Drink more coffee, be more creative

To produce your best, most inspired work, ditch your desk and head straight for a good coffee shop, says Chris Ward, who’s just written a book on the subject, mostly from the cafes around EC1…

London’s very first coffee house was not far from Clerkenwell. It was opened in 1652, by a Greek man called Pasqua Rosée, on St Michael’s Alley, near Cornhill. From it grew the culture of the coffee house in the city, and a long history of great, caffeine-sparked creativity.

Soon after, in 1688, Edward Lloyd founded Lloyd’s Coffee House in Great Tower Street (later Lombard Street). It was here that Lloyds of London was founded. Over strong coffees, Isaac Newton, Christopher Wren and the philosopher Robert Hooke met to discuss the movement of the Earth, and Dr John Wilkins dared to share his dream that man might one day fly to the moon.

Fast-forward to today, and the trends for top-quality coffee and portable technology have together launched a new wave of cafe creativity. Australian coffee shop St Ali was one of the first in the world to favour its own-roasted premium beans. Its former UK base on Clerkenwell Road is, of course, now Workshop Coffee.

With free WiFi becoming increasingly available, we are now able to work pretty much anywhere we like. The ideas that this freedom has produced are sometimes huge, and money spinning. Famously born in coffee shops were Harry Potter (Edinburgh), Craigslist (San Francisco), Moshi Monsters (Shoreditch), and, most recently, Instagram (also San Francisco).

As someone who always struggled to get the best from myself working full-time in an office, I know just how inspiring taking your laptop to a coffee shop can be. I started doing it more than 10 years ago and, frankly, it transformed my life. I now achieve my work in around 20 hours a week and have created space in which to pursue my other interests (these include charity work and cycling; this summer, I rode the whole Tour de France route). It’s why I felt compelled to write my book Out of Office on the very subject.

Much of my research and writing time was spent in the independent coffee shops of Clerkenwell. EC1 certainly seems to boast more of them than any other square mile in the world – as well as a wealth of creative people. I went specifically to immerse myself in the buzz I got from working alongside other ‘out of officers’.

So, where did I go? Sam at Look Mum No Hands! on Old Street has been servicing my bike for about 12 years. He and the team have built Look Mum into a thriving, inspiring local coffee shop. I always feel at home there. Next door, another friend of mine, Gi, is involved in Timberyard, a more recent addition to the area; if in Look Mum you are surrounded by creatives on laptops, in Timberyard it is more the entrepreneurs who are launching their next start-up. I go to Gail’s in Exmouth Market when I need a sugar rush from one of its pecan brownies, and Prufrock on Leather Lane when I need a kick-ass coffee. Founder Gwilym Davies, a world-champion barista, serves the best on the planet. No exaggeration.

‘Harry Potter, Moshi Monsters and Instagram were all born in coffee shops’

Chris Ward, a former creative director of Comic Relief, works with the Nelson Mandela Foundation and ITV’s Text Santa appeal. His book Out of Office: Work Where You Like & Achieve More is out now (Blue Dot World; £9.95).