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Interview at CUPS



Article by Sarah Sinoski

Photo Courtesy of CUPS

        Every student who craves a caffeine fix on campus has met him at some point- Sean Poff is the manager of CUPS on Campus, the coffee shop tucked conveniently into the corner of Fintel Library. Sean is a fixture on campus, always ready with a smile and hot cup of coffee to ease your academic woes. He’s been in the coffee business for nine years, first working at Barnes & Noble, then at Mill Mountain, and finally at the Starkey CUPs location, until he was offered the management position at the Roanoke College location.

CUPS has been around since 2013, and was a rolling coffee cart before it gained a permanent location inside Fintel. Sean has been there since the beginning, combining science and art to create a consistently excellent cup of joe. For the best flavor, he says, choose single origin coffee beans, so that you can taste the differences of region. There is also a Coffee Guild whose seal of approval can be found on certain blends of coffee, and is rated on a scale from one to a hundred.

Sean loves his job, and takes special care to make sure each cup of coffee is properly brewed and the machines are kept in top shape. He enjoys making latte art, which requires that the milk be steamed at just the right temperature to bring out the sweetness and give it a silky texture, as well as properly poured from differing heights so that the foam will sit properly on top. His least favorite part of the job is when there are lulls in the activity, and there isn’t much to do but clean and wait for people. On rough days, it’s his Pandora station that keeps him going, grooving to music that is perfect for that relaxed coffee shop vibe.


Sean busts the rumor that lighter roasts of coffee contain more caffeine; he says caffeine content is dependent on location, rather than the darkness of the roast. For the most caffeine, he recommends Indonesian or African beans. The lightness and darkness of the roast do matter in terms of taste, in fact, Sean states emphatically, “The roast is everything!” You can even match roasts of coffee to foods, much like wine. Lighter roasts pair well with sweet flavors, and darker roasts go well with heavier, denser foods like cake.

If the roast is light, it is more acidic, which is something to watch for if you have stomach issues or acid reflux. If the roast is too dark, it can become bitter and oily, and taste like burnt coffee. Even the size of grind and the length of the pour matters for espresso, which is ground ultra fine and allowed to pour between fifteen to thirty some seconds. He checks the grind periodically, ensuring that the metal grinder isn’t influenced by temperature or weather changes throughout the day. CUPS grinds coffee beans fresh right before making coffee, because as soon as you grind it, you’ve effectively killed the bean and it will immediately start to lose antioxidants and flavor.

Sean’s attention to quality has tripled his customer base since the shop’s first year, and CUPS continues to grow.