viscual stimulation 014: the "perfect cafe"


When I first moved to Europe, I was extremely pleased with the cafe situation here. In America, unless you are living in a city or college town you are left with three options: Starbucks, Caribu Coffee, or Panera bread. These three are still better than nothing, but you definitely sacrifice a certain level of character (and in some circumstances, I would even argue, quality) as a coffeehouse chain. Europe is full of small, privately owned cafes where you can sit for hours. And guess what? No one will be side eyeing you as you sit there, empty coffee in front of you, still reading whatever it is that you may currently be reading. No one will be breathing down your neck, coffee in hand, making you feeling like the apparent greedy and impolite human you are, as you take up precious customer space. Cafe culture originated in Europe afterall, my dear friend.

In Europe, a coffee shop is a place to meet friends or colleagues, converse, or just watch city life pass by outside the window. Conversely, coffee shops in the States have always been linked to doing work for me. This idea likely stems from the fact that my college town was home to a particular cafe famous for being a student hang out. When I first moved to Berlin, pulling out your laptop anywhere else but in a particular cafe in Mitte famous for the overwhelming percentage of Mac Users (sankt oberholz) was seen as extremely weird. But this is all slowly changing, which is great news for me as a freelancer.

Over time though, my standards have either grown more difficult to meet, or I have realized that even my favorite cafes sort of fall short. I came to this realization a few months ago, as my boyfriend and I were talking about where to do our work that afternoon. Bateau, which is situated on the corner where Oranienstraße and Mariannenstraße intersect, has a great vibe and decent food options, but without internet access, it was virtually pointless for me to be there. Down the corner from Bateau is Kiezeklein which does have wireless, but is teeny tiny, and doesn't have the widest selection of food. Goodies has been the standard near me, but the food, although delicious and vegan, is on the pricer side. They also crank the heat up too high in winter to the point where after an hour we both start falling asleep. They have some outdoor seating, but nothing that is really ever in the sun. Silo, which recently opened in Fhain is somewhere I also like to frequent, but consists mainly of coffee, tea, and a few cakes, which isn't really ideal when planning to stay for a few hours doing work. It's minimal interior is gorgeous, but not particularly cozy.

It all boiled down to one thing. The ideal cafe just didn't freakin' exist. Which led me to question what exactly made up the perfect cafe for me. Below is a list I have drawn up in an attempt to answer this very question broken into three separate categories.


They say, that the devil is in the details. And it's often the little things that set something apart from the rest. Cafe design is certainly no exception. Small touches not only add a unique factor to an aesthetically pleasing, well-designed café. It also creates a bit of a homemade feel, which I personally look for in my favorite cafes. Chalkboard walls are one example of a small detail that goes a long way. Perfect for writing down menus and specials, as well as allowing creative baristas to let their artistic juices flow and create temporary works of art, they work really well in cafes as both a visual and practical element. The use of clipboards is also a small visual element that is both functional and visual. They are perfect for pinning up menus and enhancing that industrial workspace feel. Other small artistic details, like well-designed coffee cups and bags of coffee with cute illustrations also receive my seal of approval.

Number two is basically the sister of number one, as it has everything to do with taking a well-designed café and making it that much better. Imagine each of these four cafés without their current lighting set up. Boring, right? Lighting is also all about creating a sense of ambience, which is why i am a sucker for these aptly named "café lights" in the picture on the upper right hand as well as the variant of this style in the image in the lower righthand corner. An array of hanging mixed lamps (top lefthand corner) look great too and feel unified without feeling too uniform. Placing hanging lighting fixtures in crates work really well too, like in the image on the bottom lefthand corner, because it creates a sense of balance and uniformity by mimicking the seating below. Additionally, it makes a very modern and sparsely-designed cafe still feel warm and inviting.

When it comes to interior design and architecture, I am a huge fan of the industrial-meets-shabbychic style. So it should come as no surprise that I would favor these design elements in my favorite coffee shops as well. I love exposed concrete, distressed brick, white tile, and natural wood. Think: an old southern barn meets an old industrial warehouse. It's even better when an interior space is able to incorporate all of these elements together. Exposed beams and pipes are also a favorite of mine. When these elements are mixed with interesting lighting and unique details, it's just the holy trinity of design.

In addition to outdoor seating, a coffee shop wins major brownie points with me when they have large windows and a beautiful view to match, because sometimes there is nothing better than just sitting by the window, coffee in hand, watching the people pass on by-especially on those summer days that are just a bit too unbearably hot for sitting outside. Conversely, I love being inside a warm cafe during winter, with the large panes of window glass frosted over. It's just really romantic and also makes me feel that much cozier.


