October 13, 2023

Atlanta Coffee Shops: Cafe Experience & Memberships

Recently Angle partnered with and sponsored Atlanta Coffee Shops, an exceptional publication that covers specialty coffee scene in Atlanta and beyond. ACS is a beacon for coffee lovers, documenting Atlanta's diverse coffee landscape in meticulous detail, with gorgeous photography.

Through our sponsorship we got to know the founder of ACS, Eugene, and became fascinated by his story, the ACS journey, Atlanta's coffee scene, and his unique insights into the cafe experience. Eugene has covered over 300 cafes in the Atlanta Area and beyond, so his perspective is unlike any other. We're sharing his story and insights in three parts:

1. Origin & Journey

2. Atlanta's Coffee Scene

3. ACS on Cafe Experience & Memberships


You’ve covered 300+ specialty coffee shops, describe your process when you visit a new cafe?

If I am traveling to a destination I’ve never been, I want to visit a coffee shop that’s either an embodiment of the neighborhood / town it’s located in, or a coffee shop that’s doing something unique/interesting in the specialty coffee world. For example, during my recent trip to Chile, I created an initial Google map of coffee shops that I wanted to visit (from reading prior articles), and then I narrowed those down by visiting one or two of those coffee shops and then chatting with the owner or baristas to validate my list (is this place worth visiting, and why?). On this particular trip, one coffee shop that initially made my short list was, for example, not recommended by the barista I chatted with because he explained it was more of a commercialized type of coffee shop (i.e., the local Starbucks of Santiago, Chile). 

On another recent trip to Finland, I visited a mix of coffee shops, including the oldest cafe in Finland, a Nordic coffee chain, and several specialty coffee shops. Although I usually don’t visit coffee chains as they don’t usually have a compelling story to share, the one I visited in Helsinki is renowned for its architectural elements. Overall, I think keeping an open mind and being willing to be flexible and/or change plans goes a long way in how I approach coffee shop exploration overseas. 

Andante Coffee (Helsinki, Finland)

What are some common attributes of an outstanding cafe experience?

The best kind of experiences, for me, are when you visit a local coffee shop that has a beautiful aesthetic, a kind and attentive staff, and an excellent selection of coffee on espresso or pour-over. Being welcomed by staff is important. So is the ability and willingness of the staff to engage with the customer if they have questions about their coffees / roasting / partnerships, etc. One can have an outstanding experience, in my opinion, by tasting incredible coffee, having a pleasant experience interacting with the staff, or of course, the combination of the two. Bonus points if you come away having learned something new as well.

What do cafes often miss, get wrong, or don’t pay enough attention to?

That’s a great question and I am not sure I have a straightforward answer here. For example, I’ve been to several coffee shops where the menu with prices was not available or immediately apparent to the customer. In some instances, that could be viewed as a red flag or a miss, but upon closer inspection, that was actually by design – the coffee shop owner wanted to have a discussion with the customer about their tastes and preferences and then suggest something that was maybe off-the-menu. So that is actually a feature of a coffee shop in maximizing customer to barista/owner interaction. Overall, I always give the benefit of the doubt to cafes and how they choose to operate; since I don’t have the details of the day-to-day dynamics, if something appears “off” at first glance, there’s probably a good reason for it. 

What are some of the emerging trends in specialty coffee that you’re most excited about?

I am curious to see cafes do more experimentation with different brewing techniques. I love to see coffee shops experiment outside of the traditional espresso-based drinks. I also think there is an awesome trend of coffee cocktails/mocktails that some coffee shops are experimenting with (for example, Academy Coffee and Gilly Brew Bar with their elixirs)

Gilly Brew Bar

Community is central to many specialty coffee shops, what are some of the best practices you’ve seen from cafes to help foster a sense of belonging?

Absolutely, I agree. I think the one of the best ways that cafes help foster a sense of belonging is by embedding themselves in the community and working beyond the transactional nature of coffee purchases. For example, a cafe opening its doors to host events such as open mic nights, comedy nights, poetry readings, art shows –helps the coffee shop get regulars through the door but also invite newcomers. If not hosting events, then making a presence felt in the community through local events such as farmer’s markets and festivals. 

Cafe membership and subscription models have started to emerge, particularly coming out of the pandemic. What role do you see for membership models in specialty coffee?  

I think there’s still quite a bit of uncertainty in making a bold prediction with respect to membership models in specialty coffee. There are separate demands to consider: that from cafes and those from consumers. If specialty coffee shops (significantly)  embrace the membership model and roll them out, you’ve successfully addressed the first demand problem. Now, will the consumers understand what they are signing up for and would be willing and able to do so? You can have the first demand saturation without the second; the interesting exploration would be those consumers that want to see a membership model at their favorite specialty coffee shop, but the coffee shop hasn’t rolled out a program. I am certain there’s a subset of that consumer base that wants to support their local coffee shop as much as they can, and a membership model can go a long way for that fulfillment. 

For those consumers that love to explore the specialty coffee scene, I am also curious if there’s a way to bring the membership model to the masses that’s beyond a membership model at one particular coffee shop. I realize this is not Angle’s model at the moment, but consider a membership model that allows multiple coffee shops to join but the consumer pays a flat monthly fee. I think a good analogy would be what ClassPass has done for fitness membership–being able to pick and choose from various gyms in their neighborhood and not be committed to one gym in particular. The diversity in being able to choose a workout based on type of class, length of class, and location cannot be discounted, and clearly people are willing to pay a premium for this flexibility. In my opinion, for the coffee explorers of the world, this type of membership model could prove to be sustainable.

Fellows (Atlanta)

As a consumer, what would make for an outstanding membership program?

I would say the following are important considerations:

  1. Is there discernible value to become a member if one is a regular visitor to the coffee shop? For example, if I am spending $50/month at a coffee shop, and the membership allows me to get similar types of drinks/quantity for $30/month, sign me up!
  2. Is there an element of surprise? It would be awesome to see a membership program where every month you get some kind of rotation / bonus (perhaps trying out a new menu item as a member before it hits the regular menu for everyone else). 

Make it extremely easy / hassle-free to subscribe, unsubscribe, or switch from one membership level to another. We all face subscription fatigue, and there are plenty of online companies that make it difficult to unsubscribe/cancel. Great membership programs treat the customer with respect and allow them to make their choices without going through hoops.