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“Cofficing”

Yet another loooooooong gap between posts, many apologies!

It’s not that I have gone off coffee… how could I? In fact, I am drinking more of the stuff than ever, it seems. Life just seems to be getting in the way again.

I am currently playing Coffee Consultant on a very part time basis, and staying home to look after Miranda, which is a full time job by itself. I am also scooping icecream at Dessart Sweets in the evenings, and I can highly recommend coffee and cardamom soft serve ice cream there! (made with real coffee grounds and ground green cardamom – SO GOOD!). My little espresso machine at home is getting vastly overused just to keep up with myself.

I do keep finding myself missing the days when I could sit in coffee shops for hours on end, tapping away on my laptop and writing things – blogs, my thesis, novels, poetry,  even actual work, whatever… without interruption. I even made time to do this in my own coffee shop (admittedly, what I was usually doing then was keeping up my social media marketing for the place, or the accounts, neither of which was particularly relaxing!). After that, afternoon nap time, or the brief period between finishing work and picking Miri up from daycare were reserved for my coffee-and-writing time. Then, she decided naps were for babies and she was a Big Girl, and apparently expects attention and entertainment from 8.30am to 9.30pm with no let up. ” Good luck getting your own stuff done now, Mum!” And my coffee is grabbed on the go in a keepy cup, and my blogging time is confined to when she is watching TV and doesn’t notice me taking my eyes off her.

So, I pine for my Coffice. Actually working from home is verboten – “What you doing Mummy?” “I want to draw on that!” “You want to play with me Mummy!” (the last one is a statement, not a question.) So, at weekends when I have something urgent to do that requires concentration, I leave Miranda with her Dad and traipse downtown to find a good Coffice – that is, a Coffee Shop Office, from which I can guzzle coffee and work on my laptop in relative peace.

A good Coffice is hard to find. To my mind there are three critical elements and a few nice additions that turn a coffee shop into a coffice. The three most important things are:

  1. GREAT coffee (so you actually want to go in there)
  2. Free, reliable, wifi
  3. Baristas who don’t try to hurry you out/ create a welcoming environment

And of the “nice to have” elements:

  1. Accessible plug sockets
  2. Quiet, but not silent, atmosphere
  3. Sit-up tables (to sit an type at) and soft sofas (for meetings)
  4. Discounted refills!

Here in Regina, I have yet to find one that fulfills all these criteria. My favourite coffee shop doesn’t have wifi and has only just cottoned on to the idea of having tables to sit at, but the coffee is the best in the city. The best option, downtown, has mediocre coffee, plug sockets, and enough of a laid back, hipster crowd that I can sit with my laptop and pretend to be doing something highly intellectual and creative without feeling like I should drink up quick and leave, but the wifi is unreliable and slows down to the point of being unusable when there are more than three people connected. Finally, the last option has both reliable wifi, a good atmosphere to work in, plug sockets, cheap refills, but unfortunately, pretty rubbish coffee.

If When I open my own coffee shop again, I aim to make it the best Coffice space I can. So many people work away from their company office desk now – whether you are out meeting clients, or have to travel with your job, or you’re self-employed or freelancing and like me, can’t work at home for fear of Small Children or other interruptions, or students seeking a more social environment than the library to work in – coffee shops can provide a very useful, neutral and creative space.

Caffeine stimulates the brain, aids concentration and enhances your creativity. There’s even been research done that suggests that low level background noise, such as other people talking and the various machinery whirring in a coffee shop, is actually a more productive environment than complete silence. To this end, the slightly odd folk at Coffivity have invented a phone app and a website containing the streamed white noise from a busy coffee shop (where they don’t appear to ever grind coffee?!) for you to play to yourself if you are ever trying to concentrate in somewhere that isn’t actually a coffee shop. In fact, I have it playing in the background as I type this, as it is more preferable than absentmindedly listening to Miranda’s Go Diego Go show.

From the point of view of coffee shop owners – the best customers are repeat customers. People who “coffice” may use up valuable seats when you are busy, but get it right, and they will always be back for more. When I was writing my thesis, I’d go down to a local coffee shop, armed with as much money as I could afford, and stay until either my money or my laptop battery ran out. If the coffee shop had a plug socket, I’d spend a fortune. Several times a week. For FOUR YEARS. And then I’d bring my focus groups or interviewees in there, or just meet friends. Custom creates custom, happy customers bring more customers. Simples! Friendly service also creates a sense of obligation to buy more as well…

A final disclaimer: the ‘Coffice’ isn’t my own term, in fact, the concept was apparently dreamed up by some former Marketing executive, who realised there were whole communities of freelance workers who, like him, worked from coffee shops. He, (Sam TitleHI if you are reading this!) has a twitter account @thecoffice devoted to networking these freelancers, and there’s a website coming soon, too. I have already signed up – as a ‘cofficer’ for the moment,  but hopefully, soon, to be a Coffice Manager again myself!!

 
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Posted by on August 7, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Coffee Shops

A little project looking at how coffee shops market themselves. What goes on the shop front? How is coffee marketed actually on the building? More tellingly though, what do coffee customers notice about the shop fronts? How much of an effect does the shop decor have on people’s decision to go there?

