Coffeehouses 101: Nobody's Falling Asleep In This Class

New course examines the importance of cafes in communities.

Can you really log course credit for sitting around a coffeehouse? You can if you're enrolled at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky.

Yes, coffee — that fuel for late-night cram sessions and early classes — seems to be a campus-life necessity, but is it really classroom material? Professor Beau Weston thinks so and has created "Cafes and Public Life," a three-week course that focuses on the history of cafes and coffee and their impact on the global community.

Weston and a handful of other professors across the country argue that coffee is not just a beverage, but a profound commodity that has greatly affected economic and social patterns over the past few centuries, and therefore merits intense study and debate. After gaining inspiration from "The Great Good Place," in which author Ray Oldenburg argues that every society needs a place where strangers can get together, Weston created his freshman seminar that is held at different coffee shops on and around Centre's campus, most notably one called House of Brews.

After learning about the history of coffee, students perform fieldwork such as interviewing cafe employees and customers in order to formulate papers on the topic. And in staying true to Oldenburg's ideas, Weston also encourages students to talk about current events during the classes — in the context of "coffee studies," of course.

"We can't forget that this is a college course," Weston explained. "Think about it this way, for example: Coffee and cocaine are both grown in Colombia, so if there is no work for the coffee growers, then they must turn to cocaine. Basically that's how our conversations start out, and then they take on a life of their own."

Coffee courses are being offered at an increasing number of schools, including the University of Washington and the University of California, Irvine. But even if you aren't in college, Weston strongly suggests getting your learn on in a coffeehouse, pointing out that they are better than bars and pubs because "a cafe is the only place where the conversation gets better after the second drink."