Despite its long-standing allegiance toward Dunkin’ Donuts, Boston is home to a slew of indie roasters and quaint cafés.
Boston’s coffee locales run the gamut from hipster havens to espresso institutions, providing plenty of nooks and crannies to cozy up in with a cortado during chilly winters or linger over an iced latte on summer patios. Here are the best cafés in the city.
Café by Salon
Coffee Shop, Coffee, Pastries
An eye-catching coffee counter hidden inside of Salon (the sophisticated Beacon Hill design studio), Café by Salon serves up espresso crafted with beans from Tandem Coffee Roasters out of Portland, Maine. The spot is filled with curated curiosities for purchase, made by international designers and makers. But the café bar itself is perhaps the most stunning thing in the room – adorned with leathered marble and a gilded palm frond light fixture. At this elegant locale, customers can settle into a vintage armchair with beverages such as a macadamia milk latte and munch on flaky French pastries baked by the South End’s Café Madeleine.
Placing equal emphasis on world-class coffee and high-quality food, Revival Café + Kitchen is operated by the same team behind Harvard Square’s long-loved Crema Café, which closed its doors in late 2018. Revival’s Cambridge location is a tribute to the spirit of Crema – serving scrumptious dishes such as the Crema fried chicken sandwich and, of course, artisanal coffees such as the fruity/floral Evelio Bolaños Geisha from Colombia. Pull up a brightly colored chair and settle into the quirky space decked out with graphic tiles, succulents and street art-inspired murals.
Seemingly plucked from a Parisian street, Tatte is a favorite spot among Bostonians to gather for a tête-à-tête over house lattes – made with a dash of cardamom and honey – or for a brunch of shakshuka and freshly baked challah bread, a nod to owner Tzurit Or’s Israeli roots. Black-and-white tiles and touches of marble adorn the interiors of Tatte’s 12 locations across Boston and Cambridge. The café’s Back Bay outpost is filled with natural light and only steps from the Public Garden – perfect for grabbing a fruit tart from the overflowing bakery counter and embarking on a stroll through the manicured grounds.
Don’t be fooled by this spot’s unpretentious interior – Render is a go-to for artisanal pour-overs and craft espresso. The café serves up Counter Culture Coffee and some serious neighborhood vibes – often filled with South Enders looking for an afternoon pick-me-up and families stopping in for a flaky, phyllo-crusted quiche. There isn’t much seating in the shoebox-shaped space, but walk past the counter and the room opens up into a quaint solarium that leads to a back patio where customers can savor their cappuccinos in dappled sunlight.
Thinking Cup has long been a cozy sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of the Back Bay, Boylston Street and Newbury Street. It rose to acclaim in 2010 for being the first Boston shop to source Stumptown Coffee. Adorned with crystal chandeliers and newspaper-patterned tables, this place is always buzzing. The café attracts a mix of shoppers toting bags from Burberry or Valentino and creative types hunched over books. Most people stop in for drinks like the vanilla ginger latte, crafted with house-made syrup, and the melt-in-your-mouth flourless chocolate cake.
A pint-size spot nestled in the Leather District, Gracenote Coffee, with its white brick, natural wood and various plants, has all the makings of an of-the-moment coffee shop. The coffee connoisseur roasts its own beans batch by batch at a local facility and offers two types of espresso daily: the Alpha (Gracenote’s signature roast) and a rotating single-origin blend. Although it’s standing room only in the 240-square-foot space, customers come from far and wide for Gracenote’s first-class espresso and decadent pastries.
George Howell is a coffee visionary with a long legacy – first making a name for himself with his Massachusetts-based chain, The Coffee Connection, which he sold to Starbucks in the mid-90s. Now, the mogul continues to source the finest terroir coffee under his own name, traveling yearly with his daughter to maintain relationships with purveyors. Howell’s Downtown Crossing flagship is a sleek space decorated with contemporary art, where expert baristas craft espresso with small batch-roasted beans, such as The Original – a frosty sip made from coffee, milk and sugar served in the summer. The café also hosts educational classes, with the iced coffee brewing workshop particularity popular.
There’s no sweeter spot in Somerville than 3 Little Figs – a family-run café tucked away in Davis Square. Boasting a rotating selection of indie beans (currently from Maine’s Tandem Coffee and Slate Coffee Roasters from Seattle), the 18-seat shop is adorned with fresh white walls, pale botanical wallpaper and shabby chic touches. To balance out munching on decadent, house-made treats such as biscuits and spinach hand pies, head next door to Health Club, a neon-accented smoothie bar also owned by the 3 Little Figs team.
Boston’s largest independent specialty coffee roaster, Flat Black brews single-origin beans at each of its cafés, including its location in the buzzing Financial District. The roaster’s name nods to the simplicity of a fine espresso. And their selection does not disappoint, featuring 20 different coffees from around the world. The café’s warm interior features wood paneling, high ceilings, pops of yellow and funky light fixtures – the ideal place to crack open a book or get some work done. Make like the company’s kangaroo logo and hop on over when you’re in the neighborhood.
Café Madeleine has a reputation that stretches far beyond its South End location. The darling patisserie prioritizes quality over quantity and prides itself on delivering authentic French pastries at modest prices. Sample a buttery pain au chocolat or traditional madeleine cookies (made with hints of citrus and vanilla) alongside a latte; or, in the summer, scoop up a lobster roll topped with mango and radish. If you can’t snag one of the café’s few counter seats, take a stroll through the neighborhood and admire the blocks of Victorian brick row homes while you sip and snack.
A North End institution since 1929, Caffé Vittoria holds the title of Boston’s first Italian café. The quirky locale is filled with vintage touches – like soda fountain shop-style chairs and tin ceilings