I have to admit it: I’m a coffee snob. I’m not 100 percent sure how this happened to me, and I understand that my latte habit lumps me in with the myriad of pretentious undergrads trolling Boston’s hip cafes with a Macbook and a half-soy, half-vanilla soy, short foam, tall froth something-or-other. In the Boston area, hoity-toity coffees are for the hoity-toity and Dunkin Donuts reigns supreme on almost every corner. During the Boston Bombing manhunt, when everything shut down and residents were asked not to leave their homes, Dunkins stayed open. Don’t get me wrong: there’s nothing quite like stopping for a Coolatta on a hot summer day en route to Nahant Beach, but the coffee is kind of terrible.
Unfortunately, this opinion makes me come off like a jerk. I’m that co-worker that’s only interested in a coffee run if it’s to one of my pre-approved places. “Hey, we’re going for a coffee break! Want to join?” “Sure! Where are you going?” “Starbucks.” “Oh. No. Nevermind, I’m okay.” That’s me, sending the wrong social signal because I’m a snob. If you share my shame (there have to be more of us!), or if you’re just looking for a better-than-average cup of joe or even just a nice place to sit with a cup of tea, I present you with five of my favorite coffee shops in Boston:
With four locations on the Green Line, this coffeehouse caters to a wide audience, providing java to Berklee, Northeastern, and Boston University undergrads, as well as to fatigued shoppers needing an extra boost on Newbury Street. I’d recommend any of their coffees, especially the daily pour-over, cold-brew, or cortado. Be warned, this is potent stuff. I can only work my way through half of their smallest iced coffee before I feel electrified. I generally go for the cortado and highly suggest ordering “for here” and drinking it on the bench by the front window. (Extra tip: the breakfast sandwiches can’t be beat with bagels sourced from Allston’s own Bagel Rising.)
Locations: 44 Gainsborough St, 1096 Boylston St, 286 Newbury St, 736 Commonwealth Ave
I rejoiced when Joanne Chang opened a new branch of Flour in Back Bay this year and I regularly lie to myself that it is a close enough walk from my office to be a “quick coffee break.” Besides having knockout food and sweets, this bakery offers some killer coffee. Their iced coffee is officially my favorite and when colder weather calls, a cappuccino, latte, or just a regular cup of joe will more than suffice until the sun comes out again. And honestly, if you’re going to have a cup of coffee, you may as well get a sticky bun to go with it.
Locations: 131 Clarendon St, 1595 Washington St, 12 Farnsworth St, 190 Mass Ave (Cambridge)
3. SIP Cafe
During the summer, Post Office Square’s Norman B. Leventhal park is a popular lunchtime hangout for Financial District suits looking to stretch out on the grass with a book from the mobile library and a coffee from SIP Cafe. The cafe is a window-walled building at the end of the park with an acoustically-cool interior, offering snacks, sandwiches, and outdoor seating. I once went in with a lingering hangover and a sympathetic barista served me up a ginger cortado that kicked the pants off my headache. I’ve been hooked since.
Location: 0 Post Office Square
Nearly hidden in an upstairs location on Columbus Ave, Render is known for their phenomenal pour-overs. The front counter has a pretty set-up where you can watch your coffee drip. They have a great lunch menu of wraps and sandwiches to go with your coffee, as well as outdoor balcony seating that can make you forget you’re in the middle of a city. With plenty of space, they’re a favorite for small, studious group gatherings (I’ve seen a group of Francophiles meet for tea more than once.) I highly recommend the cappuccino and word is they have house-made hazelnut syrup for their latte.
Location: 563 Columbus Ave
I miss the days when I worked in the Financial District and could stop at Flat Black every morning for a cappuccino. A tiny cappuccino, or “tiny capp,” with whole milk became part of my morning routine after a recommendation from the barista. I’m not a huge fan of milk and used to order skim in my espresso drinks before he pointed out that I could go whole and just downsize while getting a major lift in flavor. Game changed. This spot has funky stone walls and is usually streaming some vibe-y tunes, making it a fun spot for a midday pick-me-up. This coffee retailer opened in 2003 and you can get their beans on their website or in select stores. Fun fact: The name “flat black” is apparently the Australian term for an Americano.
Locations: 50 Broad St, 100 High St, 260 Franklin St