Where God Drinks Coffee

Inside the Grounds of Being coffee shop at the Divinity School

If you’re not paying attention, you might never stumble upon Grounds of Being.

The student-run coffee shop sits at the bottom of a nearly hidden staircase that descends into the basement of Swift Hall, home of the Divinity School at the University of Chicago. Even if an unassuming outsider did happen upon it, they might walk away empty-handed, unless they’re in the habit of carrying cash: A cheeky sign outside the door reads, “In God we trust. All others pay cash.”

Inside, you will find a colorful subterranean enclave—bright chairs line the tightly-packed tables, colorful mugs hang from the ceiling, and bubble-lettered chalkboards display the menu. While many of the student cafés are known for their barista-curated playlists, Grounds of Being (GOB) is marked by lively conversation, both intellectual and casual. The Divinity School graduate students who run the space, serving up lattes and bagels, seem to always be joking about something or other; between students diligently scribbling or typing, various groups can be found debating some contentious scholarly topic or other, wrapped in the warm and warm-toned embrace of this hidden campus gem.

Walking around campus, you may see GOB’s recognizable cups in hands—the mark of a cool, socially-conscious UChicago coffee consumer. In them could be one of its thematically relevant hot drinks, like the Hail Mary (a cup of drip coffee with a shot of espresso) or the Irish Catholic (drip coffee, steamed milk, and Irish cream syrup). GOB’s specialty menu is extensive, featuring curated lattes made with unconventional ingredients like cayenne pepper, sage, and turmeric. All of GOB’s beans and teas are from Colectivo Coffee, a Midwest-based roaster whose quirky blend names make you forget all about what roast you thought you actually wanted. One (House Music Blend) pays homage to Chicago’s music scene, as well as coffee shop culture, whereas others are school-spirit branded for Northwestern or UW-Milwaukee. Absent from the menu, the UChicago blend must still be a work in progress.

In addition to their clever drink selection, Grounds of Being also offers pastries (sourced from Chicago’s West Town Bakery) and snacks, as well as hot and cold meals from classic Hyde Park restaurants: Snail ThaiThe NileSiam Thai, and Rajun Cajun. Get to Grounds of Being early enough on the right day, and you can watch the restaurants provide their fresh hot pre-packed meals yourself.

Students, staff, faculty, and the local community alike love Grounds of Being for its quirkiness—and also its low prices. You can get a cup of drip coffee for just a dollar, and even less if you bring in your own mug. While the cash-only nature can be a barrier for some, others choose to go out of their way to support Grounds of Being—run by the Divinity Students Organization as a not-for-profit, the income it generates goes directly toward supporting student life activities. In the past, the group has used its funds to cover travel costs for conferences and create a fellowship grant for research in the Divinity School. For additional support, patrons can choose to purchase custom-designed merchandise bearing GOB’s emblem—a little lopsided mug with wings.

To celebrate the mission of the School, the divinity theme is prevalent in the space, with the seating area surrounded by walls bearing intricate and international pieces of religious art. Even the hallway leading to GOB’s door evokes the experience of a suburban church basement and its bulletin boards display the list of Divinity School classes offered for the current academic quarter.

Staff and faculty, some of whom are frequent patrons, can be seen meeting students for office hours or stopping in for a quick visit between meetings or classes. Student patrons credited GOB’s quality coffee and espresso beans, “hottest coffee of any student cafe,” and the ability to support their fellow students as reasons why GOB topped their list of favorite student cafes.

To decide for yourself, traverse down the Gothically-worn staircase on the back wall of the Swift Hall main foyer and stop in between 7:45 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. on weekdays.

This story was originally published on the University of Chicago Intranet and written on April 4, 2023 by University of Chicago College student Jules Yaeger.