The Perfect Cafe
Here I will describe the perfect cafe, I haven’t yet been to the perfect cafe (maybe you will open it!) but I’ve been to some very good cafes…
For the past 10 years of my life, I’ve carried on a quite passionate love affair with fine purveyors of the dark energizing nectar. I’m an unapologetic coffee snob, it’s one of those things that’s so good when it’s good and so bad that when it’s bad that it’s worth being a bit of an elitist!
I lived in Colombia for two years, so I have very discriminating taste when it comes to the coffee itself. Yo soy muy exigente al respecto del cafe! Starbucks? No, thanks!
The thing about coffee is that you should be able to drink it without adding anything to it. If the coffee tastes good then it’s good for you. If only the rest of life were like that, we could just follow our hedonistic impulses and they would lead us down the pathway of health and longevity.
I was udachi (lucky!) to find a Biohacker favorite, Bulletproof coffee among the gangster’s Bentleys and Slavic ice queens in high heels in Kyiv, Ukraine at 1900 Coffee Point and then I think I met a spy.
Aesthetics matter; a beautiful cafe space can inspire you to write, design, program, or have a productive meeting of minds. Great interior design of a cafe makes it a place where love can spark. If they didn’t we would just drink our coffee at home, where it’s cheaper!
One thing that really seals the deal for me is space to stand; sitting is the new smoking, so I prefer to spend about 75% of my workday standing, St. Oberholz in Berlin and Bibliotech Smart Cafe in Kyiv nail this with their elbow height bars!
Working at cafes I have a little bit of healthy paranoia about my laptop being stolen while I’m getting up to order or go to the bathroom (which I need to do less since I’ve habituated Kegels). So I appreciate cafes where I can select seating that’s tricky to easily reach from the front door and would thereby make my stuff not an easy target for a passing small-time criminal. I think about Green Deli Cafe in Sofia, Bulgaria with its comfortable 2nd-floor terrace.
Something that’s always annoying is cafes that blast loud music! I have been in innumerable cafes that found the need to blast pop music at nightclub volumes at 10:30 AM in the morning. Low, baseless background music is something that Starbucks gets right.
I think a lot of cafe managers don’t actually sit in the seats their customers use for hours on end. Uzitak Coffee in Belgrade serves a smooth Americano but their diminutive chairs were like something out of an elementary school classroom and as comfortable. Bastard Coffee in Valencia, Spain nailed almost all these key elements of a great cafe, yet its chairs were seemingly designed with the specific purpose of torturing your spine!
Crappy wifi is a cardinal sin.
It should go without saying that great cafes have great wifi.
Internet access is one of the main products that a great cafe offers. Green Deli Cafe stands out for having great wifi. As does Coupage in Kiev, in front of which a grey Bentley Flying Spur sat for 3 weeks without moving collecting dust — that’s not suspicious!
Excuse me, can you tell me what the wifi password is?
Is a conversation I’ve had perhaps more than any other. It’s my firm belief that cafes should have wifi passwords, ideally passwords that change from time to time. A cafe with an open network is like a nightclub with no bouncer and face control or having unprotected sex with strangers, it’s really NOT secure.
The perfect cafe has a closed wifi network and they use this predictable point of customer contact for a useful call to action — I’ve been to several cafes where the wifi password was something like…
You get the idea, the wifi password becomes an incentive to encourage their customers to do something.
I understand that baristas and managers get sick of telling people the wifi password or writing the wifi password down or fussing with people’s devices that aren’t able to log in but this is a crucial customer touchpoint.
There should be a standby network, that patrons can use — if not be prepared for the web surfers to mutiny when the main wifi network inevitably goes down.
On my wifi shitlist is every cafe in Istanbul, Turkey! I walked all around the two most cosmopolitan neighborhoods of the city sipping lots of hearty dark Turkish tea in search of barely passable wifi speeds and found nothing!
Surprisingly, in one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, Barcelona I searched for two weeks to find a cafe with great wifi and had to bid that marvelous city adios!
Also, San Jose, Costa Rica had atrocious wifi access years ago when I visited. One place you should plan to bring an old-fashioned map!
The perfect cafe compliments my daily intermittent fast which goes like this…
- I skip breakfast
- Around noon to 2 PM I will have a hearty salad
- Around 6 PM I will drink and eat a whole coconut
- Around 9:30 PM I have dinner
I hate to disrupt my work in the middle of the day to prepare a meal so if my cafe de jure serves healthy food that meets my strict diet it will double or triple increase how much money I spend there.
Zumm Salads in Valencia is a cafe I’d like to come back to for their great food, muy rapido wifi, and iPads!
I’ll definitely be back to Druzi Cafe in the historical district in Kiev, for their delicious and nutritious orange chicken salad.
The salads served at M60 in Bucharest standout as especially filling, delicious and nutritious.
When I think of great cafes at great locations I think of Federal Café, just a stone’s throw from Europe’s most famous pedestrian boulevard, Las Ramblas in Barcelona.
