to wonder if you have the capacity to eat a honey roasted chicken without a fork (you do NOT, and never will). You stand in this space that seems so loud and full and wonder how such a space can make you feel like the only person who has ever existed. The voices tune out and a light comes in to guide you in the darkness and yes, you guessed it, it is the Hewitt coffee machine in all its chemical and microplastic glory.

You make the pivotal choice between caffeine and no caffeine, whether to be weirdly awake yet tired in your bones, or tired but with an odd amount of warmth in your chest. The french vanilla option calls to you in these hours, but the no caffeine is something you will later regret as your eyes droop an hour and a half into your future (7 pm and 8 pm discussion sections are the real villains of this scenario). Maybe caffeine is the right option for tonight. You press the button, and there is a certain feeling of coming home as you take your first sip. It is an odd definition of a home, the sugary caffeine and likely powdered milk blending together in your mouth, but a home nonetheless, and it embraces your stomach so that it is strong enough to pick itself up on the long tread to your late-night discussion section. You make it, the way you do every week, a minute or two late and with a slow drag in your step that by now feels routine. You swear to yourself to avoid choosing late night discussion sections next semester, but it may be a sacrifice you continue to make in your never ending effort to have as few Friday classes as possible. 

You could also have lunch plans in Hewitt with someone else, and being there at 1 pm is something of a fever dream. Hewitt is a space that is supposed to be brought into life at times of need, and having it exist at a normal part of your life is very strange. You get lunch with your friend, one that you can eat with your hands because there is a national fork shortage crisis at Hewitt Dining very often, and you don’t walk to the coffee machine. It feels as if you have won in some sort of competition against an inanimate object. There’s no latte, no French vanilla, no chemical warmth during your stay this time. Your gaze lingers. 

This Hewitt coffee machine dependency is something of a romance horror comedy that cannot be perfectly put into words. It lives in you like some sort of chemical plastic parasite that has given your heart an extra chamber so it pumps just a little too fast, made your throat a little wider so the hot coffee waterfalls and the warmth feels like something natural and not a shock, and your stomach a little tighter so it can lock in and center itself on that warmth even when it is not there. The chemicals and the microplastics in the coffee flow between the pros and the cons sections of an imaginary graph, circling in on each other the way the latte does when the machine finishes your cup. Is it good for you? Probably not. Will you be back for more? Well, obviously.

Header image via Bwarchives