Boston's Most Underrated Coffee Houses, by 'Hood
One of the best things about Boston is its amazing local coffee chains. Pavement, Thinking Cup, 1369, Jaho, Flat Black, Simon’s, BCC, and Somerville’s Diesel/Bloc 11/Forge family all pour a delicious cup of coffee, and one is almost always nearby. But if you’re tired of the standbys, there’s a lot of badass bean-water off the beaten path. We love these neighborhood spots for their one-of-a-kind vibes and signature bites:
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 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.)
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 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.
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.
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 café, 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.
Situated just a few blocks from the hustle and bustle of Harvard Square, this tiny basement café is so hidden that even longtime residents don’t always notice it (even though it’s been there since the '50s). The whole place consists of a single yellow room and some porch seating outside (no bathroom), but Pamplona offers free Wi-Fi and is open late, making it a favorite of Harvard professors and performers grabbing coffee between shows at the nearby Oberon club. Rumor has it that Amanda Palmer stops by on the regular. Stick with espresso drinks and summer specials and it’s hard to go wrong.
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.
Last year, the Whisk team took over the café 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.
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.
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.
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.
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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