Giant Coffee

Giant Coffee Check In - S Goodman

As I settled into the tall, padded booth running along the length of the south wall I thought about how Giant Coffee was a bit of a contradiction: on the one hand it was the coffeehouse space I liked the most but on the other hand the vibe was all wrong. The crisp décor combined industrial and organic elements, with splashes of color in earthy tones; all illuminated by the indirect light pouring through the west end of the room — an entire wall of glass folded up and out of the way to simply erase the division between inside and outside. This was a delightful exhalation; this was a morsel of Zen. And yet, there was little about this large, single-room “slot” in Central Phoenix, populated by solitary working professionals and students, that made me feel welcome or even present. Which leads me to acknowledge the dichotomy of why I go to a coffeehouse in the first place: to conduct some manner of work or diversion alone and yet in a space that is buzzing with other people engaged in conversation. When I lose focus or momentum in my own work, the enjoyable pastime of people-watching is always on tap…or it is in most coffeehouses, but not Giant Coffee.

2013-04-13 15.45.33

Even the birds are quiet at Giant Coffee

Giant Coffee is located within a celebrated mixed-use space [1] just off the intersection of McDowell Road and Central Avenue and the light rail McDowell Station. It is tucked in, across from the Cancer Survivors Park [2], halfway between the Phoenix Art Museum and the Burton Bar Central Library. This is a prime Central Phoenix location that attracts both young urban professionals and students from nearby Phoenix College and ASU’s downtown campus. With space at a premium, the coffeehouse hall is structured like a cafeteria with four long benches crossing the length of the room from east to west: first, a low bench with four small tables; a long table running down the center of the room with benches on either side; and then a high bench with another four small tables (total seating capacity: approximately 32-40). With the entire west wall open, the wide entrance/patio sports four lounge chairs. Hip, independent music plays at a volume level that would normally compete appropriately with the din of the crowd, but this is a no-noise crowd.

At least 90% of the customers are completely engaged with their laptops or tablet computers with a few working smartphones also or instead. The wi-fi is free but the password is not posted; also, there are only two coveted outlets. Less than 10% (perhaps two pairs) are interacting even though it is apparent that several people have come in pairs or perhaps small groups. It is possible that the negligible interaction is attributable to the fact that in a single, large room without nooks or alcoves almost anything that is said by one mouth will likely be heard by all ears. Naturally, this is not conducive to or inviting of interactions and socializing. This begs the question: does the space evoke this anti-social behavior from its clientele or rather, do people who are inclined towards solitary work and little-to-no distracting socialization seek out this space? There does not appear to be any local art on display but rather two odd pieces on permanent display: a medium-sized “classic” painting with a gold wood frame and a guitar with a video screen embedded in the sound hole showing a video loop of birds. There is no bulletin board or venue for locals/regulars to exchange information. Giant Coffee does not have a Facebook page but it does have a Twitter account managed by the owner.

Chart Giant

To compare this data against the data for the other coffeehouses, click here

Analysis of User-Generated Tips

In approaching the user tips for Giant Coffee, I was immediately drawn to those addressing the topic of staff/service because they were considerably overrepresented based on the overall data set of the five coffeehouses. I began with teasing out the elements I’ve coded to compare tips about staff/service against those that were about other topics. Since tips can address multiple topics, those that addressed no staff/service totaled 26, whereas the total number of tips that incorporated elements from these other topics totaled 49 (See the Table 1 below).

It is possible that a venue that does not necessarily cultivate or thrive on community would have fewer comments about localness. This is validated by referring to the table and charts regarding local- and place-based tips from the Jobot Coffee post. The increased user feedback regarding staff/service coupled with the low user feedback regarding community and localness, places greater emphasis on these remarks. Generally, the data suggests that tips regarding staff/service are proportionately distributed across the other topic areas, i.e., regarding coffee, food/beverage, and ambience. However, when viewing these staff/service tips across coding elements, it is apparent that tips regarding staff/service are much less declarative (which makes sense since these elements are typically associated with coffee and food/beverage) but also much more intense, which can be negative or positive (complimentary); and yet, there is an overrepresentation of tips regarding staff/service under the code for critique.

