Pavement Coffeehouse, Boylston

The Pavement Coffeehouse logoPavement Coffeehouse is a chain of four shops (six as of May 2015), all in the Back Bay area of Boston. I was fortunate enough to visit the original, which is at the western end of Boylston Street, just beyond the junction with Massachusetts Avenue. I really liked it, finding it a curious mix of American coffee shop (front) and European coffee house (back). The coffee, from Counter Culture, is excellent, the food is good and the staff friendly. I was there twice, once for morning coffee and once for lunch; both times it was packed!

You can tell that Pavement is serious about its coffee: there are two espressos on offer, a single-origin (Buziraguhindwa from Burundi), served straight, and a blend (Rustico; a mix of 70% Guatemala and 30% Ethiopia) to be served with milk. There is also the choice of two more single-origins (a Rwandan and a Bolivian) on filter (generally called “hand-poured” in the US) in this case made using the Clever dripper, something I don’t see very often (the last time was at Bath’s Colonna & Small’s). The coffee options were rounded off with the obligatory drip-filter (bulk brew), another single-origin (Baroida from Papua New Guinea).

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

With the understanding that I really liked Pavement, let me start with the negative, the one thing I really don’t like about American coffee shops in general. This is the addiction to counter service: it causes so many problems and, frankly (to use the local lingo), it sucks.

In the UK, the independent sector has learnt that making people hang around while their coffee is being made is a bad idea, but most places here seem wedded to the idea. At Pavement, it creates a huge bottleneck as you first file down to the bottom end of the counter to order, then file back to where you started to wait, collect your coffee and then push your way past the queue of people waiting to order/collect (take your pick) so you can get a seat.

At Pavement you can avoid this final step by sitting up front at one of two small bars by the window or between window and espresso machine. However, here you’re stuck with everyone waiting for coffee, plus the constant hollering of people’s names as the coffee is prepared, so it’s not a great option.

Once you get past this point things improve dramatically. The store widens out beyond the counter where you find padded benches with tables to your right on either side of an old fireplace, itself flanked by a pair of armchairs. It gets even wider at the back, with more armchairs, a three-person bar, another padded bench, eight two-person tables and one 10-person communal table.

Over my two visits, I sampled a fair bit of the coffee menu. Since it was the first time I’d seen a cortado in a Boston coffee shop, I felt I had to try one. I wasn’t disappointed, receiving a classic cortado for my pains (double shot of espresso and roughly equal amount of foamed milk in a shot-glass). It had great milk-structure and the coffee came through the milk strongly enough, although for once in my life, I might actually have preferred it with slightly more milk.

The rest of the (commendably short) espresso menu looked equally interesting. There is no sign of the buckets-of-milk approach which dogs some American establishments: instead Pavement offers 6oz cappuccinos and 12oz lattes to go with the cortado.

I’d wanted to try the single-origin as a straight espresso, but it ran out while I was there, which perhaps was just as well. Instead I tried the Rustico blend, which I liked on its own better than in the cortado (the bright, fruity notes of the Ethiopian complimented the body of the Guatemalan). According to Patti, the barista-trainer at Pavement, the single origin was considerably brighter than the Rustico and, I suspect, would not have been to my taste at all.

I also had a chance to sample one of the single-origins, going for the Nueva Llusta from Bolivia. This was left to steep for two minutes in the Clever dripper, then filtered for another 2½ minutes. The resulting cup was nothing too exciting (all to the good as far as I’m concerned) with plenty of body. It went well with the sandwich I had for my lunch: goats’ cheese, walnut and cranberries on rosemary focaccia. This was excellent; really zingy, with the three main ingredients combining perfectly.

June 2015: You can also find out what I made of Pavement’s Gainsborough branch, perhaps the most elegant of the six Pavements.

1096 BOLYSTON STREET • BOSTON • MA 02215 • USA +1 617 236 1500
Monday 07:00 – 19:00 Roaster Counter Culture (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 07:00 – 19:00 Seating Bar, tables, sofas, armchairs
Wednesday 07:00 – 19:00 Food Sandwiches (breakfast, lunch), cake
Thursday 07:00 – 19:00 Service Counter
Friday 07:00 – 19:00 Cards Mastercard, Visa
Saturday 08:00 – 19:00 Wifi Free (with logon, one hour limit)
Sunday 08:00 – 19:00 Power Yes
Chain Local Visits 4th, 5th March 2014

If you enjoyed this Coffee Spot, then take a look at the rest of Boston’s speciality coffee scene with the Coffee Spot Guide to Boston and Cambridge.

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12 thoughts on “Pavement Coffeehouse, Boylston

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  6. Excellent, brilliant points from a sophisticated customer who knows his coffee and appreciates the ambiance!
    It really would be so much nicer and easier to have the customers sit and be served their drinks (and food) …but much more difficult and costly for the owners (or maybe possible some day?!…) thank you!

    • Thanks. It’s interesting that the stand and collect model is so dominant in the US, but in the UK and most of Europe hardly any speciality coffee shops use it, instead bringing the drinks to the customers. I therefore find it hard to believe that is is that much more difficult/costly, although that#s the reason I’ve been given by several US coffee shop owners. Personally I think it’s much more down to ingrained thinking/doing things the way they’ve always been done.

      I also wonder if the dominance of bulk-brew filter coffee in the US is a factor, since if that’s how you have your coffee, there is no waiting around…


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