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...
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.
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.
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.
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 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!
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.