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coffeehouses, cafes, quiet places to work ...

I am looking for--as always--good cafes in Boston. I know Boston is a cafe and coffee-challenged town, but I'm hoping the collective wisdom of the board can help me sniff out some places I don't already know.

My criteria are:

1) Good coffee. By which I mean: strong & smooth (not burnt); espresso is thick, rich and has good crema. A full panoply of espresso-based drinks and real baristas. While the intrinsic value of latte art is lost to me, it does usually signal a place with serious coffee. (I HATE watery coffee!!!)

2) Decent atmosphere: not sterile, but not faux-coziness with ugly velvet sofas and adult contemporary on the radio. I.e., no Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks, please. (If #1 above didn't already do it.) Ideally a low ratio of stroller moms w/small kids, teeny boppers w/cell phones and/or too-cool-for-thou hipsters, although I can overlook this if the other components are there.

3) Somewhere where it is possible and ok to stay for 2-4 hours at a time, reading, working on a computer, doing a crossword, staring into space, etc..

To give you a sense of where I like and where I don't like:

GOOD: Darwin's off Harvard sq (my current fave); Peet's.
BAD: Cafe Paradiso in H.Sq; Diesel (decent coffee, but fails on #2 above); 1369 on Mass Ave. (coffee is merely ok, and fails on #2, though I hear the other location is better); Junebug; Java Jo's; any place that also serves ice cream.

I'd prefer to concentrate my search to cafes in the greater Boston area--places accessible by public transportation or bike, though if there are any truly exceptional places in the 'burbs, I won't rule out a special trip.

I don't have any experience with cafes in the South End area--anything going on over there? Is there anything not over-touristed in the North End? Perhaps a hidden gem in Cambridgeport or by BU? Help me please...

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  1. For your numbers 2 and 3, I noticed that the Middle East has free Wi-Fi these days, and while their food isn't the greatest, it's the kind of place where they'd probably let you linger -- it's usually 3/4 empty most of the daytime. I don't know about their coffee: they list "Middle Eastern coffee" on the menu, it's maybe Turkish style? That'd galvanize your productivity.

    1. Autopi, I generally agree with your assessments above (I actually think Diesel can be a good place to sit when school's out of session). I hope some of these recs are helpful to you:

      1) Cafe Pamplona (Harvard Sq) - excellent, well-balanced espresso, good desserts, cool, bohemian atmospere, nobody cares how long you stay.

      2) True Grounds (Ball Sq) - good atmosphere when not too crowded, quite good edibles, coffee is schizophrenic, but good when it's on.

      3) Cafe Rustica (near Porter Sq) - nicest people in the world running this little neighborhood place, pretty good espresso (just Lavazza, but they pull it well), bad drip coffee, really comfortable low-key atmosphere, especially if you sit out on the back porch in nice weather. Good, simple food (muffins are good when freshly baked in the morning).

      4) Algiers (Harvard Sq) - definitely a love-it-or-hate-it kind of place, interesting Middle Eastern atmosphere, good espresso, sometimes good food (often not). You can definitely stay as long as you want; their service is so inattentive it sometimes borders on nonexistant.

      5) Danish Pastry House (Meford, near Tufts) - adequate coffee, beautiful (if often boring-tasting) pastries and breads, really charming room for sitting.

      1. What about Simon's between Porter and Harvard Square on Mass. Ave? No free wireless, but you get a lot more done that way... I just had one of the best macchiatos I've had in a long time there. A bit cramped, but laid-back and you can sit for a long time.\
        I also like 1369, but they're pretty loud (and often annoy the heck out of me with their choice of music), and their tables are too small.

        1. I like the coffee (I usually get the hot Milky Way with whipped cream) and black&white cookies at Francesca's Cafe on Tremont in the South End. It's close to the Back Bay T stop and is across the street from Garden of Eden. I've never brought a laptop in there so you might want to call about Wi-Fi access.

          Francesca's Cafe
          564 Tremont
          (617)482-9026

          1 Reply
          1. re: C6H12O6lover

            Francesca's has a conducive atmosphere for work, and the various coffees and coffee drinks are good. I've asked about WiFi, and the counterfolk say that you can leech a signal off some (unwitting?) neighbor, but that it's intermittent.

            A bigger problem, though, is that there aren't any electrical outlets for your AC adapter!

          2. Definitely True Grounds in ball square and another great place is Haley House Cafe near dudley square, although they have good coffee, they don't have espresso. They have great food, pizza especially.

            1. My favorite place is CafeNation in Brighton Center. Free WiFi, you can easily stay and get some work done. Usually see plenty of people with laptops. I like the coffee, it's actually their own brand, they usually have a couple different flavors available, a light roast, a dark roast and a decaf i think.

