Boston coffee snobbery
January 6, 2013 9:22 PM   Subscribe

Where can a coffee snob find fulfillment in Boston?

Just arrived in Boston. After 2 years in Birmingham (though limited, excellent coffee) and 4 years in Seattle (mecca) I'm trying to get my bearings.

Right now I'm based in Brookline but will be moving to the South End or Cambridge in the next few weeks.

I have a car, so I can drive wherever.

Sometimes when people ask for "a coffee shop" they put more emphasis on the environment than the coffee, but in this case I'm more interested in the coffee than the environment. Though feel free to share a place with good coffee and a great environment.
posted by bamassippi to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Diesel Cafe in Davis Square, Somerville, is my forever home.

The 1369 (locations in Central and Inman Squares) is another popular mainstay.
posted by mykescipark at 9:42 PM on January 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

Two suggestions:

South End has Render Coffee, which brews Counter Culture coffee. Along with Diesel in Somerville, I've enjoyed the coffee (Gimme! Coffee out of Ithaca, NY, and other rotating guest brews) at 3 Little Figs (which, incidentally, supplies the pastries over at Render, I think).
posted by freeform at 10:29 PM on January 6, 2013

True Grounds in Ball Square Somerville. Here's the thing: there's no public transportation to ball square so you'll have to really want it to get there.

Coffee there is a bit of a flashback for the history of Boston coffee. They use Terrior coffee, which is roasted by the guy who used to own Coffee Connection (before they sold all their locations to Starbucks and signed a non-compete for storefronts for something like 8 or 10 years). Basically this was the successful local micro-roaster chain coffee before Starbucks swooped in in the mid 90s, divided the city with Dunkin' Donuts and drove out 95% of the coffee shops.

Similarly, The Algiers in Cambridge is an institution - well worth a trip for a taste of their turkish coffee - protip don't drink all the way to the bottom.

Bloc11 is also pretty cool. It's the second location of Disel iirc, but it has a funky architectural feature that's also well worth the trip at least once.
posted by Nanukthedog at 10:34 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm not actually a huge coffee drinker, but I have friends who are extreme coffee snobs. In the Boston area, Barismo is where they go to get their coffee snob on. One very particular friend was so enamored of their beans, she would have them shipped to her in California. Go to Diesel or Algiers if you want more vibe, but if you want serious coffee, Barismo is the place to go.
posted by Diagonalize at 11:00 PM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

I came in to namedrop Diesel and Barismo, but I see they have both been covered.
posted by Mizu at 12:08 AM on January 7, 2013

I visited Thinking Cup for the first time recently and was impressed. I've heard the service at Algiers has declined, FWIW. My brother prefers Darwin's, near Harvard, to 1369, and I have to agree that the latter doesn't blow my mind, but is fine.
posted by knile at 12:32 AM on January 7, 2013

George Howell Cafe in Newtonville might be your cup of espresso.
posted by dywypi at 3:42 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Since you're already in Brookline, you should give Café Fixe a try.
posted by FreezBoy at 4:36 AM on January 7, 2013

Depending on what section of the South End you may end up in, The Berkeley Perk (at the corner of Berkeley and Chandler) would be worth a look. I lived a block away and it got strong reviews from my friends who appreciate coffee.
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:01 AM on January 7, 2013

nthing Barismo and cafe Fixe, but brace yourself for some seriously abrasive customer service.

Atomic Cafe also has a nice selection of rotating roasters, and they treat them quite well.
posted by furnace.heart at 5:15 AM on January 7, 2013

As others have already pointed out Barisom's Arlington location is not really set up for retail service. They have a cafe in Cambridge named dwell time that is a little better.
posted by phil at 5:25 AM on January 7, 2013

Where in Brookline are you? If you're near Coolidge Corner, 4A Coffee on Harvard Street is a pretty recent addition, and I've really enjoyed the lattes I've had there.

