Food & Drink

The Best Coffee Shops in Boston

Published On 12/11/2014 Published On 12/11/2014
Loyal Nine Boston
Loyal Nine | Courtesy of Loyal Nine

While Dunkin' and that mermaid place seem to rule every street corner, there are plenty of local coffee shops in The Hub pouring piping-hot, next-level liquid energy and going above and beyond with their bean game. You just need to know where to look for them -- or better yet, just stick to these spots.

Curio Coffee

East Cambridge

Large windows, clean white walls, penny tile floors, and a hanging bovine head adorn this cute little coffee shop, which serves Counter Culture coffee, MEM teas, and Taza hot chocolates, alongside its signature liege waffles, which are utterly delicious and feature bits of crunchy pearl sugar cooked right in. In the summer, you can also expect fresh-squeezed orange juice and lemonade to cool you down. Plus, this place has a rocking Instagram account, so you can feel extra hip when visiting.

Loyal Nine

Loyal Nine

Cambridge

Who knew that sipping a latte alongside a working railroad track could be so relaxing? Located more or less in the garage of its mother restaurant, Loyal Nine, the decor here features a giant garage door that slides open, leading to the cafe’s outdoor patio seating, which is adorned with long wooden tables, hanging lights, and the aforementioned train tracks. The beverages aren't bad either, with a wide selection of espressos, ethically sourced coffees brewed using a variety of mechanisms (Woodneck, Chemex, or syphon), and a host of quality pastries.

Bee's Knees Supply Co.

Allston (& Fort Point)

Bee’s Knees functions primarily as a deli, offering mouthwatering charcuterie, pates, and meats, and is also a good local stop for the curated beer and wine selection. The seating area is kind of food court-like, with all that’s going on around the shop, but it’s a nice place to grab a sandwich and coffee.

Gracenote Boston

Gracenote

Chinatown/South End

This shop was dubbed Gracenote as a nod to coffee's many different notes, from floral to citrusy to nutty to fruity -- the list never ends -- and the notes that the perfect roast, which is neither too hot nor too cold, can bring forth (404 degrees gets close to perfect, they say). Thanks to the super-knowledgeable, friendly staff and gorgeous, brightly lit interior, featuring state-of-the-art espresso machines built right into the counters, Gracenote is a great place to visit. But don't expect to post up with your laptop for ages: this is not a big shop, and seating is limited.

Ogawa Coffee

Downtown

You know when a shop’s lead barista was the 2010 World Latte Art Champion that it really means business (plus, all the lattes come decorated with its signature pink Japanese sakura art). Enjoy coffee flights, or Ogawa’s signature espressos served in martini glasses, while sitting in the shop’s custom-designed stadium seating... that’s right, it’s like you’re watching baristas create magic on the coffee field. The menu here is also worth sticking around -- we recommend the OC Morning Special, which comes with bacon, an egg, Japanese shokupan bread, a spring salad, and a cup of coffee for $7.

Juliet

Juliet

Somerville

Juliet has a dual identity: half as a local, light, spacious coffee shop, and half as a restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You can sit and order from Juliet's a la carte menu, which includes various types of coffees, teas, and tonics, as well as pastries, breakfast tacos, and yogurt in the morning, and an ever-changing array of options in the afternoon and evening. On the counter adjacent to the kitchen, you can order the prix fixe -- even for breakfast. The Grand Breakfast changes weekly, but it's always something worth looking out for.

barismo 364

Cambridge (& other locations)

The coffee shop formerly known as dwelltime has evolved into the flagship Cambridge location for barismo. It's housed in the historic F.B. Hubley auction house, which sold everything from gold-headed canes with ivory handles to live horses (and remnants of which still linger). There's a giant counter in the middle of the shop that is more reminiscent of a bar than a coffee counter. barismo was founded by a group of baristas who were passionate about their craft, so they know what makes a good coffee shop. The crew here has been experimenting with different brews for different kinds of coffees. There’s plenty of room to sit, and even an in-house bakery -- the scones are amazing. Be warned, however: there's no Wi-Fi, and they sometimes institute laptop-free periods, so this is more a place to hang out with friends than try to work.

