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Coffee Beans in Beantown

November 13, 2010

Middletown being equidistant from both New York and Boston, it seemed only fair to do a Boston coffee writeup (read about my NY coffee adventures here, here, and here). I’ve heard that Boston’s coffee scene is still developing, and in no way was I expecting anything along the lines of Abraco or my beloved Intelligentsia. Still, in the mere day and a half that I was there, I was pleasantly buzzed and got to sample a bunch of different roasters, some local and some not.

Someone explain Boston to me– when I say “Boston” cafes, I’m not talking about Boston proper, but including Cambridge, Somerville, etc. I was actually born in Boston and lived in Somerville until I was two. I paid a nice little visit to Davis Square, which was cute, but failed to rouse any kind of nostalgia. In fact, Boston only made me miss Chicago more– I want nothing more than to bike by the lake and hop on the CTA to Intelligentsia for a cortado.

Because my time was limited, I was UNABLE to visit all the cafes on my list (again, supplied by my good barista friend Alex, who used to go to BU). The list:

Pavement Coffeehouse

Hi-Rise Bread Co

Simon’s Coffee Shop

Diesel Cafe

Bloc 11

Espresso Royale

Taste Coffee House

Barismo (unfortunately, in Arlington)

Pavement Coffeehouse was my favorite: the cafe features a “slow bar” with a rotating espresso selection and pour over coffee (all of Pavement’s coffees are single origin). My macchiato was my first introduction to San Francisco’s Ritual Roasters, and man, was it good. The foam was on the wetter side, but the shot itself was smooth and buttery, with a hint of hazelnut. At the same time it became acidic and more biting as I reached the bottom of the cup. Fantastic.

I was so hooked on Pavement’s coffee and overall vibe that I had to return the following day to taste their in-house espresso blend, which comes from Boston’s own Barismo. The espresso was a single origin Kenya peaberry, which was exciting in and of itself– this was my first time drinking peaberry (vs. arabica or robusta) since this summer in Bali. The Barismo macchiato, which I ordered purely for comparison, had a much sharper and less rounded taste, while at the same time being heartier, even slightly smoky.

(Please note the flanneled hipster barista to the right)

As to their drip coffee– the rotating selection was Stumptown! My taste buds may have been deadened by the espresso jolt, but the Costa Rica was fruity and light– almost juicelike and not really my thing. Sigh. Espresso continues to rule my heart.

Hi-Rise Bread Co (Harvard Square):


Aside from the fact that the barista was completely pretentious, the espresso (also Barismo) was very good. Moreover, the milk was perfectly textured, more of a miniature cortado than a macchiato. However, I don’t know if it’s because I ordered a single, but it was almost too delicate. It had the same rich nuttiness as Pavement’s, but lacked the same “electricity.”

Their standard house coffee tasted completely different from a pour over (obviously), a dark, licoricey blend.

Simon’s Coffee Shop (Porter Square): Whoa! This unassuming little gem has not one but three, kinds of espresso, and when I say that, I’m not talking about roasters. I’m familiar with the idea of a ristretto shot (just a shorter, denser espresso with a pulling time of less than 25 seconds), but have never seen it differentiated from plain espresso on a cafe menu. In addition to espresso and ristretto, the menu also featured “cubano” and “romano” shots. A cubano, the barista told me, is simply when cane sugar is extracted with espresso through the machine (hence, you could order an cubano latte or cappuccino). I feel like this can’t be good for the machine… anybody have insight on this?

The romano took me even more by surprise: it’s espresso with a slice of lemon (again, the lemon is pulled through the machine). So why did the girl who hates coffee with “citrus notes” chose to order espresso with actual citrus in it? Because I knew it would be a lost opportunity if I didn’t try it, and I was right. Definitely not something I would order again, but not for the reasons I expected. Instead of making the espresso more acidic (keep in mind, there’s no milk here at all), it merely accentuated its bitterness. It was only as I was walking out of the store past the bakery case that it hit me: a romano would pair perfectly with a cloyingly sweet lemon dessert. What could be better to chase down a gooey lemon tart or lemon poppyseed muffin?

Kevin’s cappuccino was decent, but the foam could have been hotter. I’ve discovered that a lot of cafes tend not to really differentiate between latte and cappuccino milk, which I appreciate, so this capp was a tad dry. The espresso itself was nice, though.

Finally, finally, I made my way to Diesel Cafe in Davis Square, really more for lunch than coffee. Having nothing in my stomach besides espresso, milk, and lemon juice, I devoured an avocado sandwich and lentil soup. As much as I wanted to order coffee, Intelligentsia being the main roaster, I just couldn’t. Kevin’s “medium” cappuccino was a monstrous tower of foamed milk with a ghost of coffee taste. This is why cappuccinos shouldn’t exceed 8 ounces, in my opinion.

Sorry– I’m being a coffee snob again.

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