There is nothing better than drinking a latte outside during summertime with a nice breeze blowing by and the sun beaming down on you, forcing you to squint or shade your eyes as you converse with the person next to you or read. This is something that the boyfriend and I are always trying to find: An awesome café that is just as awesome outside as it is inside. Because who wants to be indoors on a beautiful day? Extra points if some of that seating is conveniently located in the shade.

Nothing is worse than coming to a café, pumped and ready to work, and then realizing that you have 9% battery and there are no outlets in sight. It just might almost be worse than being in the dessert with 2 sips water in your water bottle and realizing there are no watering holes in sight. So nothing makes me happier, than cafés that generously lay power strips all over the floor (thank you St. Oberholz) for their adoring costumers and their mac books. Hey, it might be some sort of electrical hazard, but at least you'll be able to update your facebook status about a fire in said café in real time, should a fire happen to break out.

Whoever told you size doesn't matter way lying. It does. Just kidding... Sort of. In all seriousness though, a café that is too small is a café that I am not likely going to go out of my way to go to, because the likelihood of it being entirely full is very great and therefore often not worth the time. From a design perspective as well, having a nice airy feel is often more desierable as well. But a cafe that is too big just feels cold. It's an extremely difficult balance to strike, but a cafe which is divided into separate rooms or floors can help a cafe feel intimate but not cramped. This also solves the problem of dividing a cafe into a space for both work and conversation, which brings me to...

Now I did state above in this very post how I appreciate the fact that pulling out a laptop in a café is no longer a seldom practice. This means I feel right at home when I get down to business, chai latte in hand. However, with cafes doubling as offices and smartphone usage common practice, the art of conversation is kiiiiinda dying. Granted, there are still plenty of people, including myself, who also meet socially in cafes. But even then, we compulsively check our phones to see if anyone has sent us a new text message or email. An internet- computer- cellphone- freezone would mean that a portion of the café would be devoted simply to human interaction. In the same token, I can say that it can be disturbing when I am trying to get work done, and the lovely people at the table behind me are talking loud enough to wake the dead. Now, there is such a thing as "too loud" and it's perfectly fine to kindly ask other patrons to use their lovely inside voices, especially when it interferes with other patrons and their conversations. But, “I am trying to get my work done you inconsiderate bastards!” is really not the appropriate thing to be yelling in a café. After all, it’s a public social space and not a library. But with cafés doubling as secondary work locations we all need some kind of compromise. Which is why I think the ideal café would not only have a section for conversation, but also a section for getting work done, which would certainly allow me to become one of the most bad ass mother effin freelancers out there.

I can’t stand it when cafes have extremely uncomfortable seating. They place might look extremely stunning, with clean, modern design, but if my ass can’t bare to stay seated in your seating for more than an hour, you my friend, have failed me. At the same token, seeing as cafes are multi-purpose locations, which are utilized by people getting work done, a café full of comfy sofas don’t really make for the perfect work environment either. I also really loathe it when I have to balance a plate of hot soup precariously in my lap because there is no table seating available. But a bit of both, and I am a happy clam. The best cafe would have 4 seater tables, sofas, and communal seating. Which brings me to...

This was something I only recently began to see as desirable. I previously felt a bit uncomfortable sharing tables with strangers, but there is something kinda of nice about sitting together with other young professionals such as yourself, type-type-typing away on your macbook pros together in unison. It kind of turns a coffee shop into a shared workspace. One with free rent, that is.


ELEVEN: good & healthy food
Since I tend to spend a good few hours in them, my favorite cafés also double as places to eat lunch, which is why I am not very likely to visit a café that only serves coffee, tea, and a meager assortment of sweets. For eats, I am a big fan of bagels, wraps, and smoothies, as well as carrot cake or banana bread for dessert. Extra points it it's all vegan.

So there you have it, the most important elements needed in order to create the perfect cafe (in my humble opinion, that is). But to be honest, although many of these elements could be incorporated into creating a more ideal coffee shop, some of these elements tend to compete with each other. Sometimes I do like being in a smaller cozier cafe, other times I love a bigger cafe with tons of workspace. And in any case, isn't it usually the hunt itself, that is more exciting? With the perfect café always just out of reach, finding new cafés that come close, feel that much more special. Cafés that might be lacking in one department, might make up for it and that much more in another. Plus finding the perfect café would nullify any reason to go to any other café, which would get pretty boring. So maybe, the real goal here is to find the "perfect café" for sitting outside in the sun, the "perfect café" for getting work done, and the "perfect café for socialising." And then to find each of there three kind in each neighborhood here in Berlin. I'm definitely still searching, but I will be sure to keep y'all posted on what I find.

lg, Rae
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