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?
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.)
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.