Best coffee shops in Boston
Between the expansive seating, subway tiles, and overall sophistication of the space, you’re forgiven for thinking you’ve walked into a bistro. Industry veteran George Howell has quite the resume, and his outlet inside the Godfrey Hotel provides an excellent spot for focusing on the beans of his labor. There’s a massive marble bar, two espresso machines, coffee education classes, a retail corner for purchasing brewing equipment and beans, and a menu of upscale treats. But the coffee drinks still reign supreme, including specialty drinks like The Original (a frozen blend of coffee, milk and sugar).
In many ways, this is the grand dame of Cambridge’s many coffeehouses. The venue simultaneously introduced Cantabrigians to great coffee and a great coffeehouse scene; suddenly it was okay to savor a latte over a chapter book, or to sip your third cup while toiling over an early-era MacBook. And the cozy, narrow, neighborly Inman Square institution has actually managed to thrive in the Starbucks era, even opening a second branch in Central Square.
Among an unending sea of cafés serving drip-coffee in styrofoam, it’s refreshing to sip a rich pour-over out of a stout ceramic mug. By serving Stumptown coffee, Thinking Cup is the best choice if you’re within spitting distance of the Boston Common. Keep an eye on the expert baristas as they produce Instagram-worthy lattes.
Helmed by a husband-and-wife team that roast their own beans, this homey Coolidge Corner enclave is known for attentive service, a spotless atmosphere and premium blends. 4A stamps their beans with the exact roasting date, so you know just how fresh they are. There are no tables, but you can pick up an espresso to go—the drinks produced by 4A’s rare Slayer machine taste as rich as you’d expect from something that costs $18,000.
The second-floor South End cafe is a sanctum for caffeinated locals reluctant to give up their seats. Coffee is the first and primary order of business here, with beans sourced from local roasters and transformed into Americanos, cortados and cold brews. Nab a table by one of the windows in the back room cupola; if you’re lucky, a chair on the shaded patio will eventually open up.
This tiny coffee shop lures you in with scratch-made goodies like muffins, scones and cookies, plus kind customer service and a small menu of salads and sandwiches. But it’s the cafe’s devotion to top-level barista work that is its biggest attraction. All of the espresso drinks are made with carefully selected beans (often from New England roasters) and farm-sourced dairy; the foam art alone will make you a regular.
barismo appeals to aficionados. This lab-style coffeebar offers little space to linger—but the reason most patrons come in is the fresh coffee, brewed one cup at a time. The company prides itself on its transparent sourcing, and its attention to detail during the roasting and brewing processes. The engaging baristas are experts at their craft and usually eager to talk shop.
In-the-know students and coffee fanatics head to Harvard Square for a taste of San Francisco’s famed Blue Bottle Coffee. Loyal customers enjoy coffee drinks made-to-order from freshly roasted, mostly organic beans. Iced coffee fans are well-served, as Blue Bottle is renowned for its New Orleans-style preparation, fortified with chicory. The minimalist environs place the spotlight on the baristas in action.
Any Somerville sipper worth their salt has stopped by this Davis Square destination at some point. What other café can lay claim to a pool table, a black-and-white photo booth, and a highly entertaining people-watching scene of Tuftsies and twenty-somethings in addition to top-notch coffee?
PS Gourmet has two sizes: small, and “the bucket.” This charmingly unpretentious South Boston haunt has tasty iced coffee selections, featuring such flavor infusions as Snickerdoodle and Chocolate Caramel Kiss. The popular PS Special is a cinnamon-dusted hazelnut mocha.
You can’t get more crunchy-granola conscientious than this organic, fair-trade café near the TD Garden. Expect a label denoting the place of origin for almost every menu item, including the coffee beans, which come from as far afield as Nicaragua and Uganda. Local independent businesses provide fresh pastries and healthy light lunch offerings.
Remember when coffeeshops were places to converse rather than simply plug in and tune out with a laptop? Ula’s relaxed atmosphere helps maintain that “café as public sphere” ethos. An eclectic JP crowd noshes on well-made coffee drinks, fresh-baked pastries, and savory treats. The staff occasionally shuts down its free Wi-Fi during peak hours.
Somerville seems to have a thing for repurposing stodgy old buildings and turning them into hip social spaces. (Exhibit A: the castle-turned-cultural center known as the Armory.) This Union Square café serves a ton of food and drink options, and many young locals chill the day away over sustainably-sourced coffee. Circle around to the far side of the coffee bar and you’ll notice a massive bank vault, where you can enjoy a drink while feeling like you’re in on a heist.
In a sea of chains, Trident remains a tried-and-true standby for the more indie-minded of Boston’s over-caffeinated literary nerds. The magazine selection is peerless—art zines, obscure trade publications, and more. The food and drink is solid. The coffee may not be single-origin pour-over, but it's strong and tasty, and the atmosphere will make up for it.
How is a high-concept restaurant also one of the area’s great coffee shops? Because Loyal Nine wears more than one hat. Yes, it’s a nighttime spot serving reimagined New England fare, but it’s also a cafe during daylight hours. Imagine settling in with your laptop at an inside communal table or on the outside patio, a glass of nitro coffee in hand and a biscuit breakfast sandwich at the ready. Before you know it, you’ll find you’ve lingered into lunchtime, which simply means you can explore the midday sandwich and salad offerings and indulge in one last latte.
Come to Time Out Market Boston for a different George Howell Coffee experience. Here, in a dynamic, open space, you can enjoy batch brewed single-farm coffees as well as a selection of micro-lot coffees. If the weather's nice, take your cup outside and enjoy the 401 Park atmosphere.