Cafe Velvet had a brilliant location in the middle of the fashionable shopping and nightlife district in El Poblado.
One cafe (that’s more of a restaurant) with a real panty-dropping location was the Greek Pizzeria Cafe Zorba in Medellin with its mouthgasm good arsenal pizza, strong cocktails, live music, low lighting, and candlelit ambiance. It had an entrance backing right up to the babbling brook than meanders through the Parque De La Presidente.
Location is important BUT coffee drinkers will go out of their way for great coffee.
Barista Coffee in Bulgaria was located about a 7-minute walk from the city center in a bit less cosmopolitan neighborhood, which I really didn’t mind because the stroll from my flat to the cafe took me right past a cool archaeological site and the well-preserved ruins of the ancient Roman city of Serdika.
Great cafes should be sunny, the perfect cafe should assuage Vitamin D deficiency. The more windows, the better!
Pergamino’s sunny patio had a distracting view which presented an almost non-stop parade of Latina Kim Kardashian look-a-likes trotting down the avenue in their high heels. Me and my friends there were constantly distracted from our laptops by the voluptuous plastic surgery work on display.
A great cafe draws you into a scene that captures the life of a city.
At the cafe in the Tántalo Hotel in Panama City, Panama there would often be photoshoots of gorgeous Panamanian models dolled up in striking fashion.
At ample outdoor seating of cafes in Berlin, you’ll be accosted by an infamous demented woman who screams and yells incoherently at everyone in the neighborhood.
Weirdly, I’ve seen dudes’ dicks in cafes twice actually! Once at Rooster & Moon in Denver, Colorado there was some kind of really avant-garde photo shoot going in the side room of the cafe and there was this chubby guy body painted walking around with his flaccid little member out. Another time at Juan Valdez coffee in Medellin a homeless guy started bothering everyone for pesos, the staff started yelling at him, scorned by everyone, and peso-less he just dropped his pants and exposed a scruffy groin to everyone that I’d love to forget.
Power to the people! To charge their laptops, tablets, and smartphones…
I’m writing this very blog in Barista Coffee in Sofia, where I never want for AC-current because they have abundant power outlets which rise out of the giant communal table in the middle of the cafe.
People in cafes are some of the most chill people you’ll find but if you want to bring out their territorial side just wait until there’s a shortage of power outlets!
In Romania I discovered that approximately half the power outlets in the country are purely decorative, they don’t work.
El Gato Negro in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua is the one place I found where they actually charge you to use their power outlets, which I’m fine with as long as they keep serving that delicious, fresh cold coconut water!
The Customer Service
This really matters. A cafe can nail every other aspect of great coffee, quality food, and ambiance but a rude or lazy barista can totally ruin the experience and turn what could be a loyal customer into a one-star review.
The perfect cafe doesn’t necessarily have to have perfect baristas but they would do one simple thing, chat with their customers. I would say one thing that makes a big difference in the cafe experience is Baristas who make an attempt to chat and get to know me. I think about how Chemex is served in Colombia, properly serving a Chemex requires pouring very slowly for several minutes, at Cafe Velvet the barista stands there at your table for several minutes pouring it and chats with you about your day — it really adds a personal touch!
Traveling the world I’m always astonished that a small business would invest in a premium location, marketing, product and branding yet employed totally incompetent idiots who seemingly tried to make sure that customers spent as little time and money as possible in their establishment.
In the US, where I’m from, customer service employees put on a convincing display of fake friendliness to their customers. After living abroad you do grow to miss fake friendliness. I’m also astounded by the number of young men and women working as baristas who deprive themselves of tips I’d love to give them because they were blatantly rude, lazy and very forgetful.
I think it’s indicative of this scarcity mindset that so many young people have — they work just barely hard enough to not be fired and their bosses pay them just barely enough so that they won’t quit — they don’t understand that if they work harder, smarter, friendlier and provide more value they’ll make more money and advance themselves. Not tolerating bad customer service is probably the most important thing that the perfect cafe could do.
A funny experience only to be had in Eastern Europe is little women telling me to…
Sit down boy!
I’ll walk into a cafe and smile at the predictably diminutive barista. I’ll begin by slowly asking if she speaks English, if not I’ll switch to my poor Russian and order but more often than not she indicates that she speaks a little English. I ask for a cafe Americano and she gestures to an open booth and orders me to sit down boy!
Economics of Caffeination
Someone reading this may be thinking…
This guy is really asking for a lot from a cafe!
Well, as I keep globe-trotting and sipping in search of the perfect cafe, I always marvel at how inexpensive good coffee and food are at good cafes. Almost everywhere I’ve been it seems that I can hang out drinking and snacking for hours without it costing me more than the equivalent of about $5.
I’d be willing to pay double or triple for a good coffee and a great experience! A great cafe empowers my day and productivity by feeding me and fueling me with caffeine. It seems to me that the cafe owners of the world are drastically underpricing their product! The perfect cafe would need to charge a bit more.