Club Spotlight: Seattle Coffee Shops

Name: Bellden Cafe 

Neighborhood: Bellevue 

This café serves up quality coffee with a charitable twist: they support a rotating cast of local nonprofit organizations. They offer these nonprofits a space to discuss their work, providing café staff as volunteers, and donating proceeds from the sale of specialty items. In addition to coffee, visitors can enjoy pastries, sandwiches, salads, acai bowls, and toasts.  

Name: Espresso Vivace 

Neighborhood: Capitol Hill 

For anyone looking to make the journey to Seattle on a genuine coffee pilgrimage, you simply must stop by for an espresso drink at Vivace. Co-founder and coffee legend David Schomer revolutionized the industry by customizing his espresso machines to create a more consistent heating temperature. Along with extra shots but light pulls and a distinct silky-style microfoam in the milk-based espresso drinks, it’s no fluke that chef Emeril Lagasse called Espresso Vivace “one of the best coffees I ever had in my life…” 

Club Spotlight: Boston Coffee Shops

Name: Barismo 

Neighborhood: mid-Cambridge 

Formerly called “Dwelltime,” this neighborhood café boasts plentiful seating, fine coffees, pastries, a weekend brunch menu, and affordable lunch options. Unlike in other Cambridge spots, you won’t have to fight Harvard and MIT students for a seat. However, be warned: they do not offer WiFi. This, however, makes for a cozy atmosphere—you’ll spot people reading and talking quietly throughout the café. They have outposts throughout the city, meaning you can pick up a cup of Barismo coffee in several spots throughout the Boston metropolitan area.  

Cold Brew Coffee: Is it Worth the Money?

Cold brew coffee has become the go-to warm weather coffee drink. Gone are the days of $1.50 iced coffees from Dunkin Donuts; now coffee fans spend as much as $6 on a medium cold brew. Popular national and international chains have picked up on the trend, too. Starbucks has several variations of cold brew, most of which cost around $5 for a grande/medium. Even 7-Eleven is capitalizing on the trend, advertising their new and improved cold brew coffee at most stores in America. 

If you’ve been into an American coffee shop in the past couple of years, you’ve noticed the extreme price difference between iced coffee and cold brew. You’ve also likely wondered about that mark-up; is it because the coffee is actually better, or is it because shops want to cash in on a popular trend? Well, it’s a little bit of both. 

There’s no question that cold brew’s popularity is driving the price. Both chain and independently-owned coffee shops understand that their customers are more likely to opt for a cold brew in 2018, and adding an extra $0.50 to the price can result in several hundred dollars of additional revenue on a good summer day. Increasing the price just a bit can have a lasting impact, turning a usually tough coffee season into an incredibly lucrative few months. However, we can’t blame the high price of cold brew on greedy business owners.  

Cold brew is exceedingly expensive to produce. To make this coffee, baristas must soak a lot of coffee. A good rule of thumb is to grind around 1 cup of grounds and add to 4 cups of cold water. That ratio is significantly different from a usual drip; it uses roughly 4x more coffee beans than a standard cup of iced coffee. Though the coffee is meant to be watered down a bit (this brewing method produces a coffee concentrate), the production cost is still way higher than the standard cup. 

While you may remain frustrated with high cold brew costs, it’s important to know that producing this type of brew is a huge cost for most coffee shops. If you’ve never tried it, get an extra small and see what you think—the taste is a lot stronger and more complex than the standard iced coffee, but it’s not for everybody. If you love the brew but can’t justify the purchase, try making your own cold brew concentrate. It’s a lot cheaper, and you can adjust your concentrate-to-water ratio very easily. 

How to Buy an Espresso Machine

Purchasing an espresso machine is an intimidating affair. Ever-escalating price tags and added mechanical flourishes require hours of research in order to find a machine that works for you and your shop or personal needs. Don’t get overwhelmed—the right machine is out there. This guide should help steer you in the right direction for the type of machine you want to buy. 

