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Coffee Culture in Shared Spaces. What’s Your Culture?

June 20, 2016 by Katie Edwards1

Coffee has been a hot topic on the listserv lately, with people swapping tips about what machines they use and debating about whether the key to great coffee is in the equipment or in the freshness of the beans.  In most for-profit coworking models, free, all-you-can-drink coffee is included in your membership fee. Coffee helps to animate the space, and gives people a reason to get away from their desks Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, argues that to encourage innovation and ideas, people need to have the opportunity to “collide” with one another, to interact. In a shared space, the common coffee pot, helps to provide an opportunity for partners to interact – because let’s face it, coffee is a necessity in the working world.

As I’ve visited nonprofit centers across North America, there are four kinds of coffee cultures I’ve observed. Even little things can speak volumes about what goes on behind the scenes.

Black Coffee: In these centers, you’ll find a single pot of black coffee. Maybe it’s a Bunn commercial coffee pot, or maybe it’s a 12 Cup Mr. Coffee machine. Usually the first person in the building makes the first pot, and other people fill it for the day.

What it Says: You value frugality and simplicity while respecting people’s time. People feel empowered to refill the coffee pot, without searching for the landlord to explain the bells and whistles. People can get in and out without delaying their day.

The Keurig Machine: Everyone loves the freedom of the Keurig Machine or similar options (Keurig pods are common but they aren’t recyclable). The landlord can stock a variety of pods or you can bring your own in.

What it Says: You embrace individuality and encourage choices, and you’re willing to pay a little bit more for the experience. People pause a little longer in the kitchen as their cup brews, and linger a bit more in the common areas.

Full-Service: Some spaces I’ve been in have a small café or coffee shop as one of their tenants, so all of the work to maintain the coffee experience is outsourced. Others encourage you to be your own barista, stocking a variety of flavored syrups and milks.

What it Says: You value connection, and taking your time to build bonds, as you slow down with your cup of coffee. If you’re waiting on a barista or you’re blending your drink to perfection, there’s more time to speak to the people around you, and a longer window to collide with someone else.

BYOE – Bring Your Own Everything: In this scenario nothing is provided by the landlord, but individuals take charge. Someone brings in their own coffee pot from home, while other bring in cups and coffee beans. Sometimes this is a shared experience, while other times everyone is simply looking out for their own caffeination needs.

What it Says: This scenario can go two ways. If the community is banding together to create a shared experience, it says that the people in the space have an understanding of teamwork built into their DNA. Together, they can solve any problem, big or small. If everyone is looking out for themselves, and you’ve ended up with 34 different coffee makers in the space, then it says that your space supports rugged individualism. In this context, working together may be a little hard for this group.

What’s your coffee culture and what does it say about your space?

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About Our Blogger:

Katie Edwards

Katie connects NCN members with the resources they need to make their projects a success. She holds an M.P.A. in Nonprofit Management from Indiana University, where she studied nonprofit co-location as part of her coursework. Katie’s research background and her first-hand experience with the Co-location Task Force for the Indianapolis’ Early Intervention and Prevention Initiative give her a unique perspective on shared spaces and nonprofit centers.

One comment

  • Erin Prefontaine

    August 17, 2016 at 11:29 am

    The Jerry Forbes Centre coffee culture: a mashup.
    As a co-working centre that is just starting and getting our feet under us during this renovation period, we are in an ironic situation: Jerry Forbes will provide homes to more than 20 charities in Edmonton, but does not currently have a home. So we’re desk-surfing from generous friends in our community. Christmas Bureau of Edmonton, where we’ve spent our summer, has a common coffee room with both a Bunn and a Tassimo. However, the Jerry Forbes Crew has also brought our own coffee. We’ve brought a grinder & a French Press and some snooty Fair Trade locally-roasted beans.
    It turns out that no matter what we end up brewing in this space, we do get chatting and addressing the what’s-what of the day.

    As we move to our namesake’s former radio station for the remainder of the renovations, we know they have the god-forsaken Keurig with the environmentally horrific k-cups, so we’ll bring our grinder & French Press and our snooty beans and encourage people to hang out with us while our coffee steeps. It shouldn’t be a stretch, those radio jockey types are pretty chatty 🙂

    Once the Centre is open we want to encourage the slow brew of a large pot of quality beans to keep people chatting in the kitchen areas and get them to come together on their own what’s-what of the day. And hey, snooty or not, the better the coffee, the more apt people are to have a sip & a chat.


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