Food & Drink

Boston's Most Underrated Coffee Houses, by 'Hood

Published On 02/04/2016 Published On 02/04/2016
Refuge Cafe


Refuge Café

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It’s a hipster haven, but the All-stoned Sunrise (eggs, bacon, melted swiss, avocado, and Sriracha mayo on multigrain bread) and breakfast burrito make up for the jaded service. If you like your cafés loud, bright, and peppered with flyers for local bands, Refuge is probably your style. If you’re a perfectionist about your pour-over, head somewhere else.


4A Coffee

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4A has built its brand on sustainability, product traceability, and the freshest roast in the neighborhood. The owner sources the best beans he can find from around the world and roasts them in-house, never serving beans that are more than seven days old (roasting dates are written on take-home packages, too). The whole point of the place is to cater to people who are just as intense about coffee quality as the owners, who are happy to share their knowledge through detailed signage, taste tests, and conversation. No food and no tables means the coffee is pretty much it -- but man, is it good. (The only concession is artisanal candy from Canadian confectioner La Nougaterie, which you definitely don’t want to turn down.)

Cafe Madeline

Back Bay

Café Madeleine

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Carb wizard Frederic Robert has created an oasis for pastry purists bordering the South End, and we couldn’t be happier about it. The from-scratch French delicacies at Madeleine run the gamut from croissants and eclairs to madeleines, macarons, cakes, tarts, and hard-to-find pastries like candied orange tropezienne (brioche with candied orange peel, almond streusel, and vanilla pastry cream). There’s not a lot of seating, but what’s there is bright and incredibly inviting, making it the perfect place for breakfast or a coffee date.


Gracenote Coffee

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Gracenote opened its doors in October 2015, making it one of the newest artisanal coffee bars in town. It’s got everything you’d expect from a shop with that description without any air of pretension; the exposed brick, gleaming machines, window stools, and brown paper bags of whole beans are much more comforting than alienating. And since they do their own roasting, each cup is obsessively fresh.

Courtesy of Ogawa


Ogawa Coffee

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While the other downtown staples have locations all over Boston, Ogawa’s only location in the entire country is on Milk St, not far from Boston Common. The minimalist interior and sleek stadium seating make this Japanese import a welcome retreat from the office and draw attention to the beauty of the drinks, which consist of everything from Ogawa’s signature drinks (uncommonly smooth chilled espresso and a hot latté with custom art) to aeropressed coffees, matcha lattés, and single origin flights. The cake rolls and seasonal specials are gorgeous, too.

Union Square

The Biscuit 

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While they’re not scones in any traditional sense, The Biscuit’s savory scones command a cult following among local 20-somethings. The flavors change every day, and the most sought-after ones (especially the three-cheese) are usually gone before noon. Freelancers, students, athletes, and small families frequent the cafĂ©, sharing tables when the patio is closed for the winter. Try a slice of focaccia pizza, or pair a fruit square, cinnamon twist, or chocolate vegan muffin with your coffee.  

Courtesy of Algiers



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Neighborhoods Cafe


Neighborhoods Coffee & Crepes 

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The whole idea behind Neighborhoods is to support communities locally and abroad. If you go in for the organic fair-trade idea, be rest assured that all of the coffee and ingredients can be traced back to individual growers and New England farms. The shop also showcases a local entrepreneur every month to raise awareness of cool Boston-based projects. For all that, it’s remarkably affordable. A weekday breakfast on-the-go (a muffin or scone, piece of fruit, and medium coffee) will run you $5, and crepes are around $5-$7, depending on what you get.  

Jamaica Plain

Whisk at Fazenda

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Last year, the Whisk team took over the cafĂ© previously operated by local roaster Fazenda. The result is awesome: the same JP-roasted coffee with much better food. Eventually, there will be a dinner menu, but for now, be content with homemade donuts (different daily; we like the ones with locally foraged berries), scones, sourdough, and distinctive sandwiches.

Ames Street Deli

Kendall Square

Ames Street Deli

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One of our best new bars in America, Ames Street Deli has landed -- as the baby of Journeyman and Backbar, would you expect any less? But we're talking about coffee shops, not bars, and people are quick to overlook its daytime menu and head straight for the ambitious cocktail program. While the sun's still up, you can get unusual pastries (scrambled egg beignet or taco muffin, anyone?), a kick-ass breakfast sandwich with egg, kale, and piquillo cheese, and kouign-amann that the Internet won't shut up about. It's the day-to-night kind of place a tech district like Kendall Square needs.

Flickr/David Burn

North End

Caffé Vittoria

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Vittoria has been around since 1929 and definitely looks the part. The classic café chairs, marble tables, and cigar bar give this cash-only establishment an air of film noir charm. Coffee nerds will enjoy the antique espresso machines, too. Free Wi-Fi and late hours make it a good place to work over a spiked coffee.