Espresso machines come in four categories: manual, semi-automatic, full automatic, and super automatic. Before making a purchase, as yourself what exactly you want. Here is a list of questions you should ask before making any decisions: 

  • Do you need additional bells and whistles, or are you interested in just straight espresso-making? 
  • How many drinks do you want to churn out in a pull? 
  • How often will you make drinks? 
  • Will you need to manually fill the machine’s water reservoir? 
  • What type of power supply do you have? 

So, what can you get for your money? There are often three price points to consider, and each is separated by a different boiler configuration and accompanying mechanicals:  

Machines under $1,000 are often single-boiler, dual-use setups. They use a single thermostat to control water temperature, and they can’t brew and steam milk simultaneously.  

Machines above the $1,000 mark are mostly single-boiler, heat-exchanger machines. They feature a larger boiler that keeps water at or around 240 degrees Fahrenheit, making is possible to both brew and steam simultaneously. 

Machines at or over the $2,000 mark often feature two separate boilers for simultaneous brewing and steaming. Though this may seem like the best way to go if you’re making an investment, keep in mind that most North American 110V power outlets can’t always handle the needs of these machines. 

When making your decision, pay attention to the intricacies of the machine. How easy will it be to clean and maintain it? What is the maximum pump pressure, and if it’s self-priming, what type of boiler setup does it have? These variables will determine the effort and time necessary to make single drinks. 

Opening a Coffee Shop? Here’s the Equipment You’ll Need

If your interest in coffee is strong enough, you may be considering opening your own shop. This process is, understandably, not as easy as it may appear. The key to coffee shop success, regardless of location, is to keep production costs as low as possible. You’ll have to do a lot of research on products, tools, and consumption trends, and you’ll need to figure out where to get the best shop equipment on the market. 

When you’re ready to start making equipment purchases, you may wonder where to begin. This list is curated to reflect what most shops have upon opening. In includes standard equipment as well as a few items you may otherwise neglect. 

Automatic Drip Machines—Standard drip brews are the bread and butter of coffee shops; block coffee will account for some 30% of your store’s sales, so you want to invest in a coffee maker that will pull its weight. When choosing, ensure your model is durable enough to produce a high quantity, quick enough to meet demand for busy times, and large enough to produce sizeable batches. Most successful coffee shop owners suggest keeping three or four blends available at a time. 

An Espresso Machine—Most coffee drunks customers are likely to order have espresso. You’ll need an excellent espresso machine to meet both production and taste standards. Understand what makes a good espresso machine, and shop smart. Industrial espresso machines can cost a lot of money, so be sure to know what you’re getting into. For additional reference, see our Guide to Shopping for an Espresso Machine. 

An Industrial Coffee Grinder—Most shops will keep unground beans in inventory. This will allow them to stay fresher for longer periods of time. Adding an industrial grinder to your shop equipment list is essential for producing great, fresh coffee. 

Refrigeration System—You’ll need to keep food and dairy products fresh. This requires refrigeration in both display cases and in units behind the bar. When designing your shop, be sure to consider where and how you will install your refrigeration system. 

All other coffee shop equipment—from food products and glassware to shelving and toasters—should be purchased after these initial tools. The rest of your purchases will depend on the type of coffee shop you want to run. Do you want to offer food and smoothies? How much merchandise do you want to sell? Answering these questions should provide a guide for your remaining equipment purchases.  

