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Best Coffee?

I will be visiting from Montreal with true coffee aficionado. Where can we get some great coffee - espresso, cappuccino, espresso based beverages? Coffee houses offering various brewing methods would be interesting. What top roasters are being offered?

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  1. I'm sort of a lame resource on this, a coffee numbnut, but my favorites include Uptown Espresso in the South End (great atmosphere, including a lovely sunroom and rear patio to go with finely-brewed coffees) and True Grounds in Somerville, where they brew that filter coffee using George Howell beans that I think are really smooth and fresh-tasting.

    My favorite Italian caffe, Caffe Italia in East Boston, is alas no more, but I recently had a fine espresso and a Fernet at Caffe Vittoria in the North End. Kitschy and touristy, perhaps, but really, the bones of the place haven't changed in fifty years. The patrons may not be for real, but the staff and that monstrous old espresso machine are.

    I think crappy, canned Cafe du Monde dripped through a steel filter over canned sweetened condensed milk and ice is one of life's Great Cheap Pleasures. My favorite venue for this is Xinh Xinh in Chinatown. (The food there is terrific, too.)


    1. First stop should definitely be Barismo Roasters, 169 Mass Ave, Arlington, open afternoons, Wednesday-Sunday. Beware, there is no sign out. Not a cafe, but a place to talk about coffee, and if you're lucky, sample it. [They are just starting up a counter service.] In my opinion, Barismo roasts are the ones to seek out in this town.

      Simon's, Mass Ave, over the border in Cambridge, serves roasts by Barismo and Terroir.

      Taste, Walnut St., Newton, has a rotating cast of guest espressos (Barismo, Ecco, Terroir, 49th parallel (from BC!), Ritual, others I can't remember). Some are great, others less so.

      Hi-Rise bakery, the Brattle Square branch, does syphon brews on Saturday.

      At each of these places, the roasts are fresh (usually under two weeks), and the baristas competent to outstanding.

      There are other places with drinkable coffee, but those are the "musts" (I've heard some good things about Diesel, David Sq Somerville, but haven't been yet.)


      1 Reply
      1. re: khandha

        Barismo is opening their kiosk this Sunday, FYI. Open house 12 - 6 pm.


      2. If you've never tried Peet's Coffee, there are several outposts in the Boston area to sample it. Althought it's based in San Francisco (Berkeley, actually), Boston is one of the few other places that have them. Great, dark beans, and excellent espresso drinks, though it's a Starbucks-like atmosphere.

        1. The high-end Boston coffee culture is nowhere near as religiously intense as it is in Montreal (I do love me some Cafe Art Java), but there are certainly a few places that do a really excellent cup of drip or espresso. My take:

          Second Simon's in Cambridge for outstanding espresso craft.

          Crema in Harvard Square is also outstanding. They brew two kinds of drip coffee, of which the house blend is actually a little darker (while still only medium-bodied by Starbucks standards). Many of the folks making espresso drinks there are actually Simon's alumni. The majority of the made-on-premises baked goods are quite good by Boston standards, although again not quite up to Montreal at its best.

          Yes, Diesel and Bloc 11 in Somerville are great, and somehow distinctly American in feel, in a good way. I'm not sure from whom they source the coffee they brew, but they carry bags of Intelligentsia for purchase, so one way or another, they definitely know what a good cup of coffee is. Both their drip coffee and espresso drinks are quite good. In terms of atmosphere, the design elements at both locations are really well-done. Most of their baked goods are almost criminally terrible.

          Totally agree on Peet's. It's a chain, and they only do very, very full-roast coffee, but it's easily some of the best you'll find in town.

          Caffe Paradiso, a true Italian caffe in the North End, is open late. The espresso is good, not great, but no arguing with the atmosphere.

          If you find yourselves in the Financial District during the day on a weekday, the new Sip Café in Post Office Square actually pulls a mean espresso, especially if the guy who looks like Clark Kent from Smallville is manning the Marzocco. Steer clear of the drip coffee, which is only adequate, but the espresso is terrific.

          3 Replies
          1. re: finlero

            Diesel brews Intelligentsia in addition to selling beans to go. Not sure about Bloc 11 as I've never been but I would assume it's also Intelligentisa.

            1. re: tallullah

              i'm pretty sure bloc 11 is also intelligentsia. for drip, i prefer true grounds in ball square. also noteworthy is velouria in jamaica plain, which has a clover machine and features several terroir coffees. very flavorful, though a bit on the lighter side; i'd like at least one heavier, more caramel-y option.

              if you're intense on the espresso thing, go to simon's and see if you can get simon to make you one.

            2. re: finlero

              When you come back up to Montreal, you must try Cafe Myriad (check the Montreal board for tons of reviews). probably the best in the city, edging out Cafe In Gamba and Cafe Art Java.

            3. Cafe Fixe in Washington Square in Brookline is obsessively fixated on quality (watch them clean their espresso machine like a fire engine after each use). The cafe itself is sort of spartan, with 60s jazz playing in the background and a sort of nouveau NYC coffeehouse vibe. They make a "triple ristretto" espresso that I think is one of the best in town. A few weeks ago the usually somewhat dour proprietor was in a state of near ecstacy when he told me that they had a limited quantity of beans from Stumptown Roasters in NY, it's that kind of place.

              4 Replies
              1. re: GaryK

                Yes! Fixe is amazing, especially their "pour-over" brewed-to-order drip coffee.
                Simon's is the best on the cambridge side (especially try their espresso), with Crema a close 2nd.
                Taste is very good, but probably not worth a special trip to Newton.
                Velouria or Starbucks in Harvard Sq (!) if you like the Clover brew method.

