Just Brew It: Best coffee shops to study on the Westside


Photo credit: Anna Brodsky

With free wifi and delicious coffee beverages, Peet’s is a great place to sit down and get some work done.

I was sitting on the synthetic blue seats of bus 804 two years ago when I got the email that changed my life. The subject line? “Why you’re more productive in a coffee shop.”

In a linked article, Kat Boogaard (aka the woman to whom I owe my entire existence — sorry, Mom) discusses the “coffee shop effect.” Relocating to a café or another other public place, she says, feeds the brain’s desire for novelty and serves as a visual stimulant to break unproductive habits.

As a sophomore, I was battling a case of very-early-onset senioritis. I was desperate. So that weekend, I schlepped my stuff to my neighborhood Peet’s coffee and camped out. By the time I’d gotten to the dregs of my decaf latte (yes, it’s wimpy), I knew I was onto something.

Now, it’s rare that a weekend passes without a good old fashioned dose of bad music, furtive glances at the guy who’ll leave the best table any minute and the deafening roar of an espresso machine.

You don’t just have to take my word for it.

The volume in coffee shops tends to hover around 70 decibels — the volume at which participants in a study performed best.”

— Harvard Business Review

According to a study by the Harvard Business review, creative thinking improves at a volume of about 70 decibels, which is typical of the average coffee shop. A Huffington Post article elaborates that the type of noise helps, too. At a coffee shop, you know that the conversations happening in the background aren’t particularly relevant to what you’re doing, so you can tune them out while still enjoying the creative benefits that come with a bit of bustle.

It’s important to note, though, that not all locales are created equal. Here are a few of my favorites.

Peet’s Coffee

Maybe I’m biased because this was the first place I ever studied, but Peet’s is truly the place to be if you want a great cup of joe and friendly staff members who will let you camp out there for a bit (seven hours is my record). Sure, it’s more hipster than Starbucks, but in the grand scheme of things, the vibe is pretty down-to-earth. Many locations, including Beverly Hills and Westwood, boast large windows. The people-watching is great for a quick study break. The baked goods are solid (especially the pumpkin chocolate bread), but what sets Peet’s apart is the quiet, purposeful atmosphere. Go here to get stuff done.

Coffee Tomo

I’ve long admired the whimsical latte art at Coffee Tomo on Sawtelle. Google Maps  aptly describes this as a “funky caffeine and snack shop.” In addition to a standard collection of lattes and teas, Coffee Tomo offers homemade pretzels in a variety of flavors, including red bean and cinnamon sugar. I’m awful at differentiating “good coffee” from “bad coffee” — if it tastes bitter and makes me feel productive, I’m set — but I hear from my more cultured acquaintances that this is quite good coffee. Many trendy college students set up shop at the large wooden tables, so you’ll feel cool by association. If you’re looking for an alternative experience, check Tomo out.

Paper or Plastik

It took me tremendous effort to get over the spelling of Plastik, but I’m glad I did. The exposed brick walls, floor-to-ceiling windows and high rafters at this Mid-City coffee shop are impressive in their own right, and the food and drinks are as beautiful as the architecture. Founded by a group of artists, the cafe features local ingredients and even wine and beer. I’ve never tried the legitimate meals, but they look delicious. The chai latte is exquisite, but you can’t go wrong here. The caveat is that weekends are laptop-free, so bring work on paper or come on a weekday to crank out work on your tech.

Espresso Profeta

Tucked into a side street in Westwood, this haunt of UCLA students features an ivy-covered patio (with free wifi) and a sun-drenched study space. Though it’s perhaps not the best space for an extended study session (outlet space is limited), Espresso Profeta is fun for a quick jaunt that doesn’t feel like work. I’d highly recommend the communal table in the center of the room. Apparently, drinks are based on a Northern Italian style of espresso extraction, which sure sounds fancy and tastes good, too. The baristas prepare each drink with care, so it’s fun to watch them do their thing. The coffee is pricey, but the rewards program allows you to earn a free drink with every 10 purchases.

What are you waiting for? Grab a cup and get to it!