This is a work in progress – I would love to get people to send me a picture of their favourite coffee shop and give me a short sentence about why they like it. I will update this page as I receive more pictures. If you’d like to contribute, I’d be eternally grateful. Please email your pics to drcoffee@live.co.uk. I won’t publish anyone’s names if you don’t want me to, just say in your email if you want to stay anonymous.

Here’s a few I’ve received so far. Analysis will follow!

Esquires, Durham: "Spiced Apple punch = nom nom. They also have free newspapers!" - Richard, Durham

Gusto Italiano, Sheffield. "There are two reasons why I go here: the coffee and the service. Both very good." - (Ol, Sheffield)

Beckett's, Skinner Street, Whitby. "We looked everywhere for a coffee shop that delivered a proper espresso - bingo! The service was friendly with smiles and faultless." (J.C., Whitby)

Afternoon Tease, Parkgate, Darlington. "I like the tea, hot chocolate, and soup, and the fantastically friendly atmosphere combined with their love of books and writing." (Chelle, Hartlepool) "It frakkin' ROCKS!!" (Dave, Darlington)

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Penny Universities

I admit it, I miss university. I could quite happily moulder unspecifically in academia forever, and it is quite depressing that, after maternity leave, I’ve only got a few short months left. In that sense, there is no real incentive to finish this PhD. Nevertheless, being pinned to the sofa by a hungry little baby makes life a little…inactive, shall we say, so I am still reading avariciously and typing one-handed. And guess what? I am still fantasising about my own coffee shop (as a more practical alternative to a career in academia).

A seventeenth century London coffee house

A seventeenth century London coffee house

These fantasies, along with genuine interest and the need to pad out my background chapter on coffee history, has led to reading a lot about the 17th century coffee shops in Britain. I like this a lot. Coffee first reached London in around 1650 and became extremely popular, with coffee houses offering an alternative to taverns. Most were laid out with a coffee bar at one end (but plenty of waitresses often of dubious reputation!) and long benches to sit at, forcing strangers to sit next to each other. Unsurprisingly, this led to a breaking down of rank and social hierarchy if only within the coffee house, and people, well, men, began “free and open debates” – or in other words, plenty of informed but caffeinated arguing. It is a fairly well known legend that Lloyds of London started out as a coffee shop, with merchants meeting in it to conduct their trades. But there were other now famous institutions that also had coffee origins. Coffee houses in different places had particular themes – the ones around the theatres attracted the ‘wits’ and critics and poets and so on, the coffee shops near the printers were filled with the pamphleteers and the ones near the schools were where they scientists hung out. The Royal Society was originally founded by three men who met and formed “The Chemical Club” in a coffee shop in Oxford, and they’d perform scientific experiments in public in the coffee shops.

“In the coffee houses men of science, learning and scholarship found they had unprecedented access to all kinds of knowledge: commercial, literary, mechanical, theological. Unlike the narrow confines of the Schools, whether university, church or club, the coffee house opened the whole world of learning to the clientele. To a seventeenth century mind, entering a coffee house was like walking into the internet.” (Ellis, 2004:158)

And so, the Penny University was born. As well as being referred to by coffee fans as ‘penny universities’ or “the free school of ingenuity”, they were also called by their critics “a poseur’s paradise.” Nothing changes. Many people nowadays, myself included still sit in coffee shops for hours, now equipped with laptops but still attempting to look intellectual. We just use internet forums to rant on rather than striking up conversation with anyone else in the room, which is quite sad really. Some things that have changed for the better are a.) the coffee and b) the clientele.

Moll king

Moll King - my new role model

This was a looooong time before espresso machines and even before anyone thought to filter the stuff. The coffee in 1670’s London was at best, Turkish style, as in, roasted in a pan over a fire, ground up roughly then boiled in water, thus improving the safety of the water but often producing a drink that looked, smelled and tasted like soot. And quite possibly cut with charcoaled weevil, since it was transported from the colonies by boat. Also, the coffee houses were exclusively populated by men. Women could serve in them but did not attend and were not privy to the cheap education on offer there. Somewhat bizarrely though, they were allowed to own them. The most famous coffeehouse madam was Moll King, and King’s Coffee House was extremely popular but not necessarily because of her coffee….

There were other similarities to modern universities too:

“in we went, where a packet of muddling muckworms were busy as so many rats in an old cheese-loft, some going, some coming, some scribbling, some talking, some drinking,…and the whole room stinking of tobacco like a dutch barge or a boatswain’s cabin.”

Now, doesn’t that sound like undergraduate halls of residence?

penny

The offending cafe

I like the idea of Penny Universities a great deal. What better name for a coffee shop run by someone with a PhD in coffee?! But, alas, these things are not patented as soon as the thought arrives in my head. And sadly, a modern day Penny University already exists. It is a coffee shop in London. And it is run by a certain Mr James Hoffman.
Sorry jimseven but I won’t be visiting.
(*blows raspberries very maturely*)

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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