              They also have pretty tasty crepes and sandwiches.

              1. Try Sherman Cafe, in Union Square, Somerville.

                Good dark roast coffee, GREAT homemade baked goods, sandwiches, etc., I believe they have free wireless and it looks like they won't care if you linger, though I haven't tried. It definitely has that vibe - rarely a stroller in sight - stylistically, not faux-anything really, but not exactly sterile either...

                3 Replies
                1. re: Bob Dobalina

                  They definitely don't care if you linger at Sherman; my only real gripe about the place is that it's on the small side, so getting a seat is not a given. Total zoo on cold weekends.

                  Definitely with you on the tasty baked goods. I find the drip coffee tolerable, maybe a C+/B- on a Chowishly tough curve.

                  1. re: Bob Dobalina

                    Seoond Sherman -- I like their coffee a lot and the servers are nice. Never tried the food. However, the hipster quotient is high. I like it but you might not. And the sparse decor is nicer in the summertime. It's not cozy in the winter.

                    I also really like True Grounds.

                    Another place to consider is Caffe Rossini on Highland Ave outside Davis Square. I always stop in after yoga for an excellent (strong) iced coffee and the baked goods look nice. You can sit outside too and they really don't care how long you linger. I don't think they have wi-fi, though.

                    1. re: yumyum

                      They don't have wi-fi, but their upstairs neighbors do... it's usually not that hard to grab a signal, if you don't mind the illicit nature of it. (The employees told me about the wi-fi.) I love Caffe Rossini and the baked goods are all homemade from scratch. They have excellent sandwiches and good pizza, too. It's small though - maybe six tables? But never that crowded.

                  2. The Berkeley Perk on Berkeley Street in the South End is great. Excellent coffee and pastries as well as sandwiches, nice music, comfy places to sit, internet access available, great staff. Quiet enough to get work done. When I go in, someone is always sitting at a table working for hours on end (I was there for a few hrs one Saturday and a few people had been there most of the morning working on things).

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: BackBayGirl

                      I like the Berkley Perk but gosh do they have odd hours.

                    2. I heartily endorse Simon's on Mass Ave in between Harvard and Porter (closer to Porter). Not only is the coffee EXCELLENT and Simon is a true coffee expert (he'll even let you taste test different roasts to find the one that you prefer) but the cookies and scones are baked every morning on the premises, so they're fresh. The music is good but never too loud and the crowd is bustling but rarely crazy enough such that it will detract from your concentration at work. Simon, the owner, is also incredibly gracious and friendly and he *will* remember your name if you introduce yourself.

                      1. thanks to everyone for the suggestions! simon's, true grounds, francesca's, berkeley perk--all places i wasn't even aware existed--excellent. this gives me an excuse to go discover new cafes and new neighborhoods at the same time. (i don't think i'd even heard of ball square before, and i haven't been to davis square in years now...)
                        thanks!

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: autopi

                          Haven't been to Davis in years?

                          In that case, you may want to give Diesel another shot; after they expanded, they became the coffee house I'd been seeking in Boston.

                          The dark roast coffee is now some of the better in town (still significantly lighter than Peets, but nicely balanced). As you mentioned, the latte art is nothing in and of itself, but it is indeed accompanied here by serious baristas.

                          And although the hipster and college crowds are fairly thick, there is now enough space that you can stretch out and do your thing.

                          Calling the baked items "goods" would still be generous; often stale or flavorless. Haven't tried the lunch stuff, but it looks reasonably ok.

                          1. re: finlero

                            Diesel's muffins and cookies are pretty decent, but their croissants are stale and crunchy. I didn't think croissants were crunchy, but I seem to be wrong. Their sandwiches are good - although a little pricey.

                        2. Quiet place to work in Jamaica Plain is Sweet Finnish on Centre street; wifi, Finnish pastries (the pulla are like brioche with raisins and cardamom) and a huge street window for sunshine.

                          1. i'm a strong believer in dado though i prefer the one on mass ave (between harvard and central) to the one in harvard square on church st. the atmosphere is really peaceful (you can definitely sit there for hours), they have a huge selection of tea ( a smaller selection of coffee), and they serve a really good simple lunch.

                            1. Uptown Espresso on Columbus ave in the South End, a block in from Mass Ave is one of the area's best kept secrets! Wireless internet, outdoor patio and cozy indoor space. Delicious coffee drinks, and amazing smoothies and sandwhiches too! I go as often as possible.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: markdanielsnyder

                                On the same side of Mass Ave. as Columbus Cafe? I'll have to walk by some time, never noticed a cafe around there. How are the baked goods?

                              2. Has anyone been able to confirm whether Simon's offer's free wi-fi?

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: heathermb

                                  Last time I was there, about two months ago, they did. I really like Simon's.