 Table 1. Tips Tip Elements
Staff/Service 30 30
Other Topics 26 49
  56 79

Focusing on the second chart and filtering for staff/service feedback that is declarative, I get five results. In two cases, there is a declaration of appreciation (i.e., a barista is “one of the best in town” and the coffeehouse is offering a discount). These two remarks are all positive. The other three present some quality of critical feedback; however, they couple this with positive feedback; thus: restriction to cash purchases is balanced with “great coffee,” slow service is balanced with a cookie compliment, and only “adequate parking” and “LOUD music” is balanced by the “good food”). (Note: emphasis added, i.e., bold italics)

  • Cash only. Great coffee served w organic milk. Go in after 3 p.m. for a 1/2 off pastries. Quiet, great for studying. [154]
  • If Isaiah is on the bar, rock a macchiato. One of the best in town. Easy… Read more [249]
  • Espresso is not terrible, but not impressive either, peanut butter cookie I got was delicious and way buttery and heavy. Slow service. [288]
  • great atmosphere, great location, adequate parking (in the back), good food, LOUD music (just as bad as LUX). [318]
  • Try the goats milk mocha..fantastique. Also, the fresh pastries are worth trying &50% off in the late afternoon [325]

This practice of balance was offset by three other criticisms (see below) that were simply critical and yet oddly resigned to the source of disaffection. Thus, in all six cases, a remedy for the critique is not sought or advanced. Thus, they act — as a user tips are intended to act — as simply a warning sign for those who come along; not to affect change but to say something to fellow travelers about the territory.

  • Never order a burrito .. it takes for ever to get it ready. 31min in my case :/ too bad! I complained but the short guy with sunglasses didn’t “do” much about it. [274]
  • Total was $2.02 for coffee and received $2 back after giving barista $5. Hmmm [300]
  • I’ve checked in here 80 times now! Funny I just noticed they short all their large drinks on coffee. [359]

Of the user tips that were coded as being emphatic (i.e., using intensifiers), eight remain that have not already been discussed. Seven of these tips use a single exclamation point which effectively highlights them without granting them too much importance. The last remark contains ellipses which effectively show that the user is trailing off, having posted questions to the coffeehouse through Foursquare, understanding probably that an answer is not coming. It makes one wonder if this user was in the coffeehouse when submitting this “tip.” Possibly, they didn’t feel welcome to ask the barista at the counter.

Four of the “tips” reference the availability of debit/credit service at the coffeehouse. Another encourages patrons to make a purchase to sustain the use of free wi-fi; still another announces that free coffee is available for the second anniversary. These six tips are offering insider information which can be helpful (if coming from a sincere patron) but may also be overtly commercial (if they are coming from an employee or agent of the coffeehouse). It is worth noting that these four tips regarding debit/credit service received 21 Like votes, which is more than twice the average number of Like votes for all tips at Giant Coffee. So, regardless of who submitted the tips, the patrons have validated them. This leaves just one last emphatic tip about staff/service and it is regarding the “pour over” option. What is interesting about this remark is the use of “you” which comes up in other user tips because it suggests that the writer is on some level imagining the recipient of their feedback.

  • Giant Coffee now accepts credit! Which they scan with a iPad. Nifty. (As of 11/27) [159]
  • Matt Pool does it again! Honey vanilla latte is a nice twist. New iPad debit app makes paying with a card much easier. [166]
  • Credit and debit are now accepted here! [173]
  • In order to use wi-fi you have to make a small purchase. Place gotta pay for all that bandwidth somehow! [202]
  • For the smoothest cup of coffee ever, order a pour over. You will have to wait and watch it brew, but it’s well worth it! [284]
  • They are no longer cash only, so order that extra shot 🙂 [344]
  • Second anniversary today! Free coffee. [349]
  • Do you folks have a website? With a menu? Hours posted? I sure can’t find it with Google…. [425]
Giant Coffee Service Tips

User-generated tips are more emphatic and also more critical with regard to staff and service-related feedback. Click image to enlarge.

Other Resources
• Giant Coffee on Foursquare for user-generated tips, user-uploaded photos, etc.
• Giant Coffee on Twitter as @giantcoffeeAZ
• Now Open: Giant Coffee by arizonacoffee.com
• Giant Coffee | PHX Rail Food blog
• Giant Coffee (on Yelp!)
• Giant Coffee as tagged on Tumblr


This is page 6 of 9 in a Foursquare Coffeehouse Mini-Ethnography
Click here for page 7: Lola Coffee

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About Seth Goodman

Denizen of the southwest, college employee, ASU graduate student, unofficial student of Edu Tech; focused on family...tentatively enthralled by everything else. about.me/sethgoodman
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