Mapping the Rise of Café Culture: Part 2

Photo credit: Simon Law

The mugs empty as the shops fill. In my previous post, I explored the curious rise in the numbers and popularity of places we alternatively refer to as coffee shop, coffee house, espresso bar, and café. Relative to food establishments of other kinds, the number of firms, shops, and employees falling into this coffee/café category have all increased sharply since the early 2000’s.

When it comes to mapping this rise- or tracking these numbers in terms of the spaces they occupy in cities and towns- the task becomes a bit more difficult at such a grand scale due to fragmented data storage between local government agencies. However, coffee shops are certainly mappable when we zoom in to particular cities as case studies.

My go-to source for data on active coffee shops has been restaurant inspection records published by health departments of local governments. All of these databases list active food establishments and information about most recent health inspections. In these records I was hoping to find:

1) Listings of active coffee shops and their locations (check!)
2) The date of each coffee shop’s first inspection to approximate when it was opened (No check)
3) Records of coffee shops that have closed – to track “oversupply” or shops that opened but were unable to do enough business to survive (No check. Records are only kept for closed or failed shops if they were shut down for health code violations – which is more or less irrelevant to my research question.)

I limited my searches for coffee shops to food establishments with the word “coffee” in their names, or in cases where the city’s database distinguished between food establishment types, I also included those falling into a coffee/cafe type category. I refrained from including all food establishments with the word “café” in their name, as the word is used liberally to describe a variety of restaurants that fall decidedly outside the coffee shop category. In some cases (particularly in LA, where food establishment categories are not listed in inspection records), the maps may be conservative and underestimate the number of coffee shops, in that they exclude potential coffee shops without “coffee” in their names.

Because archived inspection records were not available, I was unable to to truly map the “rise” (ie, the supposed increase over time) in the number of coffee shops in these cities. Though far from ideal, I intend to revisit these datasets in September 2013 in order to capture a snapshot of coffee shop change over time, albeit quite a few years late in the game.

Below, I compare the coffee shop geographies of three major U.S metros: New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

Active Coffee shops in New York City

This is the most comprehensive map of active coffee shops in the 5 Burroughs that you’re likely to find anywhere. It includes all of the 1,173 active food establishments listed in the city’s restaurant inspection database (as of 9/24/2012) that either have “Coffee” in their name or are classified under the health department’s cuisine category of “cafe/coffee/tea”. Click on each shop and you will find its name, full address, telephone number, and cuisine category. Given New York’s approximate population of 8,245,000, there is one coffee shop for every 7,000 people.

Of these coffee shops, 261 or over 1 in 5 are Starbucks, and more than three quarters of these Starbucks are located in Manhattan. Manhattan hosts 583 or about half of all of NYC’s coffee shops – meaning that a coffee shop in Manhattan is more likely to be a Starbucks (45%) than a coffee shop in another part of the city. This isn’t surprising: whether you spend your entire workweek in Midtown or just take a couple of moments to scan the area on this map, you’ve noted clusters of Starbucks, sometimes on the same block. Simply put, Manhattan is Starbucks capital of the U.S.

Of course, “the rise” of cafe culture is more than an increase in the number of coffee shops within a given area. It’s about an increase in quality as well as quantity. New York City has always had plenty of places to grab coffee, but it has long been looked down upon for lacking the high-brow brews appreciated by its high-brow consumers. However, as of 2010 this has reportedly taken a turn for the better, as the New York Times proclaimed that New York is finally taking its coffee seriously.

Active Coffee Shops in Chicago

This map includes all food establishments that have “coffee” in their name or are categorized as a food facility related to coffee in the inspection database, such as a coffee bar, coffee shop, etc. According to this criteria, Chicago is home to 504 active coffee shops, over half of which are major chains: 222 Starbucks and 42 Caribous. It’s also interesting that in Chicago, like its major metro cousin NYC, there is an extremely dense clustering of coffee shops in the central business district where people work rather than live. Chicago has a higher concentration of coffee shops per capita than New York, at one shop per every 5,370 people.

Active Coffee Shops in Los Angeles

There are 789 coffee shops within Los Angeles County, 324 of which are Starbucks (41%), and another 107 are another big chain, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf (not differentiated by color on map). Thus, like Chicago, over half (~55%) of LA’s coffee shops are one of two major chains. Los Angeles county is home to 9,818,600 people, making it the most populous county in the U.S, and it happens to have the lowest concentration of coffee shops (one shop per 12,400+ people) when compared to the other major metros of New York and Chicago. Like in New York and Chicago, coffee shops in LA are most dense in the central business district, though this concentration is much less noticeable than the other two cities – LA’s generally being MUCH more sprawled.

Unfortunately, restaurant inspection data made available by coffehouse powerhouses Seattle and Portland are incomplete: with many addresses and all inspection date info missing for Portland, and Seattle’s inspections only available for the A through K’s! I hoped to include these cities, but currently cannot because of this incomplete data.

A Few Conclusions:

  • In the major metros I’ve looked at, downtown central business districts have the highest spatial concentrations of coffee shops. These are employment rather than residential centers – but they also host many other attractions. Caffeine-seeking office workers likely play a large role in supporting the many shops in these areas, but tourists, students, and freelancers probably drive business as well.
  • Major chains such as Starbucks make up a large percentage of coffee shops, particularly in downtown areas. In Manhattan, the concentration of Starbucks is over double the average for the rest of the city, but it is still less than 50% (much less than in Chicago and LA). Does this mean that New York’s coffee shop scene is most diversified? Maybe. But it may also reflect the restaurant inspection’s helpful classification system, which was less likely to miss obscurely-named coffee shops than Chicago’s and LA’s.
  • The online data landscape on food establishments is worse than anticipated. I’ve buckled down and vowed to learn python so my data scraping efforts from the web may prove a little more fruitful in the future.

Data sources:
Los Angeles:


About katosulliv

Transportation, mapping, and cities enthusiast.
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