Twenty requirements for a good coffee shop for home office workers

 What are actually the ingredients for the perfect working caf?

I have been thinking about this question since I am heading into a period when I plan to spend a great deal of time working in coffee shops. I have spent a great deal of the career of mine, such as my most successful periods, working in coffee shops, mainly since they offer the perfect balance of simulation and solitude. I do not work well in totally silent environments – the interior of my brain is actually way noisier compared to any caf, so the background noise of a coffee shop helps you to drown that out. The friends of mine at littlecoffeeplace.com agree that unlike in an office, where you understand the folks around you (and may therefore get interrupted by them) a coffee shop has the benefit of background noise without the interruptions.

That said, not every coffee shop is actually created equal when it comes to getting your work done. My first long term coffee shop relationship was with the now defunct Carberry’s in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I did the lion’s share of my grad school reading and note taking. At the time I was obsessed with Tony Buzan’s method for mind mapping, which involved using lots of markers to turn all my reading notes into colorful trees. Because I was constantly switching colors, I left the markers uncapped on the table, so by the time I got to class my left forearm was a veritable rainbow. But at Carberry’s (unlike in my seminars) even my graffiti ed forearm was unremarkable, because there were a lot of other even more colorful characters – not least of which was the male steadily filling journal after journal with meticulous drawings and tiny handwriting that (as he describe it to me) were being dictated to him by God.

In the 20 years since then, the criteria of mine for coffee shop heaven have evolved. From the safe remove of 2 decades, I am going to confess that a significant contributor to my Carberry’s loyalty was the very hot barista I used to flirt with; now I’m married and old enough that flirting with young hot baristas would just feel creepy. The advent of wifi pushed connectivity to the top of the list for a long while; now, the near ubiquity and iPhone tethering of Shaw Go Wifi (wifi service provided by our ISP, no cost to subscribers, and available nearly everywhere in Vancouver) make that much less crucial. In the twenties of mine, I can sit on almost any chair for hours at a stretch; in the forties of mine, I need padded seats in case I want to last much more than an hour with no Advil. Once upon a time, I would park at any caf with butter filled baked goodsthese days, I look for places with healthier alternatives.

But my longtime neighborhood standby – the Take five on West 4th – is currently closed, so I am looking for a new office-away-from home. And as with any tech project, that has to begin with a good requirements definition. And so here’s my first stab at a pair of requirements for a good working caf in 2014:

Must-haves:

Strong, reliable and fast wifi (free in house or perhaps via Shaw Go)

Power outlets in a couple of different spots

interior design

Location close to home (twelve block radius is ideal)

OK smell (we had to give up on a favorite spot since they were constantly mopping the floor with an overpowering cleaning product)

Comfortable chairs with padded seats

Clean

Good coffee

Bar-style counter seating at a height which allows me to shift to working standing up

No horrible Muzak

Kindly manages disruptive customers (Take five unfortunately had a regular visitor who conducted loud shouting matches with an invisible interlocutor; ideally cafs find a way of respectfully addressing these types of disruptions – also as those from overly loud cell phone users – without being unwelcoming)

Fresh bathrooms

Quiet enough to make phone calls, but not so quiet it is obnoxious to make phone calls

Nice-to-haves:

Wheat-free lunch options (salads, soups, sandwiches on something other than wheat bread) so that I can spend enough on food to stay away from being a coffee shop parasite

Friendly baristas

Actually good coffee plus monthly subscriptions you have to have

Non-table seating options (sofas, easy chairs)

Great music (otherwise I will just listen to my own)

A few pleasant (but not intrusive) regulars – Rob and I actually exchanged a couple of business referrals with a lovely Mac tech we got to find out through one of our former haunts Keyless bathrooms (seriously, can there be anything grosser than a bathroom key?)

Naturally, I recognize that not every coffee shop wants to attract individuals who would probably stay for hours at a time – which is the reason this list works not just as a set of requirements for me, but as a tip sheet for coffee shop managers who would like to repel the likes of me. For these folks, omitting a minimum of three of the must haves should do the task of not only staying away from me, but others like me.

What is missing from this list? What do you look for in a working coffee shop? And most crucially, what can you recommend as a working coffee shop in Kitsilano, Vancouver? I would love to hear from you.