Being Noah Tesfaye #51: The Best Coffee Shops in Silicon Valley

Yesterday I made a mistake. What was that mistake? I decided to drink coffee at noon.

For the rest of the day, I was shaking a bit too much for my own comfort, and by the end of the day, I completely crashed.

But coffee is a part of my DNA. Whether remembering the jebena my grandparents would use to make coffee, to hearing my dad discuss the technical specs of an espresso machine that I had no idea were even possible, coffee is everywhere.

And as I got hooked onto coffee during my summer at Columbia, and now as a person who drives, I’ve been hunting for new coffee shops to try out. And when it comes to coffee shops in general, there are some essential criteria for finding out what place best fits you:

1. Price — As a student, there is nothing more important than how much coffee will cost me. It’s impractical to go every single, heck every other day, or every two days to get coffee. So whenever I do want to go and get some work done for four hours (sometimes even more), I want to make sure I can get coffee that’s worth my money and is a place where I can go in the future for a decent price.

2. Flavor — As much as the cost of coffee is the ultimate deciding factor, the flavor is a significant component in finding the right coffee shop for you. As a cold coffee drinker, you need to find places that have the right roasts for you, whether they’re Verve or Intelligentsia or any other roaster. Do they have the perfect balance of acidity and bitterness for you? Do they make the drinks that you want and like, and if not, can they create something new for you? If you don’t like the coffee, that’s an instant reason to never go to that coffee shop.

3. Location (crowdedness/space for friends to come along + ambiance) — This one is by far the most subjective out of my personal criteria. For me, the busier, the more crowded, the more chaotic the coffee shop is, the more focused I am. For others, it means going to a super quiet coffee shop, or getting coffee and then going to a library to get work done. Either way, find what makes you the most productive. Also, if you like to work alone or with friends, find a place that can accommodate the extra friend or two. If the place has unfriendly baristas, that’s also maybe something you may not like either, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

4. Wifi — Simple. Find a place that has good, reliable wifi. And if you can, get and use a VPN since most shops have open access wifi.

5. Outlets — If I’m working somewhere for an extended period of time, especially if I’m getting there directly after school, having outlets, accessible outlets at that, are crucial to ensuring you can get whatever work you need to get done.

Before I give my list of favorite coffee shops, I just want to say that always be careful with how much you spend on coffee, or anything really. I know at times I’ve spent too much and I couldn’t afford to eat dinner with friends or get something essential I needed. So please, please, please don’t let the caffeine dictate your wallet.

Now, here are my favorite coffee shops.

1. Red Rock Coffee

If you know me personally, there isn’t really any place that I spend more time besides home and school than at Red Rock. Price-wise, it’s about average for iced coffee, but it can get way up there for other drinks. It’s got the outlets and great wifi that are always working. There is no other coffee shop for me personally that matches the flavor that Red Rock has, and it’s their house blend (which I believe is from Honduras, but please let me know if I’m wrong) that reminds me why I go there often. But the single reason why I love this place so much is for the location, right on Castro Street, and its vibe is just unbeatable. It’s always packed, which works really well for my working style, and although it’s difficult to work there with friends since space is often limited, it’s worth it. Also, it’s the only coffee shop aside from Coupa Café that closes at 10, and 11 on Fridays and Saturdays (Coupa closes at 11!), meaning that I cannot be rushed to leave at a certain time. If you want to go to any coffee shop in the Bay Area, go to Red Rock.

2. Coupa Café

Just like Red Rock, Coupa on Ramona has the same kind of ambiance. The greatest thing about Coupa is the fact that it is always open till 11, seven days a week. And if you’re interested in working at a more quiet space, they also have a Coupa by the Palo Alto train station. Pricing on coffee is definitely pushing it to around $4, so I don’t really like to go that often. However, with its decent wifi, along with the two full spaces next door to one another, it’s always a good place to work with friends who are in that area.

The rest of these coffee shops are all good places to work if you don’t like busy spaces or want something different. For example, Prolific Oven in Sunnyvale is a hidden coffee shop off of Mathilda. It’s modern, empty, and happens to have a gastropub inside of it, so if you want actual food beyond coffee, you can do that too. Dana Street Roasting Company is a coffee shop with impeccable charm, one that is extremely affordable (cash only), and just exudes a vibe of “I want to write my memoir here.” It has wifi, and although its outlets are limited, it is just a one minute walk from Red Rock if it’s ever full.

I don’t really like to go to chains for a couple of reasons. For one, often times the coffee is average at best, and that’s speaking purely for Peet’s. From a flavor perspective, Starbucks tastes too much like water for me. I recognize that often times chains are more affordable, and I can attest to the fact that Peet’s is always a go-to whenever I am on a budget. However, going to your own local coffee shops has no comparison. Although more expensive, they are employing dozens of people and help support people more so beyond just a job. When you go to a local coffee shop, having a community that you see regularly, where everyone’s all trying to accomplish their goals, is something you can’t get at a Starbucks or a Peet’s or even a Blue Bottle (which makes incredible coffee by the way).

So those are my recommendations to you. Find a place that you like? Go whenever it’s feasible financially. If not, try another place. Find somewhere that fits you and what you want from a workspace. Until then, I’ll continue to sip on cold brew for the foreseeable future. I’ll see you all next week, for perhaps the most important blog post ever. Till then…


Thanks for reading this week! Follow me on Twitter if you want to ever discuss anything and hear my spontaneous thoughts, and join the Silicon Valley Humanities Students Society if you’re a passionate SV humanities student who wants to join an awesome community! Also, if you want to see more of my work, visit my website!

Twitter: https://twitter.com/noahbball1

Website: http://noahtesfaye.com/

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