22 February 2017

Boston and Cambridge Speciality Coffee Guide

Update (August 2017): Rather than creating a new guide following my return to Boston and Cambridge in July and August 2017, I've added the three new coffee shops I visited — Broadsheet Coffee, Gracenote and George Howell at Boston Public Market — to this post and map. Read on for more Massachusetts speciality coffee delights!

As I mentioned in my last post, I used to travel to Boston fairly frequently but hadn't been to the city for almost a decade until a conference took me there last week. I was just starting to get into speciality coffee back in 2007 and I don't think Boston had yet hopped onto the third wave, although I did find this photo in my archives, which I took at Caffè Vittoria — an almost-90-year-old Italian cafe (caffè, technically) in the North End — in December 2005. It may be my first ever 'arty' photo of a cup of coffee, although I hadn't yet got the hang of bokeh.

I have known about this trip — and a subsequent holiday I will be taking to the Boston area this summer — for some time and because I knew I wouldn't have much time to coffee-shop hop while I was out there, planning was crucial. Luckily, I was staying near the Hynes Convention centre and so there were branches of several mini-chains very close by, and my heavy meeting schedule did allow me to visit a few of the other places on my list (though not quite all), even if time constraints generally limited me to cortados rather than sampling more hand-brewed filter coffees. Brian, of Brian's Coffee Spot, has visited Boston more often and more recently than I, and has much more in-depth knowledge of the city's coffee scene.

George Howell Coffee at The Godfrey Hotel
The new location for fêted speciality coffee pioneer George Howell's cafe inside the hip Godfrey Hotel has been at the top of my Boston coffee list since I ogled the beautiful photos in Sprudge's write-up last year. Although its Downtown Crossing site, just a block away from the Boston Common, is very central, I wasn't sure I would have the chance to visit, but I was able to take a quick coffee break there on Saturday and it was indeed wonderful.

The cafe itself is beautiful: large, airy and with two seating areas, as well as an 'exploratorium', where they host brewing and cupping classes, among others and a 'shop' selling beans and some very attractive coffee-making kit. Despite its size, the cafe was packed when I arrived on a Saturday afternoon, during the tail end of a cupping. Luckily, I managed to find a seat at one of the communal tables.

I tried a chocolatey Brazilian espresso, which worked very nicely as a cortado ($3.50), and one of the four single-origin coffees available as pourovers, brewed through the Kalita Waves that line the brew bar. I tried a coffee from Burundi — a common theme in my Boston trip — a Nkonge Hill variety ($6), which was beautifully fruity with strong berry notes. Both coffees were excellent and the cafe is lively, thoughtfully designed and the essential destination for any coffee aficionado visiting Boston.

George Howell Coffee is located at 505 Washington Street nr Temple Pl (their original Boston location is in Boston Public Market). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

NEW: George Howell Coffee at Boston Public Market

After adoring my visit to George Howell's flagship at the Godfrey Hotel, the company's Boston Public Market location was high on my list on my return. Despite its small size, the stall offers a variety of coffees, including espressos brewed with the Alchemy house blend, a single-estate guest or a decaf. I was also tempted by the two Colombian pourovers, which were on the menu during my visit, but they only serve them after 6 pm on Sundays through Mondays — presumably because of the large flow of customers at the small stall. My Costa Rican cortado was very nice and I enjoyed perusing the bags of beans for sale. I didn't need to buy any because I got a lovely bag of Ethiopian beans as part of the George Howell workshop on coffee extraction that I attended in the Kitchen at the back of the market. The events programme for the Kitchen is here.

George Howell Coffee is located at 100 Haymarket, Boston. Website. Twitter. Instagram. My review.

Ogawa Coffee
I think I first heard about the first US location of Japanese coffee chain Ogawa Coffee when Brian posted in December about his visit to the Boston cafe in Milk Street, just a few blocks north of George Howell. I somehow missed Ogawa on my visit to Japan in 2014, but did make it to the Boston cafe, which had a queue out of the door on an unseasonably warm February Sunday afternoon. There is a lot of seating available, including a tiered bench section alongside the coffee bar but it's a popular spot so you might have to wait.