Peet's in Coolidge Corner is also good for chain coffee--I'd take them over the Starbucks next door any day of the week.
posted by Mayor West at 5:55 AM on January 7, 2013

Came here to say if all you want is good coffee you need to go directly to the source. George Howell, as mentioned above used to own The Coffee Connection. His coffees are sublime. They can be ordered online at
posted by Gungho at 7:02 AM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

The best coffee I had in Cambridge was at Darwins, Ltd. There are a couple of locations, but I only ever went to the one on Mt. Auburn. Bonus: Awesome sandwiches on the other side of the establishment!
posted by smirkette at 7:05 AM on January 7, 2013

George Howell's new joint is the place.

The service at Algiers has been famously terrible since 1982 to my personal knowledge. Still go there all the time, of course.

I prefer Bloc 11 in Union Square to the Diesel mothership.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:41 AM on January 7, 2013

Here's another vote for 3 Little Figs featuring the aforementioned Gimme! Coffee. And they are super friendly!
posted by greenbean at 7:54 AM on January 7, 2013

nthing Barismo -- though, also, the Barismo staff in Arlington are a bit standoffish at best. You can also get coffee\espresso brewed with Barismo beans at Hi-Rise, Dwelltime and occasionally at Bloc11 as well as Toscanini's

Just to want to clarify what you mean by:
Sometimes when people ask for "a coffee shop" they put more emphasis on the environment than the coffee, but in this case I'm more interested in the coffee than the environment.
What are your definitions around desirable coffee? Dark\City Roasted PNW cups of drip coffee? A good espresso pull? Local\fresh roasted within the last two or three days of varying roast levels? Japanese style?

If ...

Dark\City Roasted PNW -- Thinking Cup, Bloc11 and Diesel can get you Stumptown coffee. I would not go to George Howell as he's more of an advocate of lighter roast levels.

Good espresso -- Flat Black in Downtown, Thinking Cup and Dwelltime.

Local\fresh roast -- Flat Black, Clover (only does drip), any of the above mentioned places that carry Barismo like Dwelltime, Tosci's or Bloc11, George Howell, True Grounds

Japanese gadgetry (ie. syphon) - Dwelltime

I do like 1369 and Darwin's and their coffee is good, but it's not treated with the outright nerdiness that you'll see at some other places.
posted by bl1nk at 8:00 AM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

oh, and I'd only go to Algiers if you feel a hankering for turkish coffee ... otherwise skip. Nice atmosphere (as with Pamplona) but coffee quality isn't quite there.
posted by bl1nk at 8:05 AM on January 7, 2013

I can't believe no one has mentioned Sherman Cafe in Somerville's Union Sqaure (really close to Block 11 cafe). Seriously, go get your Sherman fix. Now. HURRY! They also make AMAZING sandwiches, so get one of those too.
posted by carmel at 9:05 AM on January 7, 2013

Pavement is my local place (3 locations: BU, Berkelee, and Symphony) and I really like them. They probably won't satisfy the deepest bean nerd, but they have occasional tastings, have an interesting rotating set of beans, and a really tasty espresso (though I don't drink espresso that often). Friendly staff too.

The Berkeley Perk, mentioned above, is the most relaxed and gemütlich place I've ever been to in this city.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:22 AM on January 7, 2013

Cafe Fixe is definitely bean-nerd oriented... little/no atmosphere, weird opening hours, hardly any food. I am not a bean nerd, so I don't really know whether they succeed in being good at bean nerdery, but that is what they're going for. They're in Washington Square in Brookline (intersection of Beacon and Washington), between The Fireplace and Publick House.
posted by mskyle at 9:58 AM on January 7, 2013

See, this is an example of why it depends what you like. I think George Howell knows more about coffee than anyone, and the staff at his cafe are darlings. The Barismo coffee tastes scorched to me, and the people strike me as beyond rude.

On the other hand, I agree with bl1nk that the things to order at Algiers are Turkish coffee, mint tea, and the strawberries and cream drink, and that the espresso and coffee are underwhelming. But if you go there for lunch, get the merguez.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:14 AM on January 7, 2013

Sound Bites in Ball Square (near Davis).
posted by tetralix at 2:28 PM on January 7, 2013

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