Pavement Coffeehouse

Pavement Coffeehouse

Boylston (& other locations)

Pavement was one of the first coffeehouses in Boston to offer pour-over and cold brew coffees. These guys are among the true OGs of the good Boston coffee scene, and have expanded from one little bagel shop to six locations around the city. They use quality beans from Counter Culture, so you can definitely enjoy even the simplest of brews here, but one of the best bets for a sugary variation is definitely the Spanish latte, which is sweetened with condensed milk.

1369 Coffee House

Cambridge

1369 has been around for over two decades, and has been successful for simple reasons: it offers great coffee drinks and a super-chill atmosphere with a true community vibe. This place features musicians of the month -- who play live shows in the shop -- and also just started offering a new delivery service, which will bring growlers of cold brew coffee right to patrons’ doors, via bicycle.

Render Coffee

Render Coffee

South End

One of Boston’s best coffee shops, Render Coffee's signature is the pour-over, which takes a while to make, and sort of forces you to put the brakes on things. While not for those in a hurry, this approach is one even formerly no-fuss coffee lovers will admit that brought out notes in coffee they’ve never tasted before. The temperature is always spot-on, which derives the best aroma and flavors from the beans. The snacks are pretty on-point here, too, featuring quiche, sandwiches, and bagels. Go for the "B.T.L." with applewood smoked bacon and spicy aioli on seven-grain. The vibe here is super-chill, there’s a good amount of space, and the Wi-Fi is surprisingly good, so if you need to work, you can bring your laptop, grab a seat, and enjoy the day.

The Thinking Cup

Thinking Cup

Boston Common (& other locations)

Featuring Stumptown and Third Wave coffees exclusively, this shop marries quality product with charming decor. The walls of this establishment are adorned with framed instruments, including saxophones, trumpets, and guitars, and the tabletops are covered with old Boston newspapers, so you can scan headlines dating back to the late 1800s. The darkly lit interior creates the perfect environment for work or conversation, although there are several tables towards the front window where you can spend hours people-watching -- all three locations have great views. The one drawback (or bonus, depending on who you're talking to): there's no Wi-Fi, and limited electrical outlets, so try bringing a friend instead of your laptop, and split one of the extra-buttery croissants or blueberry muffins.

Diesel Café

Davis Square

Started by two buddies (Tucker and Jennifer) in May of 1999, Diesel stoked the early flames of Davis Square’s renaissance, and it has been a local hangout ever since. The hip, always super-packed space provides the perfect setting to enjoy standout specialty drinks, as well as random free tastings from independent roasters. It sources quality coffees, and offers a range of breakfast and lunch options, including tasty, petite sandwiches, salads, and bagels.

Bloc

Bloc

Union Square

After dominating Davis with Diesel, Tucker and Jennifer opened Bloc in Union... and the villagers rejoiced. Carved into a former bank, bloc lets you sit in the old vault while sipping pick-me-up beverages, including Intelligentsia coffee and Kilogram tea. If you're feeling the after-effects of a night out, be sure to give the Turmeric Tonic Limeade a try… it's pretty much guaranteed to cure what ails you. Your experience at Bloc is also incomplete without The 777, a roast beef sandwich triumph with Gruyère, caramelized onions, and garlic mayo.

Capitol Coffee House

Beacon Hill

Even though Capitol is only 37 years old, it channels the spirit of even older old-school coffee joints... places where you sat at the counter, talked with other regulars, and got an honest cup o’ Joe... and probably some bacon and eggs. It’s vibe is no-nonsense and super-friendly, and it rocks a menu of diner classics, all done well and with a smile. Step back in time at Capitol Coffee House for a good slug of way-better-than-expected coffee and tasty, inexpensive grub, like the fried egg & cheese sandwich for a mere $2.99. Conversations are free.

