Coworking Communities Are Built On Coffee: Fact Or Fiction?

Coffee is simply part of the coworking culture. But coffee is personal. So, how do you get it just right? Tips and best practices from a recent Coworking Convo.
  • Coffee in the workplace can help bring people together. 
  • A recent Coworking Convo hosted by Cat Johnson seeked to explore the role coffee plays in coworking communities. 
  • Jamie Orr from Cowork Tahoe and Jellyswitch led the conversation and shared some tips on coffee in coworking spaces, like providing it for free, providing a variety of options, and letting people make their own coffee. 

If you think conversations still happen around the water cooler, think again.

In today’s workplaces, it’s all about coffee.

Not only does the coffee station provide a much-needed caffeine kick to power through the working day, it also has a much more important role to play. It brings people together.

Making coffee gives people a reason to take a break from their working day. While they’re doing that, they can chat and socialise, relax and de-stress, stretch their legs, mull over a challenge, and perhaps ask for help overcoming said challenge.

All of these activities build relationships in a coworking space and strengthen its community.

But just how important is coffee in coworking spaces? If you take away the coffee, do you take away the community? What type of coffee should you provide? And where does tea fit in?

Cat Johnson, content marketing expert for the coworking industry, wanted to find out the answers to these questions. So she invited Jamie Orr, coffee-lover and founder of Cowork Tahoe and JellySwitch, to lead a discussion on the subject.

Here are the highlights from the Coworking Convo.

Keep up to date with Cat’s regular convos, webinars and live talks at catjohnson.co/events.

What’s the Science Behind Coffee?

Jamie Orr, a Theoretical Physicist, initiated her talk with a little scientific background.

“Why do we like coffee? Coffee molecules trick your brain by blocking adenosine, which makes you sleepy. It also gives you a dose of dopamine, which makes you happy! It gives you a happy buzz. So coworking and coffee together makes sense.”

Drinking coffee has become a social behaviour, and Jamie acknowledged that coffee has been a big part of Cowork Tahoe’s growth.

“When we started, we had no kitchen — only a cart. I wanted to include coffee so we started with the cheap and easy option. As we grew, members requested different types of coffee so we invested in a fancy coffee machine, and used it as an opportunity to engage our community.

“Now we have a drip pot, auto espresso machine, pour over station, hot water for tea drinkers, and last summer we added a keg for beer and another for cold brew coffee. Initially it was a trial and a perk, but now if we tried to take it away there would be a mutiny!”

Here are Jamie’s top coffee takeaways:

  • Provide coffee for free. Unless your business model is a coffee shop with coworking built in, your coffee should be made freely available.
  • Provide around 5 – 7 options. Not too much, not too little, just enough variety to suit most tastes.
  • Let members make it themselves. Everyone knows how they like their own coffee. It helps them feel at home.
  • Use coffee in your tours. “The first place I take people is to the coffee machine.” Get that ‘happiness hit’. Also use your variety of blends to demonstrate that you understand everyone has different requirements and you’re offering that level of flexibility for them.
  • Get social with coffee. Use it in your social media marketing with a branded mug or a cup with a funny, inspirational, or powerful slogan on it.
  • Support local vendors. “At Cowork Tahoe we support our local roasters.” This enables you to support businesses inside your space, as well as the wider community.

According to Jamie, coffee can be a representation of the community you have, or the one you hope to grow.

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But coffee is personal. How do you get it just right?

The chat portion of the Convo was buzzing with questions. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions, and the responses put forward:

What if I don’t have enough kitchen space, or budget?

This was a hot topic in the Convo, as lack of physical space or budget often prevents coworking operators from installing coffee machines or offering a wide variety of coffee.

Among the responses put forward:

  • Go for the middle ground. If you can’t offer 5 – 7 different types of coffee, simply provide a good quality French Roast (“a palate pleaser”), a decaf option (if requested), and some different varieties of tea.
  • Work with a local coffee shop. For those who want barista-style coffee, approach nearby vendors and ask for discounts for your members. A number of Convo participants recommended this:
    • I made a deal with a coffee shop 2 minutes away and they give my members a 15% discount.
    • I printed wooden nickels that offer a free cuppa at the coffee shop. I give this as a ‘thank you’ when folks tour.
    • We only offered drip coffee, however we had a coffee shop next door to one location and downstairs in another. Members could show their access cards and get 20% off anything at either shop.
  • Simplicity is important. Choice overload is real! Encourage people to come and ask for what they want. Don’t worry about making too many changes at once; take baby steps.
  • Ask your members! Use Surveymonkey or send out a simple email. What kind of beverage do you like or want? Drip coffee, espresso, or just tea? Often, members don’t want anything fancy. Just straightforward, medium, good quality French Roast coffee.

What types of milk should I offer?

Cowork Tahoe offers a variety of milks including soya, whole, half and half, and almond.

“Everyone likes their coffee their own way, so we try to have a spread. We include sugar and honey, and some people bring in their own syrups.”

However this isn’t possible in a lot of spaces, so according to Jamie, the best standard option is shelf-stable milks, which means you can stock up without having to rush out to buy fresh milk every day. For members who prefer other types of milk, encourage them to bring in their own.

What about tea and decaf coffee?

Tea is easy to store, especially if you offer individually wrapped tea bags, and doesn’t take up much space.

“Tea is definitely part of our coffee story!” said Jamie. “At Tahoe we have a large selection of tea, I’m obsessed with making the selection balanced and well stocked. I listen and if there’s a specific tea that’s requested, I go out and get it.”

One participant recommended buying variety packs of tea (Amazon.com is a good place to start) with some fun and wacky flavors to spark conversation.

As for decaf, Cowork Tahoe doesn’t offer decaffeinated coffee as there is virtually no demand for it. However, Jamie’s variety of tea includes plenty of decaf options, such as herbal infusions.

The Last Word?

For a lot of people, coffee feels like home: the aroma, the act of making it, the warmth, the taste, and of course the happy buzz from drinking it. In many ways, coworking was born out of people convening and working in coffee shops. Coffee is simply part of the coworking culture.

As one Convo participant noted, “Coffee is important! Put things in [your space] that make your members happy at work. People will stay with you if they feel that your coffee game is on point. When people feel that way, that investment pays off.”

Cat’s next Coworking Convo takes place on 27th March. Sign up for free here: Convo: Can Virtual Mail Drive Revenue and Leads to a Coworking Space?

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