…at pretty much any coffee shop.
I love coffee shops. I work alone much of the day and appreciate the opportunity to get out of my apartment and be amongst people. I also love fine coffee. Vancouver is a coffee lovers paradise. So coffee shops are the perfect place for me.
Unfortunately I have a love/hate relationship with pretty much all coffee shops: even my favourite local joint. I love getting my first jolt of caffeine early in the day. I don’t love getting the accompanying jolt of ghastly noise that always seems to come with it.
The noise jolt is received as one of, or a combination of, the following sounds: street noises, espresso machines, blenders, the merciless banging of espresso machine coffee filters, chairs scraping on floors, clanging of dishes, excessively loud refrigeration units, baristas shouting out orders, inappropriate music and inappropriately loud music. It all adds up to a stress inducing adrenaline and cortisol pushing experience.
It does not have to be that way. It is that way because we ALL tolerate it. Because we tolerate it, coffee shop owners don’t even think to do something about it when they design their shops. The result is stylish and practical echo chambers that amplify every noise that is being generated into noise hell. Stylish looks like high ceilings with exposed pipes and air conditioning, concrete or tile floors (easy to clean), floor to ceiling windows, wood and metal chairs and tables, concrete or plaster walls with glossy, sleek and beautiful looking espresso machines and refrigeration units adding to the noise fray. What’s absent is anything that can absorb sound.
For our own well being we can’t afford to keep tolerating this noise.
It has been scientifically established that a healthy background noise level (in decibels ( dB)) during the day is 55 dB*. Most urban outdoor environments are now chiming in at background noise levels of 80 to 90 dB. Continuous exposure to 80 dB has been shown to cause damage to hearing. 80 dB is the equivalent of shouting or a busy city street. In Europe, 85 dB is the level at which businesses are required to “provide” hearing protection to employees and 90 dB is the level at which employees are “required” to wear hearing protection.**
This past week I visited 4 neighborhood coffee shops during “slow” times. They all measured in with a background noise level of 70 to 80 dB. Sometimes they were louder inside than outside on the adjoining busy street on which they are situated. I’m not quite ready to stand by any of my noise measurements as I am using a little application I downloaded to my iPhone to measure the sound levels. I need to determine how accurate it is.
Now begins my quest for a peaceful and relaxing coffee shop in the city.
I’m calling my exploration the Coffee Shop Survival Guide.
Do you have a favourite “Quiet” coffee shop in the heart of the city?
* World Health Organisation published guidline maxima for daytime noise exposure (from Julian Treasure’s Sound Business)
** Data reported in Julian Treasure’s Sound Business