Courtesy of Blue State Coffee

Blue State Coffee

D Street/West Broadway (& Allston)

Blue State gives you great coffee while giving back to the community. Two percent of sales go to local nonprofits, the beans are ethically sourced, and it offers only local eggs and pastries. Tasting notes from the coffee director will help you choose between the ever-changing Espresso #9, Liberty blend (sweet and bright), and True Blue (strong start, sweet finish). Or kick back with one of the microlot brews, which rotate annually.

Crema Cafe

Harvard Square

Formed by another dynamic duo, college pals Marley Brush and Liza Shirazi, Crema goes for that Euro sidewalk café soul and pretty much nails it. The beverage program is a mix of wares from house roaster George Howell Coffee Company and single-origin light roasts from guests such as Kuma and Matchstick. Other highlights include the Red Crema (rooibos latte with honey & cinnamon) and an extensive selection of fresh pastries, as well as a full menu, with a wide range of vegan, vegetarian, nut-free, and gluten-free options.

Boston Common Coffee Company

Boston Common Coffee Co.

Multiple locations

The BCCC approach leans simple-yet-serious, offering heavy-duty coffees courtesy of in-house roastmaster Patrick Maloney. He seeks out lesser-known varieties, limited-availability lots, and Cup of Excellence-winners to roast daily in BCCC’s Hopedale, MA facility, just for you. There’s nothing common about the coffee here, as they get the most out of each bean, from straight-up to naturally flavored brews (cinnamon-hazelnut, coconut). The bakers too are crafting dangerously delicious bites to accompany your morning mug. Pro tip: arrive early to score some melt-in-your mouth small-batch donuts of the day (e.g. red velvet, fried chicken & waffle).

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Erik Christensen is a freelance writer and a senior project designer at an architecture firm in Boston, with over 17 years of experience in the industry. He also has over 17 years of experience in deadlines, late nights, and strong coffee.

Christina Ng is a Boston-based food and recipes editor. When she's not wreaking havoc in the kitchen or taking pictures of food (yeah, yeah), she's out visiting her favorite open-air markets. If you’re interested in what she's cooking up, check out her website EastMeetsKitchen.com.

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1. Loyal Nine 660 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02141 (East Cambridge)

Headed up by an all-star squad with an impressive collective resume (Menton, Bondir, Hungry Mother), Loyal Nine serves up traditional New England fare (we're talking colonial era) with a modern twist. The menu is split between raw seafood on ice, meat and vegetable dishes like fried quail and grilled pork ribs, and family-style signatures like steel-cut oats and roasted Vermont lamb. The all-day spot includes an adjoining cafe -- complete with outdoor seating -- that serves a wide selection of coffee, sandwiches, and pastries.

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2. Curio Coffee 441 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02141 (East Cambridge)

Big windows let lots of light into Curio Coffee, an adorable, white-walled coffee shop in Cambridge with knick-knacks like an antique globe and a mounted bovine head. Curio serves Counter Culture coffee, MEM teas, and Taza hot chocolates, all of which complement the kitchen’s signature liege waffles. Made in a waffle iron imported from Belgium, these scrumptious treats are perfectly crisp-on-the-outside and soft-on-the-inside, with bits of crunchy pearl sugar baked throughout. You can cool down with freshly squeezed orange juice and lemonade, too.

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3. Bee's Knees Supply Company 12 Farnsworth St, Boston, MA 02210 (Fort Point Channel)

Hardly content to rest on his laurels after opening his popular Southern joint in Davis Square, the man behind M3 and Southie's American Provisions is at it again with this Fort Point gourmet market that offers everything from local meat, fish, and fromage, to craft beer, wine, and coffee. Not to mention, it's an adorable space with rustic wood floors, an exposed pipe ceiling, and a large, vanity-lighted sign that reads "DELI" to ensure you get your hands on some scrumptious, house-made charcuterie.