I really wanted to try one of the featured coffees (a Guatemalan and one from Burundi) as a filter coffee but I didn't have time for a pourover, so opted for a cortado instead. I chose a Los Alpes coffee from El Salvador ($5.25) and took a seat in the bleachers, where I could people-watch and admire the sleek, white DC Pro espresso machine. My coffee was very good, although if you have more time than me, you might like to try the single-origin trio or the Signature Drink (chilled, foamed espresso served in a martini glass and paired with a cappuccino).

Ogawa Coffee is located at 10 Milk Street nr Hawley St. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

North End
Equal Exchange Cafe
Located just steps from Boston's North Station, Equal Exchange Café was very convenient for one of my meetings. The red-brick walls of the cafe house a colourful interior with a red espresso machine and brightly patterned walls. It's a fun and cosy spot to enjoy a coffee or some of the locally sourced food. My cortado ($2.90) was nicely smooth and nutty — I'm not sure which espresso they were using but there are usually a couple of different beans in the hoppers. As well as specialising in fairly traded coffees sourced from small farmer co-ops, Equal Exchange baristas can apply to be on a "worker-owner track," which means they receive additional benefits and on track to become an owner of the organisation, which sounds like a great idea.

Equal Exchange Cafe is located at 226 Causeway Street nr Medford St. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Leather District
NEW: Gracenote Coffee
With its intricately designed, intimate space in the Leather District, near South Station, and cracking coffee, Gracenote Coffee hits all the right notes. Despite being a standing- or perching-room-only espresso bar, I found it to be a very enjoyable place to hang out and sip my very good coffee — a cortado with the day's featured espresso, an Ethiopian Guji. You can buy beans — the coffee is roasted west of Boston in Berlin, MA — and coffee-making kit but you may be tempted even more by the gorgeous, colourful pottery mugs, made in Maine by the same artisan who produced the stunning coffee bar.

Gracenote Coffee is located at 108 Lincoln Street, Boston. Website. Twitter. Instagram. My review.

South End
Render Coffee
Render's original location on Columbus Avenue in the South End was close enough to my hotel that I was able to go for breakfast one extremely cold morning. I do love a good stroll through the brownstones of the South End, which looked particularly fetching in the snow. The cafe is on the raised-ground level and although its front section, which houses the coffee bar, is fairly slender, there is more seating in the glass-enclosed conservatory at the back (in warmer climes, I understand that you can also sit in the garden).

There were a few different coffees available, from Maine-based Tandem Coffee Roasters and Boston roaster Gracenote. On the barista's recommendation, I went for one of Tandem's coffees: a Mikuba variety from Burundi (I told you there was a theme), brewed as a pourover ($4.25). As soon as I picked up the cup, the tart and fruity raspberry notes hit my nose. It was a really excellent pourover. My breakfast sandwich, which involved bacon and a rosemary-potato-frittata, which also amazing. The staff are super-friendly and Render is a lovely place to hang out.

Render Coffee is located at 563 Columbus Avenue nr Wellington St (they have another location in the Financial District, and a third to come in Kendall Square). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Back Bay
Pavement Coffeehouse
Pavement has six locations in the Boston area and I visited the Newbury Street café a couple of times — one of my meetings was, in fact, conveniently located there. The cafe is on the lower ground so I had to climb over the snow to get down the steps. The large windows at the front let in plenty of light, though, and if you aren't fond of a window seat, there are more tables in the back. I ordered cortados ($3.50) both times, which were made with a Counter Culture espresso that resulted in a smooth, chocolatey coffee. There was also a Buziraguhindwa coffee from — you guessed it — Burundi available as a V60. Depending on the time of day, you can also find some excellent bagels and sandwiches on offer.

Pavement Coffeehouse is located at 286 Newbury Street nr Gloucester St (they also have five other locations). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Thinking Cup
Thinking Cup has three cafes in Boston, all serving Stumptown coffee. I visited the Newbury Street cafe early on a weekday morning and, possibly as a result of the snowy weather, it was packed. I enjoyed the lively, bustling atmosphere — people-watching and hearing snippets of conversations is always fun in Boston and Cambridge. The queue wasn't too big, though, and I was able to nab a small table while I waited for my cortado ($3.50) to arrive. As well as serving hot drinks, Thinking Cup has a large selection of breakfast options, sandwiches and cakes. As I was in a bit of a hurry, I ordered a slice of banana bread to go (which was very good), but drank my coffee in — I would have liked to try a pourover but was already running late — but my cortado was nice.

