A Different Kind Of Coffee Break At Evernote HQ

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Come to Evernote‘s new headquarters for a meeting with CEO Phil Libin and there’s a good chance that your meeting will start with a cappuccino in their lobby espresso bar. If you’re an Evernote employee, your mornings probably start the same way. Seriously tricked out office espresso bars are nothing new in the Bay Area tech scene, but at Evernote, there’s a twist: depending on which morning you visit, that coffee will be made for your by Mr. Libin himself.

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What started as a way to boost teamwork and transparency through communal caffeination has turned into something of an office obsession. There are no specially hired baristas on staff at Evernote’s tastefully appointed coffee bar, because the Evernote staff are baristas themselves. They’ve gone through a minimum of four hours of training to learn the ins and outs of their La Marzocco Strada MP, and the coffee they’re making from it is surprisingly good. Like professionally good, but with a creative business twist unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

The program started with the training of senior management, and has since been expanded to more employees. Each trained employee is scheduled for a one hour barista shift each week, between 9am and 2pm. Andrew Sinkov, Evernote’s VP of Marketing, says that these sessions have become a sort of “office hours”, a highly valued opportunity for staff to break the norm and interact with their coworkers in a more informal environment.

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Evernote makes of one of the most popular note-taking and mind organizing apps out there, and the rapidly expanding company had bounced around a number of office locations. Last year they moved into their new offices at 305 Walnut Street in Redwood City, CA, and this time they really wanted to settle in. The company grew to 350 employees in 2013, about 250 of whom are based at the headquarters. The building still affords them ample room to grow.

Evernote turned to architecture firm O+A to overhaul the building. O+A has worked with an impressive roster of tech heavyweights, including Facebook, Yelp, Square and AOL. O+A claims the design at Evernote focuses on the “concept of making the process of construction part of the aesthetic”, elaborating that “in a clean and modern context construction materials may assume the design impact of richer finishes.” I’d have to agree with them–the minimalist ornamentation of the offices gives a sort of raw informality, tempered by a highly polished visual appeal.

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Mr. Sinkov was kind enough to show me around the offices and talk me through the program. Of course, our meeting started off with him making me a very capable cappuccino. Mr Sinkov says that seeing coffee bars in other tech offices, like AOL, is what first inspired Evernote CEO Phil Libin to push for a coffee program at Evernote, but that they knew they wanted to do something unique with their program.

They started off by inviting a number of California roasters to do a tasting for their staff. Santa Cruz’s Verve Coffee Roasters wound up being everyone’s favorite by a wide margin–likely helped by the fact that they were the only ones to bring along an espresso machine, and that said espresso machine was being run by the always affable Jared Truby, a seasoned barista competitor and Verve’s Retail Operations Manager.

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Mr. Truby is also the one who did the initial training of Evernote’s management, from basic coffee knowledge to espresso preparation. The training has since been opened up to any interested staff, though slots for initial training, as well as a recent “master class” follow up, have been snapped up quickly.

Only staff who have gone through the training are allowed to use the espresso machine, and they are required to cleanup after themselves when they are done. This isn’t just play time–they’re doing a serious job of making great coffee, while having to deal with a lot of the concerns of working baristas. While I was there, Mr. Sinkov said he couldn’t believe how bad it sounded to steam the eggnog for holiday lattes, and questioned where exactly the bottle of peppermint syrup at the bar had come from anyways. Truly, Evernote employees are getting a slice of the barista life.

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For staff members who haven’t yet been trained on the espresso machine and can’t cajole one of their certified coworkers into making them a drink, there is a constant supply of rotating Verve blends and single-origins made on a Fetco, with airpots stashed strategically throughout the office space to complement the bevy of other beverages on hand. This is a serious office coffee situation.

Barista training has benefits beyond mere caffeination, according to Mr Sinkov. The response to Evernote’s unique coffee program has been quite positive, with many employees reporting that by taking a “break” to make coffee for their coworkers, they were able to clear their heads, using a different part of their brains to get creative juices flowing. Monday mornings have become a popular mingle time around the coffee bar with fresh baked goods, and there’s even a tea time (complete with sandwiches) every Tuesday afternoon.

The coffee program at Evernote has been rolling for three months, and like Evernote itself, there’s still a lot of room for growth. And the next time you tap something into Evernote, remember: that code may well have been programmed by a barista.

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Alex Bernson (@AlexBernson) is the Assistant Editor at Sprudge.com. Read more Bernson here

Read more features on the intersection of Coffee + Tech. 

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