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Beyond taste, what shapes opinions on finding WWU’s best coffee?

Long lines, business ethics and reward systems, students discuss pros and cons of campus shops

Seats in the Viking Union overlook the sun setting over the Salish Sea on Oct. 27, 2023 in Bellingham, Wash. This view was just around the corner from the Viking Union Coffee Shop, one of four coffee shops open on campus. // Photo by Kiora Surratt

Starbucks was voted the best-tasting coffee on Western Washington University’s campus, pulling 42% of 172 votes, according to a poll on The Front’s Instagram on Oct. 23. But taste alone isn’t enough to determine the “best” coffee spot on campus.

Students drink coffee for different reasons, including to stay awake, to enjoy the taste or as a social activity, according to an article published in the National Library of Medicine. Western’s campus has no shortage of fresh coffee to satisfy its students. It hosts the Viking Union Coffee Shop, Miller Market Cafe, Zoe’s Bookside Bagels, the Atrium Starbucks and even free drip coffee from dining halls and some professors’ offices. 

For some students, the biggest factor when deciding where to go wasn’t the taste.

Adrian Heffelman, a fourth-year computer science major, drinks coffee frequently. While they agree with the poll results that Starbucks has the best-tasting coffee, particularly because of its frappuccinos, they avoid the cafe because of reports of the company’s mistreatment of workers pushing to unionize.

Others have boycotted Starbucks in response to its legal battle with Workers United, a worker-led unionizing effort. The company sued Workers United for trademark infringement after the group released a pro-Palestinian post on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. Starbucks said the post misrepresented its position on the Israel-Hamas War and damaged its reputation, demanding the group stop using the company’s name and logo, according to an AP article. 

“We unequivocally condemn these acts of terrorism, hate and violence, and disagree with the statements and views expressed by Workers United and its members,” the company wrote on its website dedicated to anti-union bargaining.

In turn, Workers United filed its own defamation lawsuit against Starbucks, claiming the company implied the union’s support of terrorism and violence in an effort to harm its reputation.

Whether students are participating in the Starbucks boycotts or they’d just prefer to support smaller roasters, other cafes on campus have alternative companies. This includes the VU Coffee Shop, which switched from Starbucks to another Seattle-based company, Victrola Coffee Roasters.

“We decided to offer different coffee brands to not only add variety across campus, but we wanted to work with local coffee vendors as well to support the community,” said Alexandra Perez, senior marketing manager for Dining at WWU with Chartwells Higher Education.

Prior to the boycotts, some students avoided Starbucks because of long lines.

Charlotte Clark-Slakey, a third-year Western student from New Mexico, said coffee on campus tastes about the same no matter where you go, but there are cafes to avoid depending on the time of day.

“I definitely wouldn’t go to the VU Coffee Shop or the Starbucks anywhere around lunchtime,” she said. “That’s just going to be terrible.”

Megan Strom, a fourth-year urban sustainability student, couldn’t agree more. She’s been to the Starbucks and the VU a couple of times but now avoids them because of the long lines.

However, long lines are to be expected considering  63% of Americans drink coffee each day, making it more popular than any other beverage, according to the 2023 report by the National Coffee Association. The report claims it to be even more popular than water

Clark-Slakey is among the population of daily coffee drinkers. While others may opt for alternative beverages, like tea, she’s a coffee loyalist.

“It’s dark and cold in the mornings here, which I’m not used to,“ she said. “[A cup of coffee] is a warm way to wake up.”

Zoe’s Bookside Bagels

A student orders at Zoe’s Bookside Bagels located in the Wilson Library on Oct. 27, 2023. This image was taken right before closing at 3 p.m. and after the lunch rush. // Photo by Kiora Surratt

Ella Borer, a first-year student, said she typically drinks coffee once every few weeks. However, from Oct. 16 to 20, when Starbucks was offering double “stars,” Borer made sure to get those extra points every day.

“I usually get a vanilla latte with oat milk and, depending on my mood, I’ll get it hot or iced,” Borer said. “But I’m definitely a pumpkin spice girly.”

Stars are the currency used in Starbucks’ reward system, which customers can redeem for perks. While no other coffee shops on campus have a loyalty program, Perez said that’s soon to change.

“We are currently working on a loyalty program for the VU Coffee Shop,” Perez said. “More details will be released soon.”

Whether students are looking for taste, convenience or to support PNW coffee roasters, Western offers a variety of cafe options.

“The workers [in all cafes] are always really nice and I get my drink, and that’s what’s important,” Strom said.

Kiora Surratt

Kiora Surratt (she/her) is a campus life reporter for The Front. She is a senior majoring in public relations and minoring in English literature. In her free time, she enjoys working out, shopping and spending time with friends and family. You can reach her at

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