For a long time, downtown Boston was a desert when it came to speciality coffee. However, in the last couple of years, that’s all changed. For example, local roasters, Gracenote, moved in with an espresso bar near South Station, while this year, another personal favourite, Render Coffee, opened its second branch, Render Coffee 121, on Devonshire Street, around the corner from Japanese import, Ogawa Coffee. And then there’s George Howell, the American speciality coffee legend from Acton, whose coffee bar in the Boston Public Market opened last year, joined in June by his latest venture, a coffee shop inside the Godfrey Hotel, on Washington Street in the heart of downtown Boston.
This is a busy, compact spot, at one level a typical, bustling mainstream coffee shop, but at the same time, a haven for the coffee geek, with a dedicated room, the Exploratorium, for retail sales and home to daily talks, events and masterclasses. The coffee stands up against the best, with the Alchemy Blend joined by a single-origin and decaf on espresso. There are a further four single-origins on pour-over (including one decaf), plus bulk-brew. Unusually for America, the usual cake is joined by a more substantial breakfast/lunch offering.
Not long after I left Boston on my previous trip in 2016, Render Coffee opened its second branch, continuing a recent theme of speciality coffee moving into the heart of downtown Boston. Just around the corner from downtown pioneers, Ogawa Coffee, you’ll find Render Coffee 121, appropriately enough, on 121 Devonshire Street.
The first thing to say is that this is a totally different space from the original Render on Columbus Avenue. It’s inside the CIC office building, serving as an in-house café as well as being open to the public. The space, in comparison to Columbus Avenue, is huge, with high ceilings and a broad frontage onto Devonshire Street. However, both are long and thin, although 121 is probably four to five times as wide as the Columbus Avenue branch, but goes just as far back.
Despite these differences, the coffee is just as good at 121. With offerings from Portland’s Tandem Coffee Roasters and the local Gracenote Coffee, you’ll often find the same coffee at both branches, but each manager has discretion to order what they like, so there may be differences. Unlike Columbus Avenue, there’s no breakfast/lunch menus, but you’ll find a similarly excellent selection of cake.
Ogawa Coffee is a large (40+ stores) speciality coffee shop chain from Kyoto. However, the branch on Milk Street, right in the heart of downtown Boston, is its first overseas venture, having opened in 2015. An interesting blend of Japanese and American coffee culture, I loved it, particularly the attention to detail shown by the baristas.
The shop itself is long and thin, with perhaps the highest ceilings I’ve seen in a coffee shop this year. About as wide as it is tall, Ogawa has a great sense of space. There’s a good choice of seating too, with tables at the front and what is called stadium seating at the back, opposite the counter. Best of all, you can sit at the counter itself and watch the filter coffee being made.
Talking of coffee, it’s all roasted in Kyoto and air-freighted to the shop on a regular basis. There is a house-blend and three single-origins, which can be had by any method (espresso or hand-pour filter). These are joined on espresso by decaf and guest single-origins which change every week or two. Perhaps best of all, Ogawa serves a tasting flight, where you get to sample all three single-origins side-by-side.
George Howell is a something of a legend in American speciality coffee. He made his name as a roaster, but recently George, as his staff refer to him, has started opening coffee shops under the George Howell brand, starting in Newtonville in 2012. This, the subject of today’s Saturday Short, is the first branch in Boston, in the high-profile, newly-opened Boston Public Market, while a second Boston branch in the Godfrey Hotel on Washington Street opened this summer.
Boston Public Market is home to a high-quality espresso/coffee bar, catering primarily to the takeaway market, but with proper cups for espresso and glasses for cortados. It’s an impressive operation, with house-blend, single-farm and decaf on espresso, plus further single-farm coffees for the iced-coffee, bulk-brew (coffee of the week) and individual pour-overs, courtesy of twin Marco Beverage Systems SP9s. You can buy retail bags of coffee, plus various merchandising and coffee-related kit.
I’ve been a fan of roasters, Gracenote, for a while, having first had its coffee at Boston’s delightful Render Coffee. Based in Berlin, Massachusetts, where it’s been roasting since 2012, Gracenote took a first step into serving its own coffee with a lovely coffee bar in downtown Boston, which opened in October 2015. During my most recent visit in February 2016, it was the place that everyone in the area (including Providence, Rhode Island) said I had to visit, and they weren’t wrong!
The coffee bar’s standing-room only, catering primarily for office workers from the area around Boston’s South Station. A lovely Modbar installation provides espresso, offering house-blend, a single-origin or decaf. There’s bulk-brew filter, cold-brew on tap and a choice of speciality tea. Naturally you can buy all of Gracenote’s coffee in retail bags, whole bean or ground-on-demand. If you’re hungry, there’s even a limited selection of sweet treats.
