I love coffee.

Anyone who has known me for an extended amount of time has probably picked up on the fact that I am always carrying a ceramic coffee mug and I coordinate them with my outfits.

I have a coffee pot in my room and it’s set to brew 5 minutes before my alarm goes off.

I drink several cups a day.

My favorite cup of coffee is the cup of coffee that is in my hand.

MG Coffee 2

Today, I had the privilege of sitting in a room with some friends, two of which I get to call my bosses, and participate in a specialty coffee tasting at Vienna Coffee Co. in Maryville, TN.

What was the occasion? Well, UPerk was the occasion.

So now you have three questions:

  1. Has this blogger sought help for her addiction?
  2. What is a coffee tasting, do people do that for fun? Why was this Lorelei Gilmore Wannabe at one?
    1. It’s like a wine tasting but with a different kind of buzz.
    2. Yes
    3. We were sampling coffee in order to select the special brew we will be using in our UPerk
  3. What is UPerk?
    1. UPerk is a place to be. A place to be intentional. A place to be studious. A place to be yourself. A place to be quiet. A place to be restful. A place to be still. Grab a cup of coffee to sit with or take with you. Use our space. Use our printer. Come to an open mic night. Engage with other students. Just come…and be.

MG - Coffee

It is important that our goals as a ministry are achieved ethically. It does no good to supply exhausted students with free coffee if the person who harvested the coffee, and the soil that grew it, is left worse off from our consumption.

Coffee is a notoriously brutal crop to produce. It can only grow in the tropical climates of the global south, is prone to disease and subject to a fluctuating world market. Coffee growers are among the worst-treated workers in the world.

While the problems of low-wage work and food insecurity in the global south require multi-institutional solutions, the least we can do as consumers is know where our coffee is sourced. USDA Organic and Fair Trade Certified stickers don’t tell the whole story when you see them on the grocery store shelf, though they are a good place to start.

If you don’t know, USDA Organic beans must be grown without synthetic pesticides, a certain distance away from crops grown with pesticides, and must be grown in a way that sustains the health of the soil. Fair Trade Certified coffee must be sold at a fixed minimum price that is above market value, ensuring the farmers get paid.

Vienna Coffee Company purchases their beans wholesale directly from farms in the global south, cutting out middle men that obscure potentially unethical practices. Every coffee bean they buy is either USDA Organic, Fair Trade Certified, both, or direct trade. Some coffee beans may not have the USDA or FTC stickers only because the producer is too small to purchase the equipment required for those certifications. That is why it helps to know where your coffee is sourced.

So, today we sampled six roasts from various regions while we learned the basics about harvesting coffee, roasting it, and brewing a good cup of joe. We ended up choosing a blend. UPerk UTK’s special brew is 70% Papua New Guinea organic and 30% Ethiopian Amora Gayo. It’s a medium roast with a spiced, aromatic note. It blends well with sweeteners like milk, cream, and sugar but is also one of the best coffees I’ve ever tasted black.

UPerk Coffee
“Full-bodied and smoky sweet,
with a black curran finish and mild acidity”

When UPerk opens on August 21, we hope you will stop by and let me tell you all about the specifics of our brew, who grew it, where, and how do they live their lives?

I am so excited to share this knowledge and these stories!


Mary Grace Reynolds
UPerk Hospitality Intern
The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

MAry Grace