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4. Gracenote Boston 108 Lincoln St, Boston, MA 02111 (The Leather Dist)

This Leather District coffee shop and roastery offers some of the best beans in, well, Beantown. The name "Gracenote" is a nod to the many different notes of coffee offered, from floral and citrusy to nutty and fruity. Not sure what to order? The friendly staff members are well-versed in bean varieties and will guide you through the options. Pull up a seat in the brightly-lit space, which features state-of-the-art espresso machines built right into the counters, and relax with a cup of joe while you indulge in some top-notch people watching -- Gracenote's windows look onto beautiful Lincoln St.

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5. Ogawa Coffee Boston 10 Milk St, Boston, MA 02108 (Downtown Crossing)

This bright and sleek cafe -- appropriately located on Milk St -- serves fresh roast coffee and daytime bites with a Japanese touch. Coffee flights and pour-overs are available with your choice of beans, but if you aren’t picky, the Kyoto house-blend, featuring a trio of beans from Brazil, Guatemala, and Ethiopia, will suffice. Ogawa’s food options include bacon and eggs with toasted shokupan white bread, and specials like matcha sundaes and rice flour cake rolls. The spot features custom-designed stadium seating designed to give customers an excellent view of the baristas working their magic on the field -- er, bar.

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6. Juliet 257 Washington St, Somerville, MA 02143 (Somerville)

At Juliet, a sophisticated, white-walled cafe in Union Square, you can order a quick cup of coffee from the takeaway counter or sit down for a full breakfast, lunch, or dinner. In the morning, you'll find an à la carte breakfast menu with drip coffee, matcha tea, and turmeric tonic, as well as toasts with sweet and savory spreads and rotating breakfast taco specials. The afternoon and evening bring more elegant and seasonal dishes, and a formal prix fixe option served at the chef’s counter.

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7. barismo 364 Broadway, Cambridge, MA 02139 (North Cambridge)

Formerly known as Dwelltime, this bookish coffee bar in Cambridge's historic F.B. Hubley auction house doles out pure and bold roasts sourced primarily from South America and Africa. Helmed by veteran baristas who wanted to up the importance of fair trade, Barismo features a comprehensive menu that includes the wholesale price for the beans next to the resale price, so you know can see how your money is being distributed.

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8. Pavement Coffee House 1096 Boylston St, Boston, MA 02215 (Back Bay)

This artsy mini-chain is from the same people who brought you Bagel Rising and Espresso Royale (RIP to both), so you know it's damn good. The baristas here are dripping an inspired selection of coffees, espressos, and loose-leaf teas alongside gourmet sandwiches for lunch and breakfast. The decor is hip and rustic, sporting unfinished wood floors and beams, vintage chairs, patio seating, repurposed wood shutters on the walls, and a faux fireplace. If you stop in for breakfast, be sure to order the Tequila Sunrise sandwich made with egg, jalapeño cream cheese, bacon, tomato, and onion. Keep an eye out for drink specials, too, like the fan-favorite Death Cream (cold brew with vanilla and milk).

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9. 1369 Coffee House 1369 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02139 (Inman Square)

Do you enjoy quality coffee? Scrumptious pastries? Aging hippie customers asking you to use your laptop in the back of the cafe because they need their "technology-free" time? Well you're in luck, as Cambridge coffee icon 1369 has all of these things and more. Kick back in the chill, communal atmosphere with a cup of joe, and take in the monthly live music acts. Best of all? It has a delivery service that brings growlers of cold brew right to your door via bicycle.

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10. Render Coffee 563 Columbus Ave, Boston, MA 02118 (South End)

Indulge your coffee cravings at Render, a cozy cafe where you can order an expertly pulled espresso or a pour over, brewed with international grinds such as Baroida (Papua New Guinea), El Gavilan (Ecuador), or La Golondrina (Colombia). The baristas here also keep it real with guest roasters (e.g. George Howell Coffee Company) and Taza hot chocolate. You'll want to take your mug to a table in the sunroom at the back, or on the outdoor deck when the weather's right.