South End


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Render finds the top brews from in town and out, then serves them up in their comfy South End location. Highlights include pour-over options from Colombia, Ecuador, New Guinea, and beyond, as well as sandwiches and baked goods. Hit the indoor patio with a Taza hot chocolate, or take a cold-brew growler out back in summer.

Flickr/Steve Garfield

Central Square

Andala Coffee House

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If you’re looking to get your coffee and go, Andala is not the place for you. Service here is slow on purpose, as the proprietors expect you to spend at least a few hours hanging out. In the tradition of Old Jerusalem, the décor is lavish and the food includes Israeli teas, coffee, and large Mediterranean snack plates; there’s also hookah and the occasional belly dance performance. While not ideal for the laptop nomad, it’s a good place to go if you need to escape your own living room with a book or want to catch up with friends.

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1. Refuge Cafe 155 Brighton Ave, Allston, MA 02134

Having cut her teeth running neighboring Myung Dong 1st Avenue with her dad, the Haverhill native behind RC's gone solo, overhauling the iconic Allston Cafe into a similarly chill 42-seater slinging sammies, suds, and java amidst walls decorated with Maine barnwood, burlap coffee sacks, and a framed vintage poster of a WWI-ish soldier saying "Make Me A Sandwich", so the only thing about to go over the top is the size of his thighs!!

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2. 4A Coffee House 419 Harvard St, Brookline, MA 02446

Obviously billed as "Kazakhstan's #1 Choice for Fresh Specialty Coffees", this sister spot to their Silk Route outpost is now open off Coolidge Corner for all your Eastern European java needs.

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3. Cafe Madeleine 517 Columbus Ave, Boston, MA 02118

Restaurant veteran Frederic Robert rocks the South End with this little neighborhood patisserie. Pastries are made on-site daily, and you should luxuriate with chausson aux pommes (apple turnover) and the filled brioche masterpiece, candied orange tropezienne. Pop in for lunch and enjoy French specialties like Quiche Lorraine and Croque-Monsieurs.

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4. Gracenote Boston 108 Lincoln St, Boston, MA 02111

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

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. The Biscuit 406 Washington St, Somerville, MA 02143

This sweet Somerville breakfast spot serves biscuits (duh), but also plenty of other tasty home baked treats like banana bread, sticky buns, fruit tarts, and broiche. But brekkie's not the only thing on the menu. The Biscuit also offers daily lunch specials which usually comprise a cup of soup and half of a seasonal sandwich.

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7. Cafe Algiers 40 Brattle St, Cambridge, MA 02138

This iconic Harvard Square cafe offers traditional Middle eastern fare served in a cozy, pub-like setting. Their signature green falafel with house made mergesa sausage is so scrumptious, you'll wonder what you ate before it ever came into your life.

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8. Cafe Pamplona 12 Bow St, Cambridge, MA 02138

First opened in 1959, Cafe Pamplona is the real deal. This storied coffeehouse and salon has been a fave of Harvard students and coffee lovers for so long, little of the cafe has changed over the years. It remains a great spot for conversation and catching up.

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9. Neighborhoods Coffee & Crepes 96 Peterborough St, Boston, MA 02215

The inaugural endeavor of a Montana-born (and BU-grad) java habitué eager to bring a slow-paced indie coffee house vibe to an area where large men hit things with bats, NC&C's a quaint 16-seater boasting white wood benches, ceramic subway tiles, and Victorian Toile-papered (no, not toilet papered) walls hung with pictures of dudes that grow coffee beans.

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10. Ames Street Deli 73 Ames St, Cambridge, MA 02142

The geniuses behind Journeyman and Backbar deliver a one-two punch in the suddenly hyper-charged Kendall Square. First up is Ames Street Deli, the extra-funky sammy haven featuring not-your-grandpa’s meat-on-bread combos. Think zanier, more to the tune of rabbit mortadella on carrot bread (ironic) and foie gras on coconut brioche.

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11. Fazenda Coffee Company 3710 Washington St, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130

Now open in the old Forest Hills' Java Jo's, this brick & mortar cafe from the Needham-based coffee co. peddles piping hot small-batch joe, fresh baked pastries, and an assortment of breakfast/lunch sammies. They're also hosting select tasting events know

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12. Caffe Vittoria 296 Hanover St, Boston, MA 02113

Sprawling is a very seriously used word in the case of this North End spot. It was the first Italian café in Boston, and covers four floors, between which is has three bars. They serve Italian classics like gelato, cannolis, coffees, and cocktails.

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13. Render Coffee 563 Columbus Ave, Boston, MA 02118

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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14. Andala Coffee House 286 Franklin St, Cambridge, MA 02139

Stop by this Middle Eastern coffee shop for a relaxed cup of joe and an Arabic-bread sando -- or just to enjoy an afternoon hookah sesh on the pretty patio.