A nerd’s guide to choosing a forever coffee shop

Each week my colleagues and I go for coffee. The decision of which café to visit is momentous and is made only every five years. Here’s how.

Cafe: a good place to drink coffee

I work with nerds. That’s not an insult–I’m a nerd myself. Once a week my nerd friends and I go out to a coffee shop, where we talk about work problems, nerdy stuff, or why everyone must see the Barbie movie right now.

Deciding which coffee shop to visit each time would be time-consuming and might result in a pitched battle in the office, so we go to the same coffee shop every week.

Not just any coffee shop, but the best coffee shop.

How do we know it’s the best?

How anyone knows: we ranked and evaluated every coffee shop with 5 minutes walk of the office on a wide range of subjective and objective criteria, and chose the highest-ranked venue.

And every five years, we redo the evaluation in case our regular coffee shop has gone downhill or a great new place has opened.

Recently we hit that five-year mark.

The spreadsheet for choosing our forever coffee shop

It began with a Google spreadsheet.

Everyone added their favourite coffee shops close to the office. There are quite a few. At least enough to keep us busy for three months.

Then we needed criteria.

We have three objective criteria: how long it takes to walk there from the office; how long it takes from the moment we walk through the door until the last coffee arrives at our table; and the average number of decibels of background noise over a 30-second period while we’re sitting at our table.

Did you know you can download cellphone apps that measure decibels? I was excited.

A little girl in a pink dress who does not look at all excited. Probably because she doesn't know how to choose a coffee shop.
See? Excited.

On top of that, we each score each coffee shop based on the subjective criteria we care about.

On a scale of 1 to 7, naturally.

Subjective criteria

I have several.

Having enough seating and big enough tables is important. We’re often a party of six, and it’s frustrating to arrive at your coffee shop and have to go somewhere else–through wind, rain, and stampeding buffalo–because there’s nowhere to sit.

Price matters, but not much. The difference between the cheapest and the most expensive coffee shops is not great.

Ambience is crucial. I do not enjoy drinking my morning coffee feeling as if I’m sitting in a strip club. Or a morgue. The walls should not try to suffocate me, and graffiti is only cool if it’s at least a little artsy.

Music takes the edge off uncomfortable silence, but it shouldn’t be so loud it interferes with conversation. Nor should it be, well, awful.

Comfortable seats gain points. Cushions or padded benches are a bonus, but not essential. I prefer not to feel like I’m perched on an interview chair in a police station.

A forever coffee shop should not be too busy. I’m a happy introvert, and people stress me out. One old couple sipping their flat whites while silently sharing the farming section of the local newspaper is perfect.

The coffee must be adequate. I’m not a huge coffee snob, but I can distinguish three types of coffee: acceptable, cold, and burnt. Only one of the three is adequate.

I enjoy a good view. Trees and people-watching count. Busy roads do not.

Three overdressed women drinking wine and looking snooty.
Some people want to be watched.

It’s important not to bias the outcome by strategic selection of which coffee shop to visit when. (Any coffee shop seems more pleasant on a still, sunny day.)

So each week we use a random number generator to decide which untested venue will be our destination.

The experience

You’d be amazed how many ways a coffee shop can go wrong, but the most common ways are assuming no one has more than three friends, and assuming anyone who has friends has no desire to talk to them.

Yes, tiny tables, and music at a volume more suited to clubbing… or drowning out a noisy mob of zombies.

Two and a half months of hard wobbly chairs, lukewarm brews, black walls, and wasting half of our 30-minute break waiting for our drinks, and we had an answer.

The best coffee shop for the next five years was our old one.

Do you have a regular coffee shop you visit? How did you decide it was the place to go?

Follow my blog, and in five years time when we evaluate coffee shops again you’ll be sure to hear the outcome.

Author: A.S. Akkalon

By day, A.S. Akkalon works in an office where the computers outnumber the suits of armour more than two-to-one. By night, she puts dreams of medieval castles, swords, and dragons onto paper.

6 thoughts on “A nerd’s guide to choosing a forever coffee shop”

  1. Finding a the right coffee shop is hard, especially the seating for a larger group! I used to run a meet up group for 10 people (it was specifically for introverts, and “run” in a very loose sense of the word!) and there was one place that had a big enough table if we meet early, and someone got there at opening to bag it. I quit that group a a few years ago, and they since redid the coffee shop to opened it out more, but no more big table just loads more 2 person ones!

    1. Yes! It’s ridiculous. Some of us have more than one friend.

      Our coffee shop before the last one had one awesome booth table that easily fit 8 people, or 10 at a pinch. And it had padded bench seats on three sides. At that time we were going for coffee every day and we always sat at that table. We turned up one day and the table had a reserved sign on it. We were disappointed, but then the staff told us they’d reserved the table for us! 🙂

  2. I deeply admire you and your colleagues’ systematic approach to determining the coffee house that meets your criteria. There are only a few things in life that merit such careful choice, but the right coffee place comes in at a close second to life partner. My challenge is that I share every one of your requirements, with the added burden of being a confirmed coffee snob. So a place with the right vibe, seating, noise level, and superb coffee will have my undying loyalty. Until they screw something up.

    1. Some decisions are important enough to take the time and effort over.

      You sound like a challenging patron to satisfy! Thankfully the coffee at our chosen coffee shop is actually pretty good.

  3. I totally agree with your evaluation criteria and can’t really pick one factor over another. They’re all essential to the ideal coffee shop experience. I”d add the availability of summertime outdoor seating with umbrellas. I don’t have a spread sheet to evaluate the coffee shops near me… because there’s only one. Hehe. That’s where I end up.

    1. Outdoor seating with umbrellas for summer is the best. Though I suspect if I added that to my criteria I’d be down to a set of none.

      Only one coffee shop?! What terribly primitive place you live in. 😉

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