Coupa Cafe Is Watching You




Coupa Cafe is watching you

Originally uploaded by sindy

I don’t know when the sign was put up, but apparently, the automatic espresso machine set up by Coupa Cafe on the first floor of Meyer Library at Stanford is under audio and video surveillance at all times. The machine was installed as a substitute for the currently vacant kiosk between Meyer and Green Libraries. MoonBean’s Coffee originally occupied the space– for eleven years, starting in 1998– but lost the bid for the space when its contract expired at the end of 2008. It’s sad really: the coffee spot was the only drink/food stop in this particular area of campus– conveniently between the two major undergraduate libraries (although Meyer only houses books on the fourth floor now and the rest is devoted to public computing/study spaces and staff offices). On top of that, Jennie Reynolds, the owner of MoonBean’s, had already closed her other Bay Area cafes to focus on the Stanford spot and her effort wasn’t wasted– MoonBean’s became a beloved part of the Stanford community, as noted in the community’s reaction to the news and this farewell message in The Stanford Daily.

The drama around the cafe space continues long after our farewell to MoonBean’s though, and not just in this closely (and creepily) monitored espresso machine. Coupa Cafe, which already has an on-campus location at Y2E2 as well as in Palo Alto, Beverly Hills and Caracas, won the bid for the space and was originally set to take over when MoonBean’s moved out at the end of June 2009. That launch date was then pushed back to January 2010 after Coupa ran into delays while trying to get the necessary county building permits. Then, when January finally came, they first said that they would be pushing back the opening date to February, again because of issues with building permits. Toward the end of January, they again announced that Coupa Cafe would be opening March 3 at the earliest, but really, they were saying that even if they completed construction/renovation by March 3, the site wouldn’t be fully operational. Well, obviously, March 3 has come and gone and there’s still no Coupa Cafe. Last week, they finally announced that they would be opening by spring break (which starts next week, finals end this Friday, March 19), but of course with the caveat that they pass all inspections and besides, there’s actually no official date set. I have a clear view of the space from my office (which made it convenient to see if it was a good time to get coffee, depending on the line) and they have been working on the space, but it’s not clear if they’re going to make the spring break deadline. I don’t see any new signage or the like and the outdoor seating/furniture hasn’t been changed, something highlighted as one of the renovations being done by Coupa. And let’s not even get into the fact that after all is said and done, this remodel is going to cost the Stanford Libraries around $180,000.

But back to the espresso machine: it was advertised as a substitute until Coupa opened and a convenient 24-hour option after the opening (the first floor of Meyer Library is open 24 hours now, not just the “infamous” 24-hour study room). I found somebody lauding its virtues to a visitor one day– e.g., it uses freshly ground beans– but really, you’re paying over $2.00 for a mediocre, small cup of vending machine espresso. Oh, and it only takes plastic, so forget about using that loose change to spring for a quick cup of coffee. And hopefully, when you decide to avail yourself of this service, there will be cups (and sugar, etc.) available and it doesn’t decide to randomly clean itself, making you wait until whatever foaming ritual is necessary.

In any case, it’s not really clear to me why the surveillance is necessary or what the purpose of it is. The Libraries are usually* good about privacy– you should be able to read and research without being monitored– and I suppose the espresso machine is in a relatively empty back hallway, but it still gives me the creeps. Is it because there are credit card transactions involved (and they are monitoring usage like they do at ATMs)? Are they trying to deter vandalism? Or do they just want to make sure we don’t steal the cups?

* Although I heard there are other cameras in the libraries and I really, really wish they would install electronic detectors again at the exits so that they don’t have to search my bag (for stolen library books) every time I leave the library.