The Guide to Independent Coffee Shops

SUP! Cole here giving you my guide to what makes a good coffee shop, and what to look for! Buckle up and enjoy the ride!

Our Background In Coffee!

Both April and myself have worked in independent coffee shops. We currently both work in the same one as Baristas while doing OurVibes.

I used to be the manager in an independent coffee shop in a small town where I was required to do everything from making fresh food every day, to deciding which coffee supplier to use. I then went on to work for a coffee supplier and learned all I could about the roasting process and how the bean goes from being in the wild, to in your coffee cup.

April began working in an independent cafe and was immediately thrown into the deep end, being required to bake cakes, cash up shop and run shifts. She quickly mastered it and continued to learn about coffee while working there.

April and I often spend out days off together trying out new coffee shops and experimenting with different beans at home as we have the tools to make various types of coffee. This has led us to become quite snobby with our coffee as we now know what to look for and what tastes good.

But it's not all about the coffee, Some of my fave coffee shops sell awful coffee, but the atmosphere, home made baking and style are so on point that the bad tasing (or poorly made) coffee can be forgiven. Here is what I look for when deciding what makes a good coffee shop!

LOCATION 

Sometimes the location of the best coffee shops are just round the corner from Starbucks or Costa.

Most towns / cities will have some independent coffee shops somewhere. However it's rare you will find them on the high street. This is because unlike chains who rake in thousands per day. Small business owners often cannot afford the rent to be on the high street, so will often find a little corner of town they can call their own.

One of the best coffee shops in Glasgow Is located in the west end of town, then a 15 minute walk into the residential area, under a bridge that looks like a houses back yard, and through an unmarked door on the building. Seems like an awful location yeah? Well maybe, but I assure you they wont pay anything close to what you would pay for on the main part of town, and through very good marketing they remain one of the busiest!

One of my friends owned a cafe in an arcade and was paying roughly 6k per year rent. Where as I know that for a spot in the shopping centre, a cafe has to pay a minimum of 60k per year... 10 times the amount for the sake of a 10 minute walk.

So next time you fancy a coffee, take a stroll round town, you may just find a hidden gem you didn't know was there.

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STYLE / THEME

When deciding where to go for coffee, it's always a good idea to check out the cafe's style or theme. The majority of cafe's want to appeal to the masses so will stick to an all round comfortable theme. However different styles attract different clientele.

The cafe I worked in was music themed. The walls were filled with guitars and it was known for its open mic nights.

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The Cafe April worked in was styled using bikes and although the theme was consistent throughout. They marketed for everyone and not just cyclists. The cafe was more known for its amazing fresh baked cakes than its style.

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Style is important because it can be the deciding factor for a lot of people. One of my friends owned a Skateboard cafe, where all the tables were made from old decks. Cool idea right? Sure! But sadly without a mass of skaters visiting every day most people didn't fancy having their lunch at a cafe specifically targeting a niche demographic.

Equally, the cafe I ran in the small town was well placed as there was a huge music scene in the area, and above that, most people enjoy music in some form. Being able to accommodate each persons taste with control over the cafes music was what brought a lot of customers back.

So when deciding what cafe to visit. Ask yourself. Does this style of cafe suit where I would like to spend my time? You might be into board games, so does this sports themed cafe suit your preference, or is it worth while finding a neutral cafe that will let you play games if there is no specific themed one around?

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COFFEE

Deciding which cafe to visit for me is largely based on other factors, and rarely on coffee. The reason for this is because when you pay for your coffee to sit in the cafe. You are paying to be served coffee, and to enjoy the other aspects of the place. Not the coffee.

You might be asking yourself

"Cole, the whole point in going for coffee is to drink coffee, so what are you on about?"

Well my friends it's time to drop some knowledge on ya!

Assuming the cafe gets its coffee from a supplier, who either roasts it themselves or gets it from a roaster. The cost of a kilo bag of 100% Arabica coffee beans is roughly around £4-6 from Roaster to Supplier. The Supplier then sells said bag to the cafe from anything between £8-£20 depending on a few factors like shipping, packaging, quality ect. The cafe then sells that kilo bag at, on average £2.40 for a regular coffee (if you go independent) Meaning the average price for that latte you're drinking to make is about.... 6 - 9 pence... yeah.

