Unless you, a resident of the Bay Area, have been ensconced in some drearily lit fallout shelter for the last ten or twenty years, feasting on canned corn and pickled fish, you’re probably well aware—tech has elbowed its way into San Francisco proper. In the last five years, we’ve sat back as Uber, Twitter, Square, and so many more have slowly inserted their rank and file into the meat of our precious little city, their legions of programmers now firmly embedded in the heart of our town.
In a new world where every office building seems to house a beanbag-chair-sporting tech headquarters, every corner, too, sports a Chemex-wielding coffee establishment. To be a tech office in the Bay Area is to be an establishment catering to the every whim of your employee. And this means offering them specialty coffee. A “cool” tech office in the Bay Area is no longer just basketball courts and 12 types of gratis cereal. It’s AeroPresses and Kees van der Westen Speedsters in gleaming stainless steel environs; it’s a rotating selection of Bay Area beans and a full pour-over station. It is to have a fully functional cafe smack dab in the midst of all that coding.
Sure, coffee is the lifeblood of an over-caffeinated, focus-driven workforce, but for years, these types survived just by popping on down to their local Peets and grabbing a quad-shot vanilla latte. Why, now, has the world of tech so happily embraced the world of specialty coffee? Heroku, a company that helps supply tools for app developers, located in South of Market, is one such tech company. The coding+coffee boom has resulted in a company that provides its staff with an Uber Boiler, a full Chemex and AeroPress setup, a Bialetti Moka Express, a pour-over station, a high-end coffee grinding setup, and a French press. To brew? A bevy of beans from local specialty coffee providers—Blue Bottle, Four Barrel, Ritual, and Sightglass—along with cold brew coffee are provided by Joyride. We reached out to Heroku’s Cathy Lee and Celeste Tandy, members of the company's much lauded “Vibe Team”, to find out why they offer this spread of coffee delights, what they believe the connection between coffee and tech is, and just how well their coffee program measures up.
Sprudge: Why do you think coffee has become so intertwined with tech culture?
Cathy Lee: I feel like a lot of these tech companies kind of start in coffee shops. It’s a place where someone can bring their laptop, have a coffee and a pastry, and build the next Instagram. And once the idea becomes a thing, and that person starts building their company, it’s a bit of bringing where you come from into your space. Tech people pride themselves on making good products. With how ephemeral everything is, the only lasting bit of anything is if it is well-built and is a good product. Coffee is one of those things. In the tech mind, why build anything if it isn’t good—so why make a cup of coffee if it isn’t going to be the best cup of coffee?
What does it mean to offer this caliber of coffee to your employees?
Celeste Tandy: I feel the philosophy of anything in the office is making sure an array of people can benefit from it and that people like it; hence quality and accessibility. For awhile, we were geeking out on only making single-cup drip coffee, and it was great, because we were smaller. But it wasn’t accessible to everyone.
How do you do that? How do you make a great coffee program available to everyone?
CT: We had to scale what we were doing to make sure that more people could benefit from it. Hence the addition of the cold brew kegerator and the drip system that makes 15-20 cups of coffee at a time and is kept warm in press pots. We don’t want to dilute the system or the quality of the coffee by any means, but we want to make sure that it is accessible to everyone, even those on the run who really need that quick pick-me-up. Keep the good beans, keep the amazing process, just add a simpler process as well.
CL: I think if a tech company is small, they obsess about making everything the best. Then you hit a certain size and that becomes difficult, and like anything in tech, it needs to be iterated on and scaled to feed the masses.
What’s next for you guys?
CL: Everything is always a “work in progress” in the tech industry. Iteration is a constant, all the way down to the coffee. I think the next big thing would be getting an espresso machine. For now, if employees want espresso, we encourage them to patronize the local coffee shops in the area. Not only is it great for our employees to get familiar with the neighborhood that we’re in, it’s also a great way to throw in a bit of exercise and have your 1:1.
CT: When the time comes to iterate on the next phase of our coffee culture, we’ll redesign and scale with good quality and easy accessibility in mind!