On Creative Work in a Coffee Shop

Coffee shops are fascinating places where people meet for a good coffee, a great ambiance and for working or surfing the web with their laptops and smartphones. If coffee shops are similar to what they were hundred years ago, how we spend time there is quite different.

On Creative Work in a Coffee Shop
A scene in a coffee shop near my home

Going to the coffee shop to study isn’t something new. This popular trend started in the late 20th century. Millennials popularized this habit even more with the availability of technology like laptops and WiFi. I find this a fascinating movement.

I love spending time in a coffee shop with my iPad or MacBook Air. I usually go in the afternoon, right after lunch. I’ve been doing that for decades with more or less regularity. I’m unsure when it all started; maybe around the mid-nineties. I usually spend half an hour to two hours in a coffee shop. I visit at least one coffee shop in each city while travelling abroad. Fun fact: I have always been more into coffee shops than my wife and past girlfriends. Even though men are bigger coffee drinkers than women, according to this article covering the Australian market, strangely, based on my experience, it seems that the coffee shop moments is more popular among women. I might be wrong on that, don’t quote me.

People may prefer to work in a coffee shop because of the ambient noise, which can help them focus, and the atmosphere, which can be more stimulating than a quiet or sterile workspace. Additionally, being around other people can provide a sense of community and motivation.
The entrance of a famous coffee shop in Bueno Aires, January 2023

I’m wondering why I prefer going to my coffee shop, which is close to my house, instead of staying home in a quieter place. I’m not the only one that prefers the environment of a more or less busy coffee shop. Why do people go to the coffee shop to study, work or read? I mean, coffee shops can be busy places with a lot of noise, right? Well, according to a few studies, coffee shops are the right place to find the following:

  • It’s a 3 minutes walk from my house.
  • It’s a bright, spacious and well-designed place.
  • People of all ages visit the place: teenagers, young adults, students, workers, older and older adults with kids and grandkids; it feels like a family place.
  • The music is good, not too loud.
  • Coffee and healthy food selection are great.
  • And for the smell of the coffee, obviously!
  • Because caffeine helps the brain better focus;
  • It’s a source of inspiration and creativity because of some unfamiliarity found in coffee shops (people, objects, noises, decor, etc.)
  • Being outside the house, a place so familiar and sterile for creative work, coffee shops offer variety and a sense of creative community.
Science Proves You Should Be Studying at Coffee Shops Instead of the Library
Coffee shops have the recipe for success – warm lighting, caffeine, and ambient noise.
“Coffee shops have the recipe for success – warm lighting, caffeine, and ambient noise.”

"Research shows that coffee shop ambiance increases creativity, alertness, and learning ability.”

“Research shows that a semi-distracting background helps you think more broadly and outside the box. Rumor has it the selfie stick was even invented in a Starbucks.”

The Strange Scientific Connection Between Coffee Shops And Creativity

“a study has found that individuals came up with more creative ideas when exposed to ambient sound at 70 decibels - the average volume of a bustling coffee shop.”

“While extreme quiet lends focus, the kind you need to do your taxes or proofread a paper, the Times reports, it inhibits creative thinking.”

“a touch of noise, a pinch of distraction, and a sprinkle of conversation can cause a helpful disfluency, which, research suggests, spurs you to think on a more abstract level.”

"Enough stimulation can help you get deeper into your work–but too much can pull you out.”
Why do students go to Starbucks to study instead of studying at home?
Answer (1 of 55): That’s a really interesting question! XD Some students go there truly for studying. I have been studying in the boarding school for like years and pretty much I am not used to studying at home. (Yeah, pretty-low efficiency) We can easily see customers in Starbucks working on “t…
“Less comfortable than home, but still optimally comfortable.”

“Some students prefer cafes and public places like Starbucks — the constant movement in the background provides ample white noise instead of anxiety-inducing silence or the piped music from headphones.”
Remote work - Wikipedia
“…it has been proven that when exposed to new stimuli, possibly including the sounds and scents in cafes,[3] the brain tends to create new mechanisms to accomplish tasks.”
Coffee Shop Mondays Are For Writing - Original Mac Guy
Coffee Shop Mondays are when I get my blog posts written. They combine productivity with pleasure, get me out of the house, and give me some variety.
“Having a coffee shop day has become something my partner and I look forward to every week. We alternate the coffee shops we visit, trying a new shop every few weeks.

It gets me out of the house and acts as a way for me to focus on writing a blog post. It brings some variety and pleasure into my life at the same time as accomplishing my work.

If you haven’t tried a coffee shop day as a way of getting your creative work done, I’d encourage you to do so. It’s a nice way to mix productivity and pleasure.”
A scene from the Cafe Tortoni in Bueno Aires

Each time I go to a coffee shop, I take a few notes, for fun, just like the following ones.

  • Most clients use a notebook, a vast portion being Apple MacBook of all models.
  • Some people use iPad, but a big portion uses an iPhone.
  • Many are using AirPods, but it is not the majority. I guess to isolate themselves. Why go to the coffee shop, then?
  • Many students seem to have difficulty concentrating; besides their open books, they stare at their iPhones. So why do I think they aren't productive? It looks like there fighting against themselves.
  • I find it fascinating to see others use their computers, be it an iPad or a MacBook. However, observing others while not looking like I’m trying to read their screen content is hard.
  • After setting up my MacBook for work, I often open AirDrop in the Finder to see who’s there. Naturally, I don’t know anyone from the list of available devices. It’s just for fun.
  • It is sad to see people sitting at the same table, with their smartphones in hand, and constantly staring at their screens without exchanging a word for long periods.
  • When you see someone with noise-blocking earpieces, it’s clear they come for the food or the coffee, even though they work. Otherwise, I don’t get it.

According to some queries done to ChatGPT, here are three fun facts about coffee shops:

  1. Birthplace of Innovation: Coffee shops have been historically associated with fostering creativity and intellectual discussions. In the 17th century, coffee houses in Europe were gathering places for philosophers, artists, and thinkers, where they exchanged ideas and engaged in lively debates. Famous figures such as Voltaire, Rousseau, and Benjamin Franklin frequented coffee houses, making them hubs of innovation and enlightenment.
  2. Third Place Phenomenon: Coffee shops often serve as a "third place" in people's lives, distinct from home (first place) and work (second place). They provide a welcoming and comfortable environment for socializing, studying, working, or taking breaks. Coffee shops have become popular spaces for individuals to meet, connect, and relax outside the usual confines of home or office.
  3. Latte Art: Many coffee shops have mastered the art of creating intricate designs in the foam of espresso-based drinks, known as latte art. Baristas skillfully pour steamed milk into espresso, creating patterns, shapes, or even portraits on the surface of the drink. Latte art adds an aesthetic and creative touch to the coffee experience, making each cup visually appealing and unique.
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An AirDrop window in Apple’s Mac Finder to see surrounding devices that can accept files over wireless.

From my personal experience, I do enjoy creative work while in a coffee shop. Of course, my productivity level is highly variable, but it’s ok. Observing people around me, listening to the ambient noises, and having a great cappuccino is all it takes to be happy and enjoy a Saturday afternoon.