Thinking Cup is located at 85 Newbury Street nr Clarendon St. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Wired Puppy
I stopped by Wired Puppy for a quick breakfast on my way back from running on my last day in Boston. Like many of the other Newbury Street cafes, it is located on the lower-ground floor although large windows allow in plenty of light. Wired Puppy serves coffee from Alabama-based Revelator and although they weren't serving single origins through the V60 (which I realised too late), I had a pourover with a very pleasant South American blend called Misfit. It cost under $3 for a regular cup — the same price as the batch brew — which, given the exchange rate, was a nice surprise.

Wired Puppy is located at 250 Newbury Street nr Fairfield St. Website. Twitter.

Barrington Coffee Roasting Company
The first thing I noticed when I walked into Barrington Coffee Roasting Company's Newbury Street cafe was the large, colourful table near the coffee bar. This contrasted with the fairly minimalist décor of the rest of the cafe, including the four Steampunk brewers on the bar. These weren't in action — possibly, I had come too late in the day — so I went for my usual cortado ($3.50). Just after the barista had started making my drink, I asked which espresso he would be using and he pointed me to the Gold blend; I realised immediately that I should have asked for the Kintamani single-origin from Bali instead and I suspect my regret influenced my enjoyment somewhat. The cortado was still good, but I would have liked to go back to try another coffee, especially as the baristas in the cafe seemed very passionate and knowledgeable.

Barrington Coffee Roasting Company is located at 303 Newbury Street nr Hereford St (their other location is in Fort Point). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

1369 Coffeehouse
After a meeting at MIT, I just had time to stop by 1369 Coffeehouse's Central Square location on Massachusetts Avenue (the original is further north, at the titular 1369 Cambridge Street) for a coffee. It felt very studenty late on a Friday afternoon but I rather liked the vibe. There is a big menu of speciality hot drinks, including various hot ciders and hot chocolates. There weren't any hand-brewed filters on the menu so I ordered a cortado (surprise, surprise; $3.30) and took a seat near the bar and next to the cool mural. The coffee — brewed with an espresso blend — was nice and the cafe was a fun place to hang out.

1369 Coffeehouse is located at 757 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

NEW: Broadsheet Coffee 

You know you're a coffee addict when...you are willing to walk a mile in sideways rain with an inadequate umbrella to visit a new coffee shop and roaster whose progress you've been following on Instagram for several months! Broadsheet Coffee, a beautiful new cafe and roastery, is located on Kirkland Street, northeast of Harvard. There are so many lovely design touches, from the smiley in the 'O' on their neon 'coffee' sign that turns sad when the shop is shut, to the clean, minimalist counter and the gorgeous coffee packaging. The all-day menu looked great too — unfortunately, I didn't get to sample the brunch, which included Yorkshire puddings. In the US!

I did have two coffees, though: a Colombian Nuevo Horizonte cortado, which was very nice, and a lovely Colombian microlot — Jhon Poveda — brewed through the Kalita wave. I even paid $24 (eek!) for a bag of Jhon Poveda beans, which I brewed up with my Aeropress during the rest of my stay in Cape Ann, and which tasted excellent. There are also some more innovative drinks, including an 'espresso stormy' and espresso with 'seasonal shrub', as well as the more 'standard' espresso tonic. Coffee and food were all prepared with the utmost care, and the baristas were friendly and very welcoming. Broadsheet is definitely worth crossing the Charles for!

Broadsheet Coffee is located at 100 Kirkland Street, Cambridge. Website. Twitter. Instagram. My review.


  1. Hi Bex,

    Lovely collection of coffee shops. You got around a bit despite your work commitments. Good to see some old favourites in there, as well as a few places I've not been too (yet!).


    1. Thanks, Brian. I'm sure you will be back there before too long (it's hard to stay away, right?). I look forward to reading some of your new Boston reviews too.