A long time ago we decided that coffee maps were an odd Internet fetish. Over the years we’ve been approached by people with special Internet maps APIs (call it Internet software for short), requests for Google maps views, and people building just about every coffee map variant under the sun. More recently, we have the local SF rag, 7×7, promoting their own “Third Wave” coffee map: Fully Caffeinated: A Citywide Map of Third Wave Coffee | 7×7. Never mind what arbitrary standards 7×7 uses to determine whether a place is “Third Wave” or not. (Arbitrary standards being one of our oldest pet peeves about anything published about coffee.)

For some coffee fans, this is the holy grail of information.And yet when it comes to coffee maps, this is still the only thing CoffeeRatings.com supports. Why is that? Are we just lazy? In a word, yes. It is minimal effort to export our database to link to mapping software. In fact, every one of our review pages have addresses auto-linked to Google maps.

But quality-ranked views of coffee shops, few and far between on the Internet, have always been more important to us than something that favors geographic proximity. Because if you are primarily driven by proximity, quality becomes secondary at best by definition. You can color-code the café markers in some mapping APIs — so that you can introduce an additional dimension of quality in a coffee map — but our experiments with that did not produce satisfying results. Furthermore, a city map with over 650 data points is information overload — and takes forever to load in a Web browser, let alone a mobile phone.

Are coffee maps useful beyond a visual exercise?

Coffee maps are far more ubiquitous on the Internet than quality-driven listings, and the criteria for including a café or not in these maps are typically arbitrary. (This is another reason why we wanted the café rankings on CoffeeRatings.com to be inclusive, to the tune of 650+ data points, rather than exclusive.) Case and point with 7×7: here some bizarrely subjective measure of “third waveness” is supposed to be a surrogate for coffee quality. And in the end, we are looking for good coffee, not good branding. We honestly don’t care what self-ordained wave a coffee shop belongs to.

Then take the typical San Francisco experience, where even the definition of proximity gets warped by things like parking availability and public transit lines. And while there are a lot of Internet beer maps for pub crawls, coffee crawls? Seriously? Who can honestly make a day of a dozen espresso drinks?

Lastly, we just don’t get the coffee map obsession. Sure, we know it exists. We just don’t understand the point beyond a visual exercise, rather than one of appreciating good coffee. In a way, we liken it to something Ian McKaye, founding guitarist of the seminal D.C. straight-edge band Fugazi, once told us long ago: “People are always asking us for Fugazi T-shirts. I honestly don’t understand the connection between music and a T-shirt.” (A position which spawned a number of unauthorized “This is not a Fugazi T-shirt” peddlers.)

UPDATE: April 19, 2013
A recent Harris Poll survey seems to back a bit of our madness here, suggesting that for most consumers quality is more important than convenience: Harris Interactive: Harris Polls > Battle of the Brew; Americans Choose Taste Over Convenience When Coffee Shops Go Head to Head. (Huff Post link.) According to their survey, people go out of their way to find coffee that tastes better. Hence all these “coffee map”-driven blogs, web sites, and mobile apps that use location as the primary discriminator between coffeeshops seem a little misguided when a quality-based ranking might serve users better.

We’re just sayin’… ;)

UPDATE: Feb. 20, 2014
Of course, none of that stops the human urge to make multiple various of coffee maps. After the New York coffee subway map came out a couple weeks ago, San Franciscans insisted on following suit: The greatest SF coffee shop map ever made – Thrillist San Francisco. You’d think GPS-enabled phones won’t be invented until the year 2125.