Gathered around a table packed with paper cups, electric pots, mason jars, steepers, a French press and tea infusers, Rams in Recovery members brewed an afternoon tea to test a new offering for the Free Hot Coffee Bike.
Students involved in Rams in Recovery, VCU's collegiate recovery program, set up the three-wheeled coffee cart around campus several times a month. Five members are trained to run the bike so far, and "many of our students have participated in a coffee brewing workshop and know the basics of pour-over coffee brewing," said John Freyer, assistant professor of cross-disciplinary media in the VCU School of the Arts Department of Photography and Film.
Making pour-over coffee, a process that takes five to 10 minutes, opens the door for conversations about addiction and recovery with community members.
The aim is to reduce stigma, Rams in Recovery members say. While juggling three pour-over coffee brewers, they explain the program - and the eye-catching bike - to students, faculty and staff.
While the "Recovery Roast" coffee has been a hit, one day a student asked if they served anything besides coffee.
"My answer to her was to read aloud the laser etched 'Free Hot Coffee' on the front of the bike," Freyer said. "[But] the student's question led to further conversations that included a discussion about coffee and tobacco addiction in the recovery community. I felt like we needed a better answer than to jokingly read the side of the box."
Equipped with hot pots kept charged by a solar panel and battery, “the bike is equipped to boil water for pour-over coffee, which can just as easily be used for tea,” Freyer said.
Rams in Recovery decided to test out flavors for an herbal, naturally caffeine-free tea. Piping hot peppermint tea was first added to the cups of a half-dozen student members and supporters. Lavender, lemon balm and chamomile were then added to create the final mix.
“It’s not quite like coffee, where you’re measuring everything out,” said Hannah Wittwer, learning garden coordinator at the Monroe Park Campus Learning Garden, as she scooped peppermint into a French press. “You can just do it to taste.”
Some of the flavors are pulled straight from the learning garden, which is part of the VCU Office of Sustainability. Wittwer and Parker Long, sustainability reporting and outreach coordinator, contributed dried peppermint from the garden.
Rams in Recovery held a similar tasting event last year to select the coffee blend, roasted by Lamplighter. After brewing five pounds a week at the Rams in Recovery clubhouse, located in The Well, they'll be back at Lamplighter this month to update the coffee blend.
Learn more about Rams in Recovery at http://thewell.vcu.edu/recovery-support.