When you buy a coffee you are really paying for the privilege of being served. You pay to sit and enjoy it in the right atmosphere. You pay for the delicious food if they have any. The coffee isn't worth the cost. I make better coffee at home than any coffee shop could offer me, but I still spend most days at coffee shops paying for their coffee. Purely to be in the cafe atmosphere and enjoy the vibe.

It's worth keeping this in mind if you shop at big chains such as Costa or Starbucks. Who sometimes use cheaper Robusta beans. Costing them less and ultimately valuing their awful tasing coffee at around 3-6 pence per cup.. that they charge you almost £3 for...

FOOD

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When deciding on which cafe to visit, consider asking yourself the reason for going. Is it just a place to chill? If so focus on theme and atmosphere. If you want a place to go for lunch each day or to enjoy the cakes. Then look for cafes who offer fresh, in store baking.

The cafe I used to run bought in all it's cakes from big companies as we did not have the facilities to prepare cakes in store. As such we never marketed our cakes.

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Whereas Aprils cafe took pride on all it's freshly made daily cakes which worked wonders for its business.

As Gordon Ramsey would say "It's gotta be fresh" and it's true. Fresh is always better. Just be cautious of what you are paying. Where it's understandable to pay a bit more for home made cakes. Lunch goods such as toasties and sandwiches costs pennies to make yet you get charged an arm and a leg to buy. I suggest eating lunch before going out and instead just enjoying a cake with your coffee when you are there.

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ABOVE AND BEYOND

The final thing to look for when deciding wether or not the cafe is your new spot to chill is if it offers anything more than coffee and cakes. I'm talking like, does it host events? does it offer any kind of courses? does it sell coffee products you can use at home? Does it offer suspended coffee's for the homeless?

It's important to find a place that, when you are sat at home, you think "Man, I wish I was at ________ " Because then you know that it's a solid place you can visit again and again.


Theres 3 main reasons I would always say to visit an independent over a chain. 

  1. Better quality - Wether its service, coffee or food. An independent is most likely a small business owner trying to make ends meet. The chances are they will hire staff who actually care or they will greet you themselves. You will always get a warm welcome and delicious products from an Independent.
  2. You are supporting a small business - In this world we live in the big brands and chains are making it harder and harder for small independent businesses to grow or become successful. By shopping this way you are not helping big companies like Starbucks dodge tax and shut down the little guy, but you are helping a small, struggling owner put food on the table for his family and worry a little less about paying his rent.
  3. Better Vibe - I can honestly say I've never sat in a chain like Costa or Nero and thought "Yeah this is better than _______" Sure, even I'm guilty for sometimes visiting a chain but 9/10 times it's packed and I just eat and go. If you visit an Independent you are usually surrounded with the right vibe, be it a place to work on your projects or a place to kick back and relax. Independents care. Chains.. not so much.

When April and I moved to Cardiff I applied for masses of coffee shops. I got a trial shift at one which I felt looked good. Not even one hour into my trial I almost walked out. As much as the style of the place made it feel homely. The service, Coffee, Food, Price and Atmosphere were appalling! Not even 15 minutes into the shift I told the owner they had bad coffee, that their grinder was way off and they were making it wrong.... needless to say this didn't go down well. Despite the awful trial I was offered a job which I quickly rejected.

To conclude this post I'd like to say firstly, YES. I know I'm a total coffee snob and sound very pretentious haha! I'm just very passionate about independent places making it as it's something April and I are looking into as well. And finally, as I typed this whole blog and worked for the past 6 hours on the website, I've been sat right here... In an Independent Coffee Shop

Well I hope this gave you some food (or coffee) for thought hahahaha!

Please let me know in the comments down below what your favourite coffee shops are, April and I travel loads so we will be sure to check them out!

Please do subscribe as we have loads of content coming both coffee and non coffee related!

Until next time! Peace in!

Cole!

PS. April recently gave some thoughts on being a big old kid! Go check it out HERE!