When I have a project I really need to focus on, I head to a coffee shop—or used to, anyway. There was something about the sights, sounds and scent of these quaint places that helped me to be more productive. Yes, the caffeine helped (my go-to: an Americano with a splash of cream and cinnamon), but it’s not only the boost of espresso-fueled energy that helped me to get more work done in coffee shops. Science shows that novelty situations stimulate the brain: A change in atmosphere can signal an increase in productivity, creativity or inspiration.
While it’s not feasible for most of us to pack up our laptops and head to our favorite coffee shop to get work done right now, you can recreate some of the charm—and brain benefits—of them by incorporating these elements into your home office (or kitchen, or wherever you’re set up right now). As a bonus, you won’t have to deal with “that guy” who takes back-to-back conference calls at the table behind you.
Cue the Background Noise
The noises inside a coffee shop—like people talking, cups clattering and espresso machines whistling—can propel your creativity. Contrary to a loud office, where you might not be able to concentrate, background noise that doesn’t draw you in to conversations can benefit your ability to get work done, reports Harvard Business Review. To mimic this at home, search Spotify for “coffee shop background noise” and find a ton of tracks to try. Missing the chill music that plays softly from your favorite shop’s speakers? Tune into curated playlists by coffee connoisseurs—Spotify and YouTube both have lots to choose from, no musical chops required.
Nail the Scent
A freshly brewed pot of coffee has a comforting smell that can range widely, from sweet, caramel aromas to earthy, floral or spicy notes. That’s because roasted coffee beans contain more than 1,000 chemical compounds that are extracted during the brewing process. Once you make your pot and drink it, however, the scent doesn’t stick around long. If you’re craving that coffee smell, try a diffuser oil like Fresh Brewed Coffee by Demeter Fragrance Library. Its subtle, slightly sweet scent lightly fragrances a room without overpowering.
Buy Good Coffee
Choosing a good roaster isn’t nearly as hard as it once was—especially if you trust in your local coffee shop before branching out, says Dale Donchey, founder of Spiller Park Coffee at Ponce City Market in Atlanta. He recommends looking to buy beans from your local coffee shop first, but since many small shops now offer their beans online, you can easily source from around the country. A few to try: Methodical Coffee out of Greenville, S.C. (with the most beautiful packaging!), Turbo Coffee out of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Brazen Hazen Kona coffee from Hawaii. Beware of buying coffee at the grocery store; the older the coffee, the harder it is to make it taste good, Donchey says. Always check roast dates, as coffee hits peak flavor within about two weeks of roasting; if your bag doesn’t have a roast date, consider it a red flag.
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Opt for a Coffee Subscription
If you’d rather have someone else choose quality coffee for you and ensure you never run out of beans, check out coffee subscription services in your area to see what’s available. You can also opt for a national service, like Yes Plz, which sources, roasts, blends and ships a new release blend or single-origin beans every week (you can choose how often you want delivery).
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Get a Grinder
To get coffee-shop-quality coffee, you’ll need to grind the beans yourself, rather than buying pre-ground coffee. This will ensure maximum fresh flavor, and “I promise that it’ll change your homebrewing life,” says Donchey. There are two styles of coffee grinders: traditional blade grinders and burr grinders. The first tends to provide inconsistent results, says Ben Reese, owner of Lionheart Coffee Co. in Portland and Beaverton, Oregon. He recommends investing in a burr grinder to ensure a more consistent grind that’s appropriate for your home brewing method. A few of his favorites: the OXO BREW conical burr coffee grinder, Mr. Coffee automatic burr mill grinder and the sleek Baratza Encore coffee grinder.
Choose Your Method, Then Perfect It
There are four main ways to brew your coffee, and each requires a specific grind: French press (coarse), an espresso machine (fine), batch brew (medium, for your typical home coffee maker) and pour over (medium). It comes down to what you have on hand and your preferred flavor, so experiment to see what you enjoy best, then practice to achieve the quality you’re looking for. You may need to invest in a tool like the Hario Drip Coffee Scale, says Allie Caran, director of education at Partners Coffee. “One of the best parts about visiting a coffee shop is consistency,” she notes. “[Home ] coffee brewing can be unforgiving in taste when it comes to measurement error.”
RELATED: This Brewing System Is Like the KitchenAid Stand Mixer for Coffee
Consider Your Cup
The vessel you use for your coffee doesn’t really impact the flavor of your drink—whether it’s a to-go mug or your favorite “Cat Mom” cup (that’s me!)—but the temperature of the vessel will, says Reese. If you pour hot coffee into a cold cup, the change can shock the coffee and cause bitter undertones. At Lionheart, baristas preheat customers’ personal cups with hot water; you can do the same at home by pouring hot water into your cup and letting it sit for 30-45 seconds. When you’re ready for coffee, pour out the hot water and replace it with your fresh brew.
Get a Little Fancy
If you’re a latte drinker and missing your barista’s craft creations, it’s time to learn to make your own. Los Angeles-based Alfred Coffee simplifies things with its Vanilla Latte DIY Kit, which comes with Alfred’s espresso blend whole-bean coffee, two cartons of oat milk, a bottle of homemade vanilla syrup, a coffee tumbler and two stainless-steel straws. You can whip up 20 of its cult-favorite lattes with it (Kylie Jenner and Selena Gomez are reportedly fans), and if you don’t have an espresso maker, making a pot of strong coffee works.
Froth Your Milk
Reese says that if you splurge on only one accessory to up your coffee game at home, it should be a milk frother, like the Nestle Nespresso Aeroccino. It makes perfectly creamy and silky froth from hot or cold milk, perfect for adding to lattes. In a pinch, you can microwave a little cream or milk to get it hot, then whisk quickly to manually create a bit of foam.
Elevate Your Extras
You know how great coffee shops (used to) have a bar full of accoutrements to doctor up your cup, like shakers of cinnamon or bottles of honey? Think about your favorite flavors and how you can recreate those options at home. Try a few dashes of dark chocolate cocoa powder for a makeshift mocha, a little honey syrup for natural sweetness, or a splash of cardamom-flavored syrup for a touch of spice, says Reese.
Plant cafes were a huge trend pre-COVID; you’d see coffee shops popping up everywhere that did double duty as a plant-supply shop. They made a lot of sense: Studies show that working in an environment filled with plants can reduce stress and increase your productivity. If your local nursery is sold out for the season, try ordering a few potted plants online, such as this shiny-leaved Pilea Peperomioides plant, to pepper throughout your work space.
Don’t Forget the Treats
Is there anything so delightful as a fresh slice of coffee cake to pair with your coffee? Now’s the time to put those baking skills you’ve honed in quarantine to good use. We recommend: sour cream coffee cake, coffee lover’s coffee cake or maybe even copycat Starbucks pumpkin scones. No one would fault you for pairing a thick chocolate chip cookie with your latte, either. And if you’re not in the mood to turn on your oven, you can always order online—this Wolferman’s Bakery chocolate vanilla swirl coffee cake is a coffee-shop classic.