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11. Thinking Cup 165 Tremont St, Boston, MA 02111 (Downtown Crossing)

Billed as the first Boston spot to brew Portland's beloved Stumptown Coffee, TC is a high-end java house with an old-world European feel. Pull up a chair at one of the wooden tables, which are all topped with glass-encased vintage newspapers, and indulge in fresh scones, muffins, and fruit tarts. You'll also find a range of breakfast and lunch sandwiches on the chalkboard menu, which, best of all, includes a build-your-own grilled cheese section.

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12. Diesel Cafe 257 Elm St, Somerville, MA 02144 (Somerville)

Started by two friends, Tucker and Jennifer, in May 1999, Diesel stoked the early flames of Davis Square’s renaissance, and it has been a favorite local hangout ever since. The down-to-earth atmosphere is home to jazzed-up javas and specialty drinks, as well as random free tastings from independent roasters. It sources quality coffees, and offers a range of breakfast and lunch options, including tasty, petite sandwiches, salads, and bagels. The hip spot has lots of seating, but heads up: it's usually packed with friends chatting and students working.

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13. Bloc 11 Bow St, Somerville, MA 02143 (Union Square)

From the pair who brought you Davis Square's beloved Diesel Cafe comes Bloc, which is carved into a former bank in Union Square. You can grab a seat in the old vault while sipping pick-me-up beverages, including Intelligentsia coffee and Kilogram tea. If you're looking to cure a hangover, the Turmeric Tonic Limeade is your antidote. Hangover or not, you'll also want to try The 777, a winner of a roast beef sandwich with Gruyère, caramelized onions, and garlic mayo.

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14. Capitol Coffee House 122 Bowdoin St, Boston, MA 02108 (Beacon Hill)

Capitol has been around for a few decades, and channels the friendly, no-nonsense spirit of old-school coffee joints -- the type of place where you sit at the counter, talk with other regulars, and get an honest (and better-than-expected) cup o’ joe. Be sure to throw in some bacon and eggs, too, particularly the fried egg & cheese sandwich, which'll only cost you a few bucks. The menu is full of diner classics that are guaranteed to be served with a smile.

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15. Blue State Coffee 957 Commonwealth Ave, Boston, MA 02215 (Allston Brighton)

There's nothing like the specific brand of patriotism found in New England, and that extends to this clever NE-born and -bred coffee chain with "beans to an end," the end being a bold lineup of roasts with varying strengths and flavors, with names like True Blue and Liberty. The brightly colored Allston stop serves all of them up with turkey clubs laced with picked red cabbage slaw and little sweet treats like vegan cookies.

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16. Crema Cafe 27 Brattle St, Cambridge, MA 02138 (Harvard Square)

This bi-level Harvard Square coffee shop was formed by college pals Marley Brush and Liza Shirazi, and goes for that Euro sidewalk café vibe. They offer a range of wares from George Howell Coffee to single-origin light roasts from guests such as Kuma and Café Grumpy. You'd also be smart to check out the Red Crema (Rooibos latte with honey & cinnamon) and Felipe’s Hot Cocoa, a spicy Mexican chocolate belly-warmer. Don't hold back as the extensive selection of fresh pastries pulls you in, including inventive and seasonal cupcakes, like eggnog cream and raspberry linzer.

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17. Boston Common Coffee Company 97 Salem St, Boston, MA 02113 (North End)

One of a couple Boston locations, this coffee shop serves up quality donuts, pastries, and java. On #DoughnutThursdays, Boston Common Coffee offers some of the most creative donuts the city has to offer. Flavors like maple-bacon bread pudding or sweet corn & thyme donuts made with fresh corn kernels pop up just once a week -- and they go fast. The menu also offers a selection breakfast and lunch options that you can enjoy on one of the squishy leather couches or at the window bar for some prime Salem St. people-watching.

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