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Free coffee is the hottest (or iced) workplace perk

HubSpot has an in-house barista. Facebook has a half-dozen options in its cafeteria. Even startups aren’t skimping on equipment.

Jenny Ramseyer, a software engineer at Facebook, appreciates the coffee wall at the company’s cambridge office. Michelle Jay for The Boston Globe

Some might say offering excellent health insurance or a robust retirement plan is the way to an employee’s heart. But savvy companies give new meaning to the term “workplace perks.” Forget happy hour: Why not sip espresso made by a barista or savor a flavor-packed caramel roast at an in-house coffee shop?

At Cambridge’s HubSpot, the marketing software provider houses a cafe serving complimentary espresso drinks tended by an in-house barista. Product tech lead Julie Nergararian fetches her morning cappuccino at the cafe  —  named Ada Lovelace after the English mathematician  —  unless she’s having a tough day, in which case she switches to mocha. She returns in the afternoon for more cappuccino or cold brew on tap.


Facebook’s Cambridge office, where the coffee is also free, has a similar setup. Being Facebook, there’s an internal page where employees share coffee stories and make suggestions. Sometimes employees bring back beans from far-flung work trips, and colleagues post reviews, assessing floral notes or espresso suitability. And if enough people post about wanting a new French press, for instance, it might materialize in the cafe.

About that cafe: It has an espresso machine with beans from small-batch roaster Karma Coffee, plus French press, pour over, drip, Keurig, nitro cold brew, and iced coffee options. It’s a gathering place for caffeinated employees such as software engineer Jenny Ramseyer. She wasn’t always a coffee devotee, because she feared it could stunt growth. “But when I hit 6 feet tall, I felt comfortable drinking it,” she says, laughing.

She tries to restrict herself to three cups a day at work, usually pour over or French press. “But it’s probably closer to four or five,” she confesses. Sometimes she takes a break to try her hand at latte art in the cafe — think hedgehogs and cats — with mixed results. No matter — the true purpose is to network. “It’s a central organizing place in the office,” she says.


And that’s really what coffee is about at these companies — ritual and bonding as much as caffeine. At Boston’s True Fit, a startup that helps customers find the right clothing size, Julie Quast Brittell gets three 16-ounce coffees per day, often from the office’s sleek VKI Eccellenza Touch system, which produces everything from cappuccino to mochaccino. Employees also maintain an ongoing Slack chat to organize daily afternoon coffee outings — usually to Flat Black cafe or George Howell.

At Facebook, the coffee is among the best work perks for some employees. Michelle Jay for the Boston Globe

While on the prowl for coffee, colleagues avoid work chatter and catch up about kids and weekend pursuits. “It’s encouraged to get out, take a walk, recharge,” says Brittell, who studied in Italy, where she developed her affinity for bracing beverages. “It’s a no-pressure way to meet new people.”

So really, if you want to get ahead, forget golf and consider taking up a love of beans. In Waltham, Jim Badershall is the de facto barista at Commodore Builders. A creative director by day, he also maintains an OXO pour-over coffee maker in his office that mesmerizes colleagues. They watch in amazement as he slowly pours the hot water for his afternoon pick-me-up. “Everyone thinks it’s super fancy, but it’s really the simplest coffee maker you can have,” he says. “I got it for $15 on Amazon, and it makes a great cup of coffee.” He even brews cups for his colleagues.

The construction management firm also recently invested in a Newco CX Touch coffee maker with espresso and cappuccino options. It’s beginning to attract a following, especially before the evening rush hour, where talk revolves not around work, but around how many espressos people can down before the drive home.


Kara Baskin is a frequent contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.