5 Things that make good coffee shops great

The sound of milk frothing, shots being pulled, and friends laughing. The smell of fresh roasted beans. The site of people reading, writing, and discussing. The tangible, palpable feeling in the air that only a community of people can bring.

There’s something unique about coffee shops. Something special; while it’s hard to put my finger on precisely what it is, there is this undeniable feeling that coffee shops aren’t like other stores.

I’m participating in a blog series. I, along with several other coffee bloggers, are answering the question “What do you look for when you review a coffee shop?”
(see below for links to the other posts).

This is a harder question to answer than one might first suppose, mostly because 90% of what I “look” for isn’t sought after at all – it falls into that intangible category that I can’t quite explain. After all, isn’t a coffee shop more than just coffee, tables, chairs, and a room? I’ve always been a firm believer that the people are what make a coffee shop or cafe so special. Given the choice between spending a day engaging in a discussion with a friend over a cup of Starbucks, or sitting alone by myself at my favorite local shop, I will chose the former every single time (although I will, of course, suggest we carry our discussion over to someplace with great coffee – best of both worlds, right?).

I’ve narrowed my list down to five things that I look for when I review a coffee shop. To put it another way: if these five criteria are met, I will have a great experience at that coffee shop and will have no choice but to give it a great review.

This isn’t a hard-and-fast list by any stretch of the imagination, but if a coffee shop lacks these five things, there’s probably something missing in their formula. In other words, I better really like the friend that I’m meeting there.

  • Fresh roasted, fresh ground, high quality coffee. I’m always willing to try new varieties and new drinks – what’s really important to me is that the coffee shop either roasts the beans themselves regularly, or gets them from a roaster nearby who can.
  • Friendly baristas that excel at their craft. I love getting drink suggestions from the barista and chatting it up with while he/she makes my drink. You can always tell when someone loves their job, and the attitude of the barista(s) can make or break my experience at that coffee shop. (Also, nobody likes a coffee snob).
  • An environment that encourages creation and consumption. Sometimes I go to a coffee shop to get work done, school done, or to process through a new idea. Other times I go simply to read, listen to music, and absorb. A great coffee shop should encourage the development of both of these. Overly loud music, dirty floors/tables, and even a bad paint job can serve as distractions to creation and consumption.
  • Integration with the community. This is one of the most important aspects of a coffee shop that I look at. The best coffee shops I’ve been to have local art on display, play music from local artists, and serve bread from a local bakery. If the coffee shop suddenly vanished, would the people in the community care? If the answer is yes, then we have a winner.
  • A way to follow up. This may seem as menial to some, but I’ve found being able to communicate with a coffee shop after my visit is almost as important as going there in the first place. If a coffee shop has a Facebook page, Twitter profile, or a classy website, it gives me an instant way to share my experience with friends. Also, it allows me to find out more information about a coffee shop which can be vital to writing a quality review.

I’ve found coffee shops that contain these five elements in all parts of the world.

Are there other elements that you find essential? Let me know in the comments, or drop me a line on the BoiseCoffee Facebook page!

The Coffee Guy

Posts from fellow coffee bloggers answering “What do you look for when your review a coffee shop?”

9 thoughts on “5 Things that make good coffee shops great

  1. excellent point with #5. i love a shop that engages with their customers/community on twitter/facebook/etc. it makes the whole experience more personal.

  2. I agree with your post 100%! The smell of fresh roasted coffee and the sound of friends laughing is the best atmosphere to be in. You’ve listed great points. I especially agree with the third, loud music and a lousy paint job does take away from the experience.

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