Welcome to the third and final part of the 2016 instalment of my occasional Brian’s Travel Spot series. Part I saw me flying out to Newark and sauntering around New York for a couple of days before heading down to Philadelphia. Part II covered my time in Philadelphia, Washington DC and my brief return to New York as I swung back north.
Part III sees me back in New England, where I started my coast-to-coast trip in June last year. I had a day in Providence, which I first visited last year and, like Philadelphia, has a great, unsung coffee scene. From there it was on to Boston for the end of my trip, before flying home. As I did last June, I flew with British Airways, while all internal travel was on Amtrak, a great way to travel in the US if you’re not in any particular hurry.
Highlights of this leg of the trip were discovering more of Providence, which, as well as having an excellent coffee scene, is a lovely, historic city, and seeing Boston’s speciality coffee scene finally starting to take off with three really excellent places opening in Downtown Boston in the last 12 months.
I first discovered L.A. Burdick in my pre-Coffee Spot days, after a recommendation by some Boston friends. It sounded so awesome that I had to seek it out when I was looking around Harvard. I must confess, I was not disappointed… When it came to starting the Coffee Spot, L.A. Burdick was one of the places I wanted to write about, but, of course, in traditional Coffee Spot style, I first visited L.A. Burdick’s New York City branch, plus the branch in Boston’s Back Bay, before finally getting around to a return visit to Harvard at the start of my coast-to-coast trip last summer.
As well as being the hot chocolate equivalent of a coffee shop, L.A. Burdick sells chocolate (and chocolates), the retail space usually being of equal size to the café part. There’s also tea, coffee and a wide range of sumptuous-looking cakes. However, for me, the whole purpose of coming to L.A. Burdick is to indulge in the amazing, rich and, above all, chocolaty hot chocolate.
Be warned: Harvard is smaller than the other two branches. You’ll often struggle to get a seat, having to wait for a one to become free before putting in your order.
Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe, the quintessential family-run American diner, had been in the Manjourides family since it opened in 1927, serving the people of the South End from 429 Columbus Avenue. I discovered Charlie’s in 2003 and when, in recent years, I started to stay in the South End, it became my go-to breakfast place, dishing up my favourite staples of poached eggs, home fries and griddle cakes.
I wrote about Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe in 2013, visiting again in 2014. However, towards the end of that year, I heard troubling rumours that Charlie’s had closed. It was only when I returned to Boston in June 2015 that I was able to confirm it for myself. I swung by in the vain hope that it would be open but it was well-and-truly shut, although deep inside I heard sounds of construction. Disappointed, I went on my way, ending up in the nearby Render Coffee.
However, when I returned this year, I was once again walking down to Render, and, instead of finding the empty shell of Charlie’s, or something new in its place, there was Charlie’s itself, looking superficially very much as it had year after year. Intrigued, I stepped inside.
I visited Dwelltime in Cambridge (Massachusetts, not UK) on my coast-to-coast adventure in June last year and, since I’m now back in Boston, I thought it was high-time I published it! However, since my original visit, Dwelltime has renamed itself barismo 364 to better reflect its ownership (although I quite liked the name Dwelltime).
Dwell-barismo-364-time (henceforth barismo 364) opened in 2012 as the flagship coffee shop for local roaster barismo. It incorporates a full kitchen at the back of the store, where all the food is prepared and all the cakes, cookies, etc are baked. It also has a lovely island counter, which was all part of the fit-out when barismo took over the disused Hubley auction house on Broadway.
Barismo offers two options (during my visit, a blend and a single-origin) plus decaf on espresso, while there’s also a full filter-bar, offering a pair of single-origins through the V60. Unusually for an American coffee shop, there’s no bulk-brew filter (something it shares with Render Coffee). If you’re hungry, there’s an extensive lunch menu and a range of cakes, cookies and pastries. At weekends, there’s also a full brunch menu until 2.30 and a ban on laptops.
As much as I liked the original Pavement Coffeehouse on Boylston, which I visited last year, in comparison, I adored the Gainsborough branch. Both are in Boston’s Back Bay and are, in fact, just ten minutes’ walk from each other, albeit on different branches of Boston’s Green Line. Along with the equally close Render Coffee, they make the neighbourhood a go-to area for great coffee.
All the Pavements serve Counter Culture coffee. At Gainsborough, different beans, which change every two months or so, are available on espresso, bulk-brew and hand-pour, plus there’s a decaf option too. During my visit, they were all single-origins: a Bolivian Nueva Llusta on both espresso & bulk-brew, with a Kenyan Muthonjo on Aeropress (there’s usually a Chemex option on hand-pour as well), while the decaf was Peruvian.
The food is similar to Boylston: bagels and lunch/breakfast sandwiches, plus salads and cake. However, in terms of layout and atmosphere, Gainsborough and Boylston are like chalk and cheese. While Boylston is long, thin and very hectic, Gainsborough is square (in shape) and much more relaxed. There’s probably not much to choose between the two in size, but Gainsborough feels bigger and is certainly more spacious.