money college beerOne of the most common things you'll find yourself saying as you get older is "If only I knew then what I know now."

It's so easy to look back at situations through the rear view mirror: You can imagine your suave and sophisticated college self utterly dominating the social scene at your high school. Going back even further, you could take the advanced understanding of human psychology that you have now, and you could have absolutely ruled that kindergarten, all year long, from your secure position in your fortified playground fortress.

Which is where the chocolate comes in. But more on that in a sec.

You're at college to learn, and what you're about to learn in the next few moments is very, very important: It is likely that most everything you enjoy now, you will soon find ... kind of sucks.

I know, I know. It's true, though. Think about the music you liked just before you started high school. It was horrible, and once you got into high school, that became very apparent, and you moved up a level and grew because of it, and your tastes became more sophisticated. It's the same thing with college.

We can help, though. I'll not only give you a few solid, specific suggestions on things that will advance you past the bros screaming about "Natty Light" in the quad right now, and give you some idea how to search out those things on your own. It is our solid belief that, armed with this knowledge, you will have prematurely attained the level of savoir faire heretofore known previously only to 26-, or perhaps 27-year-olds, and we'll show you how to do it on the cheap.

We'll start with the good stuff.

Wine & Beer
Assuming you're of legal age to drink, you should know a thing or two about it. We've all been freshmen in college, and even those of us who were lucky enough to have money then usually had no idea what we were doing. We've all walked out of a store with a $1.99 six pack, and that's fine. But what if you're trying to impress someone?

Do you know the difference between ales and lagers, or between porters and stouts? You're going to sound a lot more impressive once you do, and luckily, there are likely a few places nearby that allow you to learn this stuff.

Chances are you aren't far from a brewery, or a microbrewery. Often, breweries will offer free or inexpensive tastings. Google some breweries in your area, and go talk to an expert who loves their craft. You'll learn a lot.

In Chicago, the Goose Island brewery offers weekly and monthly events, as well as a beer academy (though not, so far as we know, a doctorate in suds). Likewise Half Acre Beer, which offers free tastings, as well as behind the scenes tours.

Wines

There's red and white and Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill. Right? And, uh, it sometimes comes in "Coolers" form. There's a lot to pick up here, too. You don't have to be Mr. or Mrs. Lord Worthington Bigbucks III to confidently order a glass or bottle of wine. All it takes is a little know how. It may be even more likely that you have local wineries nearby, and they almost always offer a tasting.

Some of the best specialty stores will offer wine tastings, such as Lush Wine & Spirits. Their Chicago-based stores offer a different tasting each Sunday, though if you go in there and ask nicely, they'll give you a small tasting most any night of the week.

Nationwide, localwineevents.com is a great resource to find something going on near you. Wine sales reps will often be sent to stores on certain nights to offer their wines for tastings. Search for something near you, and look for wineries near your campus.

Coffee and Chocolate

Like beer and wine, coffee and chocolate ranges in quality and price -- and let's face it, that waxy Easter Bunny you gnawed on in kindergarten isn't going to cut it if you want to impress the hotties. Most everyone enjoys coffee and chocolate, and that makes it great as a gift or a tool to enhance the everyday. Knowing what to look for in each of these goods is going to make you look a lot more impressive.

Intelligentsia, based in Chicago, is a widely respected coffee here in the U.S. A few major cities also have roasting operations that you can visit in person. Learning about the different methods used to prepare beans is a great way to find out which type of coffee you like most -- and order the excellent coffee from anywhere in the U.S.

Take things a bit further, and learn about brewing the coffee hands on by sitting in or auditing a class on
coffeeschool.org. There's a big difference between tossing a whole bunch of ground beans in a coffee maker with a glass pot, or making French press on your stove and storing it in a ceramic carafe. Find out what that is, and wake up your overnight guest in style.

Specialty chocolates and truffles made from hand-carved baking molds are huge right now. The nicer part of your town probably has a bakery or small-piece chocolate shop that specializes in the candy. You should be able to learn what the major types of cocoa beans are from merely sampling, as well as why white chocolate technically isn't chocolate at all. In my city, one great resource is chicagochocolatetours.com.

Educate yourself about a few of these things over time, and soon you'll be ahead of most of your peers in the taste department. The biggest thing to remember while you put this new found knowledge into action is not to come off as a smug jerk (though "smooth gourmand" is just fine by us).

So raise a stout, pass the truffles and make sure to have a roast-to-order Black Cat Espresso ready for your guests. You know what we're talking about ... or soon you will.

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