Seattle is swarming with coffee shops and geeks who love them. For many of us, they’re a fundamental part of the infrastructure. But how do you know you’ve found a good spot to bring your laptop and get to work?
Below are 15 things to look for, culled from conversations with fellow coffee-shop dwellers who recommended their favorites on Facebook.
Let’s start with the basics, and work our way up:
• Free, reliable WiFi. Once Starbucks pulled the price tag off wireless access at its U.S. stores, free WiFi went from a perk to an expectation. Of course, having it isn’t always enough. Laptop loungers love Uptown Espresso in Belltown for its unusually fast hook-up, but beware the weak WiFi signals at other spots. At Caffe Umbria in Pioneer Square, the city’s WiFi works if you sit by the window. Sometimes.
• Outlets. Battery life has gone far but not far enough. Look to the walls by the tables. If you can plug, it’s a plus.
• Big tables. A coffee cup will sit where a laptop, notebook and pastry will tumble, so it’s nice to have a big table or two around to contain the chaos. Got a lot of work sprawl? Long, large tables abound at Zoka Coffee.
• Oh yeah – good coffee: Few cities obsess about coffee quite like Seattle. And for bean lovers, good work often requires a good cup. Espresso Vivace, Trabant Coffee and Chai, Caffe Vita, Seattle Coffee Works and Fremont favorite Milstead and Co. are some of the best loved brewers in town.
• (Real) food. A brain can’t run on pastries alone. “I don’t want to have to pack up when I’m hungry, but at most places I have to,” wrote social media geek Karianne Stinson. Voxx Coffee in Eastlake recently rolled out a fantastic sandwich menu. Try the Tapenade.
• Location, location, location: Close to home, close to work, and preferably, close to the action. Residential areas serve up chill cafes, but the city’s most energizing work spots are downtown, in Belltown or close — in Fremont, Queen Anne, the University District or Capitol Hill.
• Curb appeal: Where you’re sitting still, it’s nice to see the world moving. “Love coffee shops that are visually open to the street,” tweeted judicial assistant Gary Burnopp. “They’re catalyst for pedestrian traffic which encourages walkability.” And productivity. The bigger the window, the better. Top Pot Doughnuts in Belltown might have the biggest of them all.
• Free parking? There’s no downside to sticking around an active, central location in Seattle. Unless, of course, you drive. “Don’t even try to tell me I should work at a coffee shop without [free parking],” Jason Preston (my husband) wrote. “There’s no effing way.” Agree? You might want to go where he does: the East Side.
• Good, low tunes: If it’s not too loud and not too weird, the music at a coffee shop stays right where it should — in a buzzing, boosting background. Always good to bring headphones, though — just in case.
• Comfy seats: Edgy, modern chairs are great for the showroom, but the coziest coffee shops boast seat diversity, throwing in something soft, like the Persian cushions at Cherry Street Coffee House or the velvety armchairs at Roy Street Coffee and Tea (the most impressive of Seattle’s “stealth Starbucks“). In for the long haul? Nothing’s more welcoming, and your butt will thank you.
• Natural light. Seattle is dark enough as it is this time of year when we’re not hiding ourselves in some deep indoor cave. So I’ll say it again: windows, windows, windows. Caffe Vita in Capitol Hill does it right on two floors.
• Lots of space. Tiny is warm and intimate, but when you’re bent over a laptop, it can be good to disappear. A good work shop is “big enough and has enough turnover so they don’t care if you stay awhile,” wrote Andrew Woods of coffee shop database cafeworkr.com. Uptown Espresso in South Lake Union keeps things particularly roomy.
• Friendly staff: Nobody likes a snooty barista, or a snooty customer. For the most part, Seattle keeps it nice and courteous. Look to a coffee shop’s staff and regulars to set the tone for everyone else.
• ‘Eavesdroppable conversations’: When people work and chat in the same space, having what University of Washington professor Sonora Jha Herbst terms an “abundance of eavesdroppable conversations,” great connections are bound to form — and do. Too slow or too quick and the mix won’t marinate. Designer David Hoang, who likes Bedlam Coffee in Belltown, among other spots, says he’s hired four contractors and met two clients just from being at a coffee shop. “Never underestimate presence!” he wrote.
• Style: Cubicles are not inspiring. Neither are tables and chairs in a rectangular room. And where the mood at Uptown Espresso is defined by its crowd, other coffee shops have a much more aggressive personality. The art at Zeitgeist Cafe in Pioneer Square has a mind of its own. Writer Josh Bis said he wrote a good chunk of his dissertation at the jagged, two-story Bauhaus Books + Coffee. “As far as I’m concerned, they have the best physical space for a cafe in all of Seattle,” Bis wrote.
Before you grab your laptop and head to a roomy, spacious, well-lit coffee shop equipped with drinks, food, WiFi, cozy seats and outlets, a final word on etiquette from Woods:
“When you’re cafe working, remember to be nice, buy enough food and coffee to justify your time, respect the WiFi, and don’t stay too long.”
Thanks to Luiz Marques and everyone who shared notes on Facebook for the help!
Mónica Guzmán is a community strategist in startups and media and a digital life columnist for GeekWire who loves spending time in Seattle coffee shops even though she doesn’t drink coffee. You can find her tweeting away at @moniguzman or reach her via email. See a list of her clients on her website. Also see this archive of her weekly GeekWire columns.