George Howell, Godfrey Hotel

Detail from the wall of the George Howell Coffee Shop in the Godfrey Hotel in BostonFor 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.

  • The latest George Howell in the Godfrey Hotel, right in the heart of downtown Boston.
  • One day, when I'm in charge, parking outside coffee shops won't be allowed...
  • Looking in from the outside: one of two seating areas in the new George Howell coffee shop.
  • It extends around the corner where there's second seating area (left), plus a lab area (right).
  • The main entrance is on Washington Street, right in the middle of the coffee shop.
  • There's seating to the left...
  • ... in the form of two long, communal tables...
  • .... and seating to the right...
  • ... in the form of more conventiion round and square two-person tables.
  • You get to the seating on the right down this narrow passage from the counter.
  • The other option is to come in through the lobby of the Godfrey Hotel itself.
  • If the coffee shop is busy, you can always take your coffee back to the lobby and sit there.
  • The counter is at the back, the line starting on the left, next to the door from the lobby.
  • Beyond the far (right-hand) end of the counter, you'll find this, a large, open space...
  • ... known as the Exploratorium. This holds George Howell's regular coffee events...
  • ... as well as doubling as a sales space. There's a range of beans for sale...
  • ... with the map showing all the origins around the world that George Howell deals with.
  • The Exploratorium also has equipment for sale.
  • Lots of equipment in fact.
  • Pretty much everything you could need when I come to think of it!
  • The Exploratorium has a regular schedule of events, one for each day.
  • The week's events, from brewing masterclasses to cuppings and tasting events.
  • Obligatory lighting shot.
  • It pays to look down as well: these amazing tiles are on the floor next to the counter.
  • George Howell has pedigree!
  • Tucked away at the back of the counter is George Howell's original Frappuccino machine!
  • Talking of the counter, here's a quick tour, going from back (right) to front (left).
  • There's a pair of Kees van der Westen espresso machines, looking sleek and beautiful...
  • ... and done out in their custom George Howell branding.
  • Between them, they have three nouva simonelli Mythos 1 grinders (house, guest & decaf).
  • Next, in the centre of the counter, are four Modbar pour-over modules...
  • ... next to which is the till where you order.
  • Finally, at the left-hand end, is the small, but tempting cake display...
  • ... seen here from above.
  • The doughnuts in particular looked awesome.
  • There are also more coffee beans for sale down here.
  • The menu is on the wall behind the counter on two large TVs. These are the coffee options...
  • ... while this one has the other drinks and the food options.
  • I went for a cortado, made with the Alchemy Blend, and a doughnut.
  • My doughnut (hazelnut crunch) in more detail.
  • And my cortado, up close and personal.
  • I'll leave you with the latte art in my cortado...
  • ... which lasted all the way to the bottom of the glass.
Photo Carousel by v4.6

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 +1 857-957-0217
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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