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I guess it’s time for a true confession. I’m a coffee snob. And when I travel, I have a passion for supporting local roasters and coffee houses. Let’s just say I’ve BEAN Around the World and I’m feeling like now is the time to start sharing the love… and caffeine, one city at a time. Recently, I had a fantastic week in Beantown, aka Boston. And while I didn’t eat a single baked bean, I did drink plenty of coffee, so I’ve got lots to share with you. Let’s open the TWG cafe society doors and talk coffee, Boston and Cambridge style.
You’ll notice I wrote Boston AND Cambridge, and that’s the first distinction to make. There are two sides to the Charles River and definitely two sides to the coffee scene as well. No worries, though. I covered both sides and have recommendations for you, no matter where you go.
When I travel, I only review and like to support coffee houses that roast their own beans or use locally roasted beans. Unfortunately, many of the coffee houses in Boston use beans from national roasters like Counter Culture, Intelligentsia, and Stumptown. That’s unfortunate because I don’t care for these three roasters, and there are plenty of good local roasters to use. So do make sure to ask at coffee houses whose beans they use. Let’s start with the Cambridge side of the river because that’s home to one of the key players in the coffee scene.
Barismo was founded back in 2008 by a group of five people. Jaime and Hong, the current owners, are two of the original group. The space I visited in Cambridge was opened in 2012. It’s an all-around perfect spot! I spent quite a long time there and enjoyed talking coffee and business with Jaime. He is warm, welcoming, dedicated, easy to talk with, and very transparent about how he runs the business and his ideas about creating and sustaining a coffee house.
The space itself is great. It’s large and bright with a counter and stools, as well as table seating. Jaime and Hong have created more than a coffee house. It’s evident from the moment you walk in that they’ve created a community space. I asked Jaime how he managed to get such a great space, and he said it has a lot to do with the landlord’s attitude. Some landlords want to flip a space every time the lease is up and increase rents. This drives small businesses away. In Barismo’s case, they found a landlord who wanted long-term tenants and understood the idea of creating a community space.
Just so you know, there is no WiFi. Barismo tried offering WiFi for 6 months, but found that business actually decreased. For my tastes, there aren’t enough spaces these days that are WiFi free. Barismo serves food, so most of the customers (when I was there) were eating pastries, drinking coffee, and talking!
I tried my usual cortado and it was just as I like it: strong and smooth. Barismo roasts their own beans using mostly beans from Colombia and Central America. They also use African beans. In coffee lingo, this means they use good beans without going cheap. Their prices are right where I like them at $3.50 for a cortado. Though they don’t get much of a calling for it, they do roast a decaf blend, so that’s good to know when you drink decaf.
Barismo also has two things which I saw for the first time. The first was what looked like a beer dispenser. I actually thought they were pulling glasses of beer. But it turned out that they pull their cold brew coffee just like you’d serve beer. Of course, cold brew coffee is all the rage now, and given the quality of the coffee at Barismo, I’m sure their cold brew is excellent. I noticed this way of pulling cold brew coffee at other places in the Boston area but haven’t seen it elsewhere.
The other unusual thing I noticed was that they sell cold brew coffee in a box. Beverages in a box have come a long way, and it makes total sense for coffee, in the same way it does for wine. No air and no light, keep the coffee cool, and you’ve got some cold brew in the fridge at all times. I didn’t get a chance to taste it, and being that I was walking around all day, I didn’t get one to take home. But I’d try it at least once to see how it tasted and how long it lasted in the box.
If these various descriptions of Barismo don’t sway you to try them, here’s the clincher. Hong is a pastry chef and all their pastries are made on site. They are GOOD!!! I started with a scone with butter and then ate a chocolate croissant. That’s a first for me, as I usually have my cortado or flat white without anything accompanying it. They don’t run out because, even when I was there in the early afternoon, Hong was still baking pastries.
Barismo has a dedicated following of locals who come for the coffee, pastries, and food. I’m also quite sure they come because of the community feeling and the warmth of not just Jaime and Hong, but of the whole staff. This would be my coffee house if I lived anywhere near Massachusetts!
There are a few other coffee spots you’ll hear about in Cambridge. One place is 1369 Coffee House. It’s in Central Square and has been around for a few decades, so it’s popular. They do roast their own beans. I don’t care for the ambience. It’s a narrow bowling alley type space, and too crowded for me. I felt claustrophobic when I stopped in.
Crema Cafe is right in the heart of Harvard Square. They use locally roasted beans, have a good selection of food and pastries, and the space feels like a European style cafe. They have tables outside in front, and a second level of seating inside.
I would think at both 1369 Coffee House and Crema Cafe, you’d get a quality coffee beverage and chance to sample some local beans and pastries. I was drawn to Barismo, so that would be my first choice. It is unfortunate that both Boston and Cambridge are targeted as trendy coffee locations because big chains like Nero, Intelligentsia, Blue Bottle, and Philz Coffee are all planning on opening multiple locations around Boston. Please, when you visit Cambridge, support these local roasters and coffee houses. I’d hate to see them disappear from the scene! Stay tuned for the Boston coffee scene as we cross the river to the land of Gracenote and George Howell!
Did I miss any of your favorite local coffee houses in Cambridge? Have you ever tried the places I’ve mentioned? Have you ever tried coffee in a box? Let me know in the comments below.
If you liked this post, please check out all the other cities I reviewed in Shelli’s World Coffee Tour.