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.
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
I first came across George Howell (as a name in coffee; I’ve never met him) when I visited True Grounds almost four years ago. It soon became apparent that George Howell wasn’t just another roaster; rather he’s a legend in American speciality coffee, someone who pioneered much of what we now take for granted, such as lighter roasts and direct trade with coffee farmers. He’s done many things in his long career, including running coffee shops and now, after a considerable absence, he’s back with a series of high-profile spaces in the heart of Boston, starting with the coffee bar in Boston Public Market.
The second downtown space, in the Godfrey Hotel, opened in the summer of 2016, so I made a beeline for it on my latest visit to Boston. Occupying the right-hand corner of the hotel, where Washington Street meets Temple Place, it’s a bright spot, with windows on both sides. The main entrance is on Washington Street, but there’s also a door from the lobby of the Godfrey Hotel to the left of the coffee shop. If you can’t find a seat (a fairly common occurrence) or are just looking for a more relaxed atmosphere, you’re welcome to take your coffee into the lobby.
The Washington Street entrance is in the centre of the coffee shop, a long, shallow ramp leading up to the counter at the back of the store. This clever arrangement immediately separates the flow of customers from the twin seating areas either side of the ramp. To the left, next to the door from the lobby, there are two long communal tables, each seating 10. The one closest to the counter is low, while the one in the window is high.
The remaining seating is off to the right, a more secluded area occupied by rows of small, round/square, two-person tables. This is separated off from both the ramp and also from the counter, the latter by shelves of merchandising. It also sits in the corner, with windows on two sides, which, added to the open side next to the ramp, makes it very bright and open despite its seclusion.
Perhaps the best part is the Exploratorium. This on the right, extending into space beyond the end of the counter and with its own window overlooking Temple Place. George Howell has always been about more than just selling coffee and the Exploratorium is an example of this, hosting daily talks, cuppings and masterclasses, all of which are open to the public. When not hosting events, it’s the retail section of the coffee shop, with beans for sale, plus a wide range of equipment.
Talking of coffee, there are plenty of options. On espresso, George Howell has its Alchemy Blend, backed up with a single-origin decaf and single-origin guest, which changes every week or so. These are supported by more single-origins on filter: there are three plus decaf on pour-over, another on bulk-brew and a fifth on iced coffee.
All the latest technology is here, including four Modbar pour-over modules (the coffee bar in the Public Market uses Marco Systems SP9s) which use Kalita Waves for the filter, as well as twin Kees van der Westen espresso machines.
My barista recommended the Alchemy blend as a cortado, which turned out to be a good choice. It’s more of an old school blend, which went extremely well with milk, combining for lots of chocolate notes. I paired this with a fantastic hazelnut-crunch baked doughnut from Union Square Donuts. This excelled as a basic doughnut, while the hazelnut (and crunch) element just added to the package.
|GODFREY HOTEL • 505 WASHINGTON STREET • BOSTON • MA 02111 • USA|
|Monday||06:30 – 20:00||Roaster||George Howell (espresso + filter)|
|Tuesday||06:30 – 20:00||Seating||Tables|
|Wednesday||06:30 – 20:00||Food||Breakfast, Lunch, Sandwiches, Cake|
|Thursday||06:30 – 20:00||Service||Counter|
|Friday||06:30 – 20:00||Payment||Cards + Cash|
|Saturday||06:30 – 20:00||Wifi||Free|
|Sunday||06:30 – 20:00||Power||Limited|
|Chain||Regional||Visits||14th February 2017, 2nd May 2022|
Liked this? Then don’t forget to check out the Coffee Spot Guide to Boston & Cambridge for more great Coffee Spots.
For more on George Howell, see this excellent interview from Sprudge, while you can also see what Sprudge made of the coffee shop itself. For an alternative viewpoint, you can see what fellow-blogger Bex made of George Howell in her Guide to Speciality Coffee in Boston.
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