About a month ago, my wife and I re-located to the Upstate South Carolina area from Chattanooga, TN (where I had lived for 8 years). After our move, I’ve been spending a lot of time working in coffee shops. I’ve built my list of coffee shops where I can effectively get work done and those that tend to be distracting or problematic for a number of reasons.
Let me share with you my “coffee shop rating system”:
I haven’t spent this much time in coffee shops since college, and I’ve learned that what I need from a coffee shop then as opposed to now, has changed.
Like most people of college age in 2010, I was a coffee snob. I only wanted the best, and if the best coffee required a sterile room with uncomfortable minimalist chairs and stark, white walls, then so be it. I needed a cup of coffee that came with a ledger on where it came from, the name of the farmer who harvested this batch of beans, and a list of the notes I would be expected to taste.
Much like many people who exit the unrealistic college bubble for the real world, my priorities changed. A cup of coffee from McDonald’s became something I looked forward to every morning at 4:30am when I would drive from school to school in the East TN/North GA area photographing students for school yearbooks. All I required was a coffee-flavored jolt, and I was good to go.
The older I get, the cheaper my cup of coffee becomes, because it’s about the work, not the flavor notes or the origin of the coffee.
Back to my coffee rating system:
Taste: Does the cup of black coffee taste good for the price? I don’t expect a full resume of where each bean comes from, but I don’t love the idea of drinking gritty tar.
Atmospheric Consistency: Will there be any surprises when I get there at my normal time? Will I generally get a good seat with little issue? Can I safely assume that the vibe of the coffee shop does not change day to day?
Solid Wifi: Can I make large file transfers with no issue? Can I open webpages swiftly without being frustrated with loading time? Can I completely download a season of Deadwood while I get work done, so it’s ready to watch when I get home?
Restroom Proximity: This is possibly the most important aspect. As we all know, coffee tends to require being near a bathroom, and it’s surprising how many coffee shops aren’t well equipped with a proper bathroom solution. Do I have to leave the coffee shop and ride an elevator to the fourth floor of an office building to find a toilet? (this example is based on a recent experience) Is it within eyesight of my laptop, as to not leave my office tech unguarded for an unsettling amount of time? Can I use the restroom and return to my seat within a 3 minute window?
Like I said, in college, my main priority was to impress with my high standards for coffee quality and origin, and now, as a real world adult, my priority is simply to accomplish tasks.
The results of what counts as a coffee shop fit for working may surprise you. Because, to many people’s shock, one of the best coffee shops to get a consistent, productive experience with solid internet, drinkable coffee, and (most of the time) available bathrooms is……
I know! I know! I shouldn’t endorse “Big Coffee”, but the truth is, every Starbucks is basically the same, they are everywhere, and you know what you’re getting. This allows me to focus on work, instead of my tireless quest of reviewing every new coffee shop I enter. I also know what you’re thinking: a cup of black coffee at Starbucks isn’t great, and you’re right. My solution: Always order Blonde Roast or a Cold Brew (Both are surprisingly smooth and full of tons of caffeine)
But there’s a tier on my rating system that I have not revealed yet, and Starbucks fails at this key point abysmally.
You see, my ideal coffee shop window is 7am-12pm. And unfortunately, the way Starbucks is laid out, those who sit peacefully at their tables are the ones to pay the price for “coffee rush hour”. People wait in a long line for their coffee, brush past you, bump your computer, and make clear the terrible acoustics that Starbucks is usually accompanied with.
The ideal coffee shop takes into account the 4 staples of my rating system, but also the fifth. How can a coffee shop overcome this issue? By separating those who are ordering “to-go” and those who are “dining-in”. In other words, the layout of the store should separate me from knowledge of how long the line is, because I’m in a peaceful cocoon of high productivity and low foot traffic, insulated from those who have real jobs and somewhere to be. I don’t want my table anywhere near the cash register, because that would make me aware that a world exists outside my work bubble.
You’re probably thinking that I’m insane, and you’re probably right. But I can tell you, such coffee shops that fulfill my requirements do exist, and there’s usually at least one in every city that I’ve found. There’s also a new phenomenon happening in the coffee shop world: a bar that can act as a standing desk of sorts equipped with outlets. This has been life-changing for my productivity and posture.
If you’re wanting to get work done in various cities, here’s are a few of the best that I’ve found:
(Unfortunately, every coffee shop I would go to in Chattanooga and liked usually failed in the Crowd Distribution or Restroom Proximity categories. However, I’m sure my coffee shop warrior brother in law, Charlie Rash might be able to drop some knowledge on me. Feel free to send me a tip if you’ve found one that fulfills my requirements, I’ll be in Chattanooga this week looking to get work done.)
Grassroots Coffee Company in Thomasville, GA: been a favorite for a long time. Quite possibly the best of the best. In fact, Anna and I had our wedding reception here, so maybe I’m biased.
eCity Java in Anderson, SC: Comfortable and pleasant experience all around, and feels like you’re getting work done in your own living room. It’s easy to lose track of time here.
Spill the Beans in Greenville, SC: It’s unreal how much work I can get done here. This one blows every category away with ease. The only downside is you have to pay for parking, but you’ll get so much accomplished that you will get your return on investment no problem.
If you have a favorite coffee shop in your city, let me know! I want to hear about it! (Leave a comment below or shoot me a message!)