DIY Extraction Tasting: Perfect for Your Shop or Kitchen

Whether you’re a coffee professional or a passionate recreational lover, extraction tastings are imperative for introducing yourself (or clients!) to a new coffee product. Hosting extraction tastings is an excellent way to draw customers into your shop, and doing them on your own is a great way to better understand the complexity of coffee flavor. To do an extraction, all you’ll need is coffee, scales, a grinder, and an espresso machine—tools you likely already have if you’re reading this blog. You can run experiments with any coffee and grinder. 
I recommend starting with a typical espresso recipe. The flavors will likely be balanced, providing you a great “middle of the road” taste for the experiment. Don’t worry about shot times; as long as your grinder is calibrated to make the typical recipe taste great, size and time won’t really matter. The trick here is to make espresso to weight. To do this, grind, weigh, distribute, and tamp your usual dose into the basket, making sure to be as accurate as possible with dose weight. Tare your cup on a small set of scales. Start the espresso shot and place the cup and scales beneath the spouts. As the espresso begins to brew, the weight will increase. Stop the shot when the scale reads between two and six grams less than your target yield. Follow this process to make seven espressos with the same dose and different yields. I like to use intervals of 4 grams (a typical espresso yield is 40g).  

Now, it is time to dilute. The longest shot will be the weakest, so you should dilute all other espressos down to the same concentration. The shortest shot will be strongest, so it will need the most water. Add appropriate amounts of water to each espresso so they are roughly the same number of grams. At the end of the process, you will have seven espressos of similar strengths but with very different extractions. 

Now comes the fun part: the tasting! You will now have a neat flight of espressos. The first two will be the most aggressive, and the middle (the fourth) will be the “correct” balance. Taste each and record anything that comes to mind. This is a great activity for coffee professionals and enthusiasts, and I hope you enjoy the tasting process! 

Club Spotlight: Chicago Coffee Shops

Name: Metropolis Coffee 

Neighborhood: Edgewater 

Metropolis is a coffee shop and roastery that services much of the greater Chicago area. They believe that great coffee comes from a line of respect, beginning with bean farmers and the love of their land. They pay fair prices for harvest (direct-trade) and offer a range of brewing methods: pour-over, Japanese cold brew, and standard drip. Their prices are some of the most affordable around. The shop is conveniently located (just off the Granville red line stop) and boasts three rooms of tables, chairs, and couches. Each room seems to have a “set” volume level—the entrance is noisy, the second room is full of discussion, and the farthest room is full of people quietly reading and writing. 

Name: Oromo Café 

Neighborhood: Lincoln Square 

The newly-opened Oromo Café is like the United Nations of coffee—their espresso and coffee drinks feature flavors from around the world, including India, Turkey, Madagascar, and Ethiopia. You can ask the barista to spike your beverage with superfoods, such as spirulina, for an added boost of nutrition. My personal favorite is the pistachio-rose latte; it’ll run you around the price of a beer at a local bar, but it’s a can’t-miss drink. You can also get traditionally-brewed Turkish coffee and Iraqi teas.  

New Coffee Shop Helplist

The barrier for entry to owning a coffee shop or starting a roastery is lower than it has ever been. It is easier to get into the game, chisel out a little neighborhood to post up, and develop a following of the just everyone who is drinking coffee these days. However, just stenciling a fancy name on the window and opening the door is not enough these days. With a lower barrier for entry also comes with it more competition and increased difficulty to predict monthly demand and respond with staffing and supplies.

To help new shops along, we have gathered a little checklist/advice list of sorts that successful small shops do to make sure they make it. We have NOT used any tactics from coffee shops that have more than one location. We removed those as they likely have a different amount of financial backing that may not be helpful here.

Google My Business. The first thing you need to do is sign up for your Google My Business listing. Go here. This will put your shop on the map for when people search for things like “coffee shops near me open now.” <– That link is what shows up for me working in Denver right now.

Know that your GMB listing is very important and it can sometimes take a little bit to get it approved and listed correctly.

Curate this listing as much as you can. Add photos, create posts, list coupons, etc. Also, be very very very accurate on your information for phone number, website, and hours.

Finally, RESPOND to reviews. Whether negative or positive, be active. Bad reviews can kill you and paying attention to you reviews can head off any issues and provide visibility into your customer service.

