One Saturday morning in February, well into the chaos of Winter Quarter, I found myself drowning in obligations and work I needed to get done. I needed to work on a group assignment for my math class, had a fellowship application I needed to complete, and some much needed Bible lettering I was itching to do as well. I knew none of this would get done if I stayed within the confines of my bedroom, and going to the library wasn’t a particularly attractive option, either. I realized that it had been awhile since I went out and visited a new coffee shop. My list of recommendations from friends was extensive and growing, and so I figured what better time to finally check out some of these places.
Within an hour, I found myself sitting on an uneven chair at a table that was barely big enough to fit my laptop in a cramped space in the middle of downtown Pomona. While the latte I ordered was tasty, the space itself wasn’t very comfortable. I packed my things and decided to go to the next place that was on my list. Here, I found myself sitting in a plastic chair that felt like it would give at any moment, in a crowded space with no WiFi, with hard metal blasting over the speakers. It didn’t help that the drink I ordered was sub-par, either. I sat there and thought what an incredibly unlucky day for me to go out and try something new. Both of these coffee shops came to me under the recommendations of friends who knew that going out and getting work done in a coffee shop was one of my favorite things to do. I then realized that while I like to think that I’m open when it comes to what kind of coffee shop I like to visit, the truth is probably that my taste is far more refined than I would like to believe. So if you ever have a coffee shop suggestion you would like to give me, while I will still make note of it in the notes app on my phone, I do have a few things I like to consider before visiting any place new.
One of the most mind-numbingly awkward circumstances I hate putting myself in is standing in front of the cashier trying to quickly absorb an extensive menu the best I can, while trying to choose whatever looks good. In coffee shops, I appreciate an organized and concise menu. This could probably be due to the fact that I don’t like making my own decisions, but it’s mostly because when I go to a coffee shop, my intention is simply to get work done, not to sit and dissect flavor profiles and scrutinize latte art technique. I usually put myself in the mindset that I’m probably never going to visit that coffee shop again, mostly because I drive miles out of town when I want to go on a coffee going excursion. Because of this, I can’t rely on the fallback of knowing that I can always come back and try more things on the menu. I care more about the effort put into a simple drink than I do about specialty items specific to that one coffee shop, and so places with an extremely niche menu are off-putting for me.
2. Actual Menu Items
This probably goes without saying, but the actual menu items play a huge part in my overall coffee shop visiting experience. While I’m not exactly a coffee connoisseur, I’d like to think that I know what things should taste like on a basic level. The quality of the menu items should also reflect on their prices – if I’m going to pay $5 on a cup of coffee, it better be infinitely better than anything I could make in my own coffee maker at home.
Other than the menu and menu items, the two places I mentioned earlier lost major points with me because of their atmosphere. Upon walking into a coffee shop, I want to feel like I’m walking into someone’s home. A handful of my favorite coffee shops have living room-like aesthetics – couches and coffee tables spread apart in comfortable distances, soft calming music playing through well-hidden speakers, and the scents of coffee and fresh baked pastries wafting through the air. Because there is usually no immediate point of contact upon walking into a coffee shop, the atmosphere that you’re greeted with upon walking through the front door can make or break my initial impression of the place.
Atmosphere and overall ambiance aside, the ease of flow of the space within the coffee shop is one of the important things I look for in a coffee shop. The two places I described earlier felt very cramped and claustrophobic. They felt like a crowd of people could easily form in pockets of the coffee shop, which can make the experience very uncomfortable. Some of my favorite coffee shops have an open floor plan. For example, Verve, one of my favorite hideouts in LA, is lined with floor-to-ceiling windows. Upon walking in, a large circular counter sits in the center of the room, housing the coffee and espresso machines and the baristas that prepare them. Plenty of seating and table space line the perimeter of the store, and foot traffic is kept at a minimum, as there is plenty of room to get around the room. Also, because of the layout of the room, the customer-going experience flows with ease, as each patron walks in the front door, to the counter, and to a nearby table.
While my intentions of going in and out of coffee shops is very simple and concise, I still like for there to be a comfortable atmosphere so I can be as productive as possible, without feeling every urge to rush and leave. My list of new coffee shops to try is long and still growing, and refining my coffee drinker’s palette is one of the things I look forward to doing as I visit each of these places. What are some of your favorite places to relax or get work done outside of your home? Anything in particular that can make or break your experience? Leave them in the comments and let’s chat.