Mary Dudziak over at Legal History Blog suggests that a candidate interviewing at the AALS hiring conference in DC might consider drinking Starbucks Via coffee in preparation for interviews. Before serious coffee drinkers take this dramatic step into instant java, I think the issue of coffee at the AALS is worth investigating more deeply.
First, let's be clear what we're not doing: we're not revisiting the old "coffee versus tea" or "caffeine versus no caffeine debates." Neither Mary nor I will ever be successful converting an agnostic to a believer. But it is essential that candidates commit to one or another position prior to the conference itself; the AALS is no time to abandon coffee or discover the importance of a caffeinated beverage. There will be plenty of time to challenge or reconsider your assumptions later.
Second, let's be clear about what is at stake: sleepiness versus perkiness, headache versus clear sailing, calm versus the shakes. That is to say: everything.
Third, let's consider what will be occuring on the ground. For years, hundreds of coffee drinkers converged on a single Starbucks-branded franchise - yes, a Marriott operated fake, not a genuine company-owned shop - which delivered overpriced Starbucks product at a significantly stunted production rate. The pastries were lousy and lines were endless. But that's all over now. The Starbucks is gone.
Repeat: the Starbucks at the Marriott is gone.
Now there is an "Illy's" - presumably licensed by Marriott from the Italian coffee brand at a far lower fee than Starbucks charged. Each individual drinker will have to decide if this is a satisfactory coffee for the conference. It is essential that you figure this out now, not in the midst of the meeting. I would strongly encourage those attending the conference to do a test run with an Illy coffee outlet in their hometowns.
Assuming, arguendo, that Illy's will fully satisfy, you can move to the next consideration: is this a safe space for coffee acquisition? Most of the people in line will be either law professors or future law professors. This is no time to trash individual faculty ("Filler was a real schmuck"), law schools("Drexel was obsessed with methodology and didn't ask me a single question about my policy prescription"), or entire paradigms ("qualitiative research isn't fact-based, it's stupid and biased - quantitative work is the one and only path to truth.")
Finally, evaluate the alternative. Open City Diner, a block away, serves Counter Culture Coffee out of Durham, NC - to my mind, a superb roast, and among the best available in the United States. On the other hand, if you're running from Wardman Tower to Park Tower to Open City to Center Tower, you're going to work up quite a sweat. And you have to walk outside while it's (inevitably) raining. You can avoid the line and get your coffee at the nearby Woodley Market in the hotel lobby. I don't know what brand they're serving these days, but past experience suggests that this is a functional alternative at best - think Gevalia. There used to be a Dunkin' Donuts nearby - if you consider that drinkable, which I do not - but it appears to have disappeared, along with Ross Perot.
Which brings us back to Via. It seems to me that there is no downside to keeping a couple of these packets handy in case of an emergency. But freshly brewed coffee is, in my view, the better path in most cases. In the end, now is the time to do some hardheaded analysis: choose your roaster, choose your brewer, and map out your path to a productive career.