Build a Website. There are just so many tools out there that are free or cheap along with being fast to create. Wix, WordPress, Squarespace. Those are what we would recommend. You likely won’t transact much on this website, so you are essentially just creating a brouchure or business card for your shop. Take a day, muscle through it, done.

Think differently about advertising. Once you have your shop, figure out what the other shops in your area are doing, and think differently. Maybe it makes sense to do doorhangers in the area. Maybe you sponsor events. Maybe you wiggle your want into Next Door. There are boutique marketing agencies out there who can help, if you have the money to pay for it. They may also be able to give you just some free, quality advice. If nobody is spending money on advertising, it might make sense to engage with an agency to fill this void. For our money, we would think about foregoing the first 2-3 months of revenue and put that toward marketing.

Study your competition. Go have a drink at the other shops in your neighborhood and see what they do. Hang around for a couple hours. Absorb what happens and react. They have been doing this longer than you and have likely already gone through and fixed issues you are likely to face, so pay attention. Copy what they are doing well. Make sure to avoid things you don’t like. Create offerings where they are remiss.

Look at your shop with fresh eyes. There is a local coffee shop in Denver where they don’t have any shades. The coffee is great. The natural light is amazing, but the heat and shine of the sun is too intense to withstand. After 10a, everyone leaves. However, the coffee bar was not in the sun, so the employees weren’t feeling what the patrons were feeling. It wasn’t a nuisance. It was unbearable. So do all of the things a customer would do. Sit in all areas of the shop. Try to park when it’s busy. Use the customer bathroom, etc. These might seem like small things, but when customers have so many options, they can and THEY WILL be picky. Don’t lose a lifetime customer from something that is small and solvable.

We will continue to update this post as new tactics and ideas come to light.

Club Spotlight: New York Coffee Shops

Name: Devoción  

Neighborhood: Williamsburg, Brooklyn 

Devoción’s roastery and café is an outpost of a coffee roaster in Bogota, Colombia. The shop’s beans arrive via FedEx straight from Columbia—no more than ten days after being picked, meaning this is some of the freshest coffee in the city. In fact, “freshness” is integral to their mission statement; they launched in 2006 with the goal of changing the way coffee is consumed around the world, emphasizing the importance of incredibly fresh coffee. The space itself is large, open, and features a massive skylight. Planning to stay a while? You’re in luck—Devoción priorities seating space, offering couches, stools, a bar, and several 2- and 4-person tables.  

Coffee Club Checklist

What makes a great coffee shop? Is it the quality of the coffee? Is it the pricing, or the friendliness of the baristas? We are inclined to favor the local shops we frequent (am certainly guilty of that), but what actually makes for a good coffee shop experience? Below, I’ve included a few of my “essentials” in the form of a checklist. Use this to assess your local favorites or make a decision while travelling.  

[  ] Good coffee matters most. Why leave your house for a cup of standard Nescafe? Why pay to drink Nescafe in public? 

[  ] Pricing is also important. Recently, my local shop upped their American prices from $3.25 to $4.25. That is too dang high for a cup of hot bean water. I like to use this rule of thumb (applies to 12oz pours): $2-$3.50 for a drip coffee, $3-$4 for espresso drinks, and $4-$6 for “specialty” brewing, like pour-overs and cold brew. 

[  ] You should be able to sit down. We love our favorite coffee shops for a reason. Odds are, other people are also privy to those reasons. However, some shops may reach a breaking point: they become so popular that you cannot find a seat. If your local shop has hit this precipice, start looking elsewhere; nobody wants to sip coffee while people stand around willing you to get up. 

[  ] It should have the atmosphere you want. Nobody wants to be that pair having a heated political discussion in a shop full of people working on laptops. Similarly, you don’t want to hunker down with a Derrida text when a screaming child is just a few tables over.  

[  ] It should have the proper amenities. Do you go to shops to read? Find a place with big, comfortable couches or armchairs. Do you go to do work? The shop should have free WiFi, ample desk space, and outlets scattered throughout.