Research article

How café culture can give a tech city its buzz

Café culture epitomises what a tech city is.

Le Corbusier, in a famous quote of 1921 declared ‘Café bars will no longer be the fungus that eats up the pavements of Paris’. Had he had his way with our tech cities, they might not be tech hubs at all.

In an industry where human interaction and creativity matter as much as fibre optic technology and hardware, who is in your street and how you meet them can make the difference between a place that merely houses tech business and one that makes it work – and buzz.

Café culture, or simply the ability to get a decent flat white in an environment with free WiFi, is a good barometer of a city’s functioning as a tech hub. Cafés offer not only free workspace – although purchasing at least one cup of coffee is advisable – but a place for meetings, chance encounters and networking. They are important to everyone from the lone start-up entrepreneur through to the venture capitalist who is funding the industry.

Our index of café quality and popularity in tech cities is therefore a not altogether tonguein- cheek measure of the health of each of them. It scores the availability, quality and popularity of cafés with tech users and the cost of a flat white, the style of coffee considered the essential beverage by many a young, hip urbanista. Invented in Australia in the 1970s, flat whites have recently grown in global popularity with the style – a microfoam (steamed milk with small, fine bubbles and a glossy or velvety consistency) poured over a single or double shot of espresso – becoming an essential lifestyle choice for any self-respecting would-be tech entrepreneur.

All our cities boast a plethora of cafés and informal meeting places, with Berlin topping the chart for quantity and quality (see fig. 1). Here, you can also buy one of the cheapest flat whites in our survey. Berlin has a high number of cafés per head of population and its best are well attended and score highly on social media. Kreuzberg, Berlin’s epicentre of kaffeekultur, fashion and subculture, is also one of its centres of tech. A flat white here costs $3.36 and only comes cheaper in Tel Aviv and Mumbai. Dublin, too, has a thriving café scene which helps mark it out, alongside Berlin, as a clear upstart among the tech cities – small but punching well above its weight (no doubt due to all that caffeine).

Chai and bubble tea may still be the beverages of choice in Mumbai and Seoul but we predict that a growing flat white culture will be a sure sign of the tech industry taking its hold on the economy. Meanwhile, cosmopolitan Singapore has a more advanced café culture than London and San Franscisco.

It is interesting to note that Austin in Texas, for all its extraordinary economic growth and dominance on the tech scene, is still a North American driving city, based more around the car than pedestrian, and has the weakest flat white scene of the Western tech cities. Not enough pavements perhaps, as Le Corbusier might have noted and approved.

Flat white index

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