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Jul 24, 2007 07:32 AM

Good espresso in Boston? [Split from L'Espalier thread]

What are the two places in Boston that have good espresso?

What makes it good, in your opinion? Apart from the coffee itself, the proper espresso must be accompanied by a lemon twist. (I still remember one time asking for a lemon twist and receiving a wedge. I have blocked the identity from memory.)

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  1. IIRC, it's actually "Espresso Roma" that comes with a lemon twist; it's generally served that way in (e.g.) France, Portugal, or Canada -- as well as most places in Seattle and San Francisco -- only if one specifically asks . . .

    Be that as it may, I am limiting my comments here to JUST the coffee itself. It was thin, over-extracted, and brewed too high a temperature -- meaning it was bitter, weak and tasted more like regular commercially brewed coffee (think BUNN) that was left on a burner.

    In fairness to L'Espalier, I have to say that none of the restaurants I ate at in the greater Boston area served a decent espresso while I was there. Now, this is by no means scientific nor is it exhaustively thorough -- but I was disappointed by every one.

    The only espresso I would call "excellent" was served to me at Simon's Cafe in Cambridge. And Peet's (Cambridge, Boston, Lexington) was its usual "very good" -- despite using a Cimbali rather than the normal* La Marzocco.


    * Normal for Peet's, at least as their California locations are concerned.

    1 Reply
    1. re: zin1953

      Ah, Jason - good to hear that you enjoyed your Simon's coffee!
      In your Boston travels, have you tried espresso in the North End?

      I did not know that about Espresso Roma, although I assume they serve it that way in Rome too! I think all the Italian places I ever went to in Baltimore did it that way, which is where I started drinking espresso. Actually Baltimore is a really good coffee town - if you ever end up visiting, make sure you try out the Daily Grind or Donna's.

    2. I'm no expert, but I always thought that the lemon twist was served alongside to cover up the taste of bad espresso, no? (Like at the italian restaurants of my childhood where dessert was always that italian classic "spumoni".) Certainly I never saw it in Italy and I'm pretty sure they would have chased me out if I had asked.

      1 Reply
      1. re: MichaelB

        >>> I always thought that the lemon twist was served alongside to cover up the taste of bad espresso . . . <<<

        If true, I wish more makers of bad espresso would know that trick! ;^)

      2. Sorry for the interruption, but please keep the discussion here focused on where to find good espresso in Boston. Discussions of why particular espressos at Boston locations are good are on topic, but to discuss what generally makes espresso good, please start a thread on the General Topics board, so that all Chowhounds who love a good cup of espresso can chime in:


        1 Reply
        1. The espresso from Diesel has really grown on me in recent years. Not sure if this is more a sign of improvement on Diesel's part or just my own changing tastes, but I've been consistently impressed of late. Personally, I'd put it roughly on par with Simon's in terms of quality, plus it's a much more comfortable place to sit, especially since the expansion.

          Although I hate to give the nod to a chain, I absolutely agree with Zin1953 that Peet's is the best in town.

          3 Replies
          1. re: finlero

            To finlero and zin, does this include the espressos in the North End? I have enjoyed the ones at Cafe Victoria. I have historically enjoyed them at Algiers and Cafe Pamplona, though not in a while.

            1. re: Bob Dobalina

              I absolutely love sitting in caffes in the North End in terms of the overall experience. Paradiso is my personal favorite (with its fairly dark espresso roast), but I have nothing against Vittoria whatsoever, nor Graffiti or Sport.

              Having said that, I've found that the espresso in the North End, while fine, just isn't of the studied, artisinal quality you'll find at a Peet's or a Simon's. It tends to be one of the big-batch Italian brands (Lavazza, Danesi) rather than anything small or unique.

              I also find that not all of the baristas in the North End are especially well-trained. Their espresso-making technique varies quite a bit, and cappuccino-making even more so (I've certainly had my share of scalded milk haphazardly dumped into a cup and served, often topped with the strangely standard-issue sweet cocoa powder).

              I think it's important to remember that even in Italy, there's plenty of average, below average, and downright bad espresso to be had, in addition to the occasional sublime find; espresso is a deceptively simple concept, with a lot of subtle nuances to master. But I can't remember ever having sat in a picture-perfect caffe in Italy thinking, "man, I'd be so happy right now if they hadn't pulled this cup so long". To me, while you can't beat the North End's Italiophilic atmosphere in this country (except perhaps for De Pasquale square in Providence), there's no truly great espresso to be found in the caffes on Hanover St.

              There are a few American-style coffee houses in the North End that are a little better in terms of espresso quality and consistency, but I have little use for them; if I want atmosphere, I'll go to Paradiso or Vittoria, and if I want superior quality, I'll go to Simon's, Peet's, or Diesel.

            2. re: finlero

              I'll have to keep Diesel in mind for my next trip East.

            3. I'm pretty sure it's an American invention to put a lemon peel alongside the espresso. Never once have I been served it that way anywhere in France or Canada. I've never seen it in any cafe/bar in Northern Italy either, and only rarely in some of the more Italian-American places in Manhattan. Lemons are native to southern Italy, so maybe it's a regional variation. There's also caffé corretto - espresso with a shot in it that my elder relatives seem to like. My aunt likes anise-flavored best, but I've seen cousins pour grappa in too.

              Locally, I like the espresso at Cafe Italia in Eastie best, but Cafe Vitoria's is good in a pinch. Diesel's ranges from great to disgusting, depending on who's manning the machine.