Moving back to Seattle and transitioning to freelance work has given me some much needed insight into a couple of things. First and foremost—Seattle has a metric shit-ton of coffee shops. I know, technical terms and all that, but seriously, in my neighborhood…let’s say within 1/2 mile from my front door…there are 14.
If that’s not a metric shit-ton, I’m using the expression wrong.
And before you ask, yes, yes I have tried all 14. And yes, I do have my favorites, then I have the ones I don’t frequent, and finally there are the ones we don’t speak about in polite company. This piece is about the reasons I do or don’t frequent certain shops, and how that plays into the broader world of freelancers and working from coffee shops in general.
Let’s start with an overview of the choices. As with any city of any size, pretty much anywhere in the country at this point, these are abundant. Each one catering to it’s own distinct, if not unique, clientele. The neighborhood I live in happens to be trendy at the moment, so the first category is:
The Hipster Harbor. You’ve seen them, the bare-brick-walled-Edison-bulbed places. The one with the trendy minimalist menu that you can’t actually read (the item name and the price are like 10’ apart on a chalkboard ffs) and the $6 cup of black coffee made using something called a V60 (?!?!). The aroma is often a mix of patchouli and pipe smoke and the vibes are calm yet somehow angsty.
Next up is the Bro Bastion. This is your starkly modern place, with nitro-powered cold brew (seriously?) and rock hard acrylic chairs. The playlist is somewhere between bro-folk and bro-core, the lighting is harsh and the walls are unadorned. They generally reek of Axe Body spray, flavored vape and desperation while the vibes are decidedly bro-tastic, yet still somehow inexplicably angsty.
Moving on, we find the Yuppie Yard (finding alliterative descriptors is getting difficult). The audience here is going to be mostly folks who run in, frantically type out a business email as they wait in line, grab their vanilla oat milk latte to go and fly back out the door. If you can handle the breeze from the revolving door, these places are often decent work spots as there are usually open tables and uncluttered wi-fi. The decor varies, but will likely be some variation on 5-10 year old contemporary chic, and the vibes are mostly frantic during morning rush hour, then settle down as the place empties out. And again, somewhat angsty.
And finally we come to the category nearest and dearest to my heart, the Hippie Haven (I was trying for Granola, crunchy, bohemian even…see above comment re alliterative descriptors). These are getting fewer and farther between the deeper into the 21st-century we get and more the techies take over what was once a pretty crunchy city, but if you know where to look they’re still out there. These places will have funky art on the walls that doubles as sound absorption, the soundtrack will either be a Grateful Dead bootleg or NPR, and the vibes will be nothing but mellow. No angst to be found, man.
There will also be tie-die. Somewhere.
Also a grey ponytail.
Both likely found on the owner.
Step 1: which are you?
Or rather, which would you prefer to be seen as. Because, let’s be honest, some part of why you’re working from a coffee shop is to see and be seen. Especially as a freelancer, I can’t keep track of the number of business cards I’ve handed out after a chat with a random person. Let me clarify, I don’t mean we’re all narcissistic assholes. I mean that as freelancers who often get cabin fever staying at home all day every day, we need to get out and sit amongst our fellow remote workers every once in a while. Right?
OK, some of us are also narcissistic assholes, too.
So, do you identify as a tech-bro? There’s no judgement in that expression, by the way. It’s a category that we’re all familiar with, especially in hubs like Seattle. If so, head to one of the plethora of options near those offices (as it happens I’m sitting at a writer’s group located at a shop smack in the middle of the South Lake Union neighborhood, otherwise known as Amazonia). If you’re not sure where you’re more likely to feel comfortable, or meet more of the people you want to, you guessed it—make the rounds. Test them all out. That’s what I did when I first moved to my neighborhood. I gave every single coffee shop at least 3 tries before making any decisions.
And to be honest, I didn’t settle on just one. I have different favorites for different purposes. Just like friends, each one serves a different need. When I just want to chill and read, Hippie Haven it is. Have some serious words to pound out? The Hipster Harbor has more comfortable tables for typing. Just need the best cup of coffee available? It’s straight to the…actually I’m not sure how I would categorize that one.
But their coffee is damn good.
Step 2: Settling In Does and Don’ts
OK, you’ve picked out your target image…I mean destination, for the day. The next step is picking your table. Are you a corner, or a “middle of the melee” type? Or maybe a corner with a view? Or, or, or…how about at the standing bar, back to the room to showcase your ass…I mean aloofness?
Not every spot will have one of those last options. Wait, actually…4 of them near me do. Huh.
Anyway, pick your mood for the day and drop your bag. Now it’s time for the biggest decision you’re likely to make on this day—what to drink? I mean, you want to let everyone around you know that you know your coffee, right? A big deciding factor will be how crowded the order line is. If there are a lot of folks, you’ll want to rehearse your order before letting it rip. The more caveats, the more rehearsal may be needed to get it right. I mean, “medium latte” doesn’t take much work. But if you’re going with a “half-caf, oat milk, extra foam cap” you might want to be sure you can get that out while maintaining just the right level of practiced nonchalance. Oh, and be sure to get the volume right, again it’s key that anyone within earshot hears you but you don’t want to disturb those already hard at work (I sincerely hope you all realize that last bit is meant 100% tongue in cheek).
Or just order black drip coffee like a weirdo (me).
This…this is not OK
This is the bonus section for those of you intrepid enough to have read the whole piece. Once you’re fully ensconced, there are some best practices for co-existing with your fellow coffee shop workers (the remote workers, not the baristas, they likely can’t care less about your angsty issues). More importantly, there are some Worst Practices that you’d better steer clear of unless you want a full scale mutiny on your hands, with the end result of you being drummed out of the freelance tribe. Excommunicated before your caffeination process is complete (Excommuniffeinated?).
And before you ask, yes, I have experienced each and every one of these first hand.
- phone conversations that include the line, “I know, I have to go to court that day, too.”
- Video conferencing on speaker
- phone conversations on speaker
- anything else on speaker
- Audible chewing
- Constant sniffing/sucking of teeth
- Mindless scrolling while in line and missing your turn
- body odor
- perfume odor
- cologne odor
- really just odor
- unleashed children
- unleashed ferrets (true story)
- bare feet on the furniture
- bare ass on the furniture
- armpit hair on display (gender non-specific)
- typewriters (seriously?!)
OK, I sincerely hope a couple of things come of you reading my little rant today. First, that you understand the entire thing was mean tongue-in-cheek (well, 75%). Second, that the key to finding the right coffee shop to ply your freelance trade in is a matter of trial and error, and of knowing yourself well enough to know where your comfort level is. And lastly, that as freelancers we need to spend time in public, practicing the art of conversation.
And, perhaps most importantly, making eye contact with someone other than our phones.