                                2. This is a thread after my own heart. I generally agree with your own assessments, though I think it's a stretch to call the coffee at 1369 OK (the espresso is awful), and I like Diesel well enough. Anyway, there are better places than those you mention.

                                  True Grounds (Ball Sq, Somerville). Best coffee in Boston (and great baked goods). Cozy and quiet, free wireless, plenty of seating. My favorite.

                                  Sherman Cafe (Union Sq, Somerville). Similar to True Grounds (free wireless, cozy, quiet, delicious baked goods), but coffee not quite as good (though not bad--won't fail your #1 probably).

                                  Caffe Paradiso (North End, Boston). Excellent Italian cafe. Probably doesn't have wireless, but otherwise nice place to read. Very relaxed, wonderful staff. Perfect if you want a grappa AND an espresso. I don't think this is related to the sterile, uninspiring Cafe Paradiso in Harvard Square.

                                  Simon's (Porter Square, Cambridge). Like True Grounds but not as cozy, and food not as good. In the past, wireless hasn't been free here.

                                  Algiers (Harvard Square, Cambridge). Meets all your criteria, but you still may hate it. The upstairs atmosphere is the best of all these places. I think the food is good, though strangely priced. Exotic teas and coffees. The staff are in another world--you could probably sleep there overnight without them noticing. No wireless.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: fenian

                                    Best coffee in Boston?
                                    True grounds and Simon's sell the same -drip- coffee brand but if you want to sit for hours, go to True Grounds because they are more cozy with comfy chairs but a bit dark. The espresso at True grounds is more like a french press than a proper espresso (wisps of crema :p) but they are more into sandwich and food stuffs than that. Simon's usually does decorated drinks and good espresso but that's really the reason you go there. The food or baked goods seem secondary to the coffee there(and Simon's a nice guy). I go to Simon's for espresso and microfoam cappa or machiatto but I'm a coffee geek!
                                    I drink the drip at True Grounds but gosh it's hard to find good espresso drinks in Boston.

                                  2. If you haven't tried it already, try Caffe Paradiso's espresso. Very thick crema--indeed, all crema. A darker, more North Italian roast than Simon's and True Grounds.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: fenian

                                      North Italian implies a lighter roast where South Italian would imply a darker roast. Simon's has a South Italian style espresso and a North Italian style espresso and I learned a great deal about the differences from trying them each. True Grounds serves a North Italian style espresso.
                                      Isn't Paradiso espresso actually Danesi?

                                    2. If you like hanging out with wierd vagrants, you cant beat Dunkies!

                                      1. For the North End, have you tried Boston Beanstock on Salem Street? It's a cozy place that has Wi-Fi. I like the coffee there, but a few friends think it's too strong.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Bostonbob3

                                          THAT'S the name of the place I was trying to think of. I stumbled into this place once and was impressed for it's comfortable room.
                                          The coffee was definitely drinkable. However, Simon's is my favorite place for coffee and vibe.
                                          I tried True Grounds once, and although the brand of coffee they use(GH's Terroir) is outstanding, it didn't transfer to the cup.
                                          Simon's uses the same coffee but either has better equipment or know-how in the translation to cup.

                                        2. There is a new coffeeshop on Columbus Avenue in the South End (Mass Ave & Columbus, to be exact). I haven't been there yet but its gotten good reviews from other posters.

                                          1. Believe it or not - Emack & Bolio's in JP on Centre has good coffee, awesome ice cream, free wi-fi and ample space to hang out. Lots of places to plug in too.

                                            1. Anyone know the name of the new coffeeshop in the south end? It's my work hood and I'd love to check it out. Thanks!

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: Craig K

                                                Uptown Espresso, 563 Columbus Ave. Great little place, good pastries and coffee.

                                              2. Do you know what time the JP Emack closes?

                                                1. While you're talking about ice cream places with coffee, Toscanini's always has good coffee. They're open late, and will usually change the music if the place isn't too busy.

                                                  1. I'm fond of Simon's as a place to study, read and imbibe excellent Espresso. That being said, it is a bloody long trek for me (I live on BU's campus)... so I usually hole up somewhere closer to home.

                                                    However, one day last winter when I ran out of coffee - during a blizzard - I went out to Simon's and studied...

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: photogeek

                                                      Has the question of WiFi at Simon's been answered? I know they have it, but is there a charge? I called and asked but was given a very vague answer. TIA!

                                                      1. re: heathermb

                                                        I'll be going to Simon's this Wednesday, or early next week at the latest, and will let people know about WiFi.

                                                        1. re: heathermb

                                                          It's not free. I believe it's about $20/month. Per use charges are very high ($7ish).