                Personally, i would not bother with: 1369, Diesel, Bloc 11. Peet's is an excellent chain, and i enjoy their espresso, but you can find them elsewhere.

                Barismo is the roaster of the moment, amazingly good, if the timing works out definitely visit them in arlington.

                1. re: jajjguy

                  It's a judgement call, of course. But if one is traveling from Montreal to Boston, and wants to check out people who take coffee very seriously around here, the fifteen minutes it takes to get from Simon's to Taste doesn't seem like that big a deal...

                2. re: GaryK

                  I'm a coffee lover but no afficionado. For a long time my go-to place locally has been Peet's in Coolidge Corner, and this is a fine brew I guess. I can't tolerate Starbucks at all.

                  Fixe is my new love for coffee, I think their beans are superior, roasted perfectly for my taste, and professionally if not obsessively prepared. The milk is fresh and local too. The atmosphere is spare as noted, but it's a fine space, and one can look out the window and smile knowingly as you drink and look the Starbucks across the street. The cafe au lait could become my favorite non-alcoholic drink in town.

                3. Couple recommendations, not surprisingly all in Cambridge:

                  Simon's, 1736 Massachusetts Ave, between Porter & Harvard Sq -- excellent espresso and coffee alike, with the craft of artists.

                  Crema, 27 Brattle St, in Brattle Sq, which is in the Harvard Sq neighborhood -- again both excellent espresso and coffee, true craft, and search the boards for baked goods other hounds really like.

                  1369, 1369 Cambridge St in Inman Sq or 757 Massachusetts Ave in Central Sq -- more of a great coffee house than a craft espresso joint, the drinks are nonetheless good.

                  You might also want to check out the North End, Boston's Italian neighborhood, for some Italian joints. None are going to be the craft that coffee aficionados are searching for, but they are good and authentic. I like Caffe Vittoria, 296 Hanover St, and Cafe Paradiso, 255 Hanover St. Both serve good Italian-style espresso drinks with great atmosphere, although, particularly on weekends, you are going to be surrounded by tourists.

                  1. I'll echo the recommendations for both Crema (in Harvard Square) and Diesel (in Davis Square). These are my standbys for both drip coffee and espresso (although I tend to like the George Howell Terrior brews at Crema a bit more than the Intelligentsia brews at Diesel). Stay away from the baked goods at Diesel, although the sandwiches and bagels are good. At Crema, the English muffins (with eggs or with butter & jam) are quite tasty, as are the scones.

                    1. I was impressed that the Clover Food Lab, the MIT vegan/veggie food truck, does individually-brewed cups of filter coffee by Barrington Coffee: best coffee I've had off a cart.


                      3 Replies
                      1. re: MC Slim JB

                        Barrington is the roaster offered by Cafe Fixe. Very good.

                        1. re: MC Slim JB

                          This speaks to a real taste divide in coffee. I find even the "light" roasts by Barrington to be dominated by unpleasant "burnt" flavors. I am not a roaster, so I do not know enough to say whether this is solely because of the roast profile, or the quality/freshness of the beans. What is clear is that some people really like this, and think of it as a "coffee" flavor. Whereas I perceive it simply as burnt, something which obscures whatever coffee flavors there might be in the bean. [And something which desperately needs to be cut with milk, which also hides coffee flavors, to be drinkable...] Andria and her friend may be familiar with Kicking Horse, which a popular roast in Canada, out of BC. If they like Kicking Horse, they will also like Barrington. If not, not, is my guess...

                          1. re: khandha

                            When I have brewed Barrington beans at home, I have found just what you describe: good but somewhat burnt, with generally muddy flavors, lacking the bright clarity that I like. BUT, when I go to Cafe Fixe and get their pour-over brew, I have a very different experience. All the flavor components become clear. Yes it's a different roast (and maybe bean selection) philosophy than Barismo, which remains my favorite, but it's very much worth heading to Fixe to try it.

                        2. If you want to try something new, find a Boston area Starbucks that offers the "Clover" coffee brewing system. Seriously, it makes a press cup of coffee without all the grit. Fascinating technology, works by vacuum, and Starbucks bought the whole company to take over the patents, etc. for themselves. Plus they have only set up a limited number in America and Boston has a high concentration of these machines. Of course, this is a brewed drink, not espresso per se, but they will brew any of their coffees in the machine, it's done per cup.

                          Thanks for the suggestions on Montreal, I'm going soon and will try these places you mentioned!

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: G Fresh

                            The Harvard Square Cambridge and Charles Street Boston Starbucks locations have Clover machines. I thought I had permanently sworn off Starbucks, but the Clover makes a totally different cup that I like very much. The taste is very clean and bright, moreso than drip and nothing like a press pot. Tastes more like a vacuum siphon brew. There are a few other small cafes that acquired these machines before Starbucks bought the company. :(

                            1. re: jajjguy

                              Starbucks on Congress at High St and 75 Federal St downtown both do a great job on the Clover coffees as well - if only I could bring in some beans from Barismo or Peet's it would be totally perfect.

                              1. re: rlh

                                and for a non-corporate clover option, remember velouria in JP. he uses terroir beans.

                          2. why are people sending you to Starbucks, of all places? if you want a real taste of Boston (the real Boston, not the "I went to college here" Boston), go to Espresso Royale Cafe. There's one on Newbury St. and one on Gainsborough St. There's also a place called One Cup Cafe on Brighton Ave. in Allston, which I haven't tried yet, but I've heard some good things about their coffee. Don't go to Starbucks. yeesh.

                            1. I'm a coffee snob and there is no better cup of coffer than at Karma Coffee Roasters in Sudbury.

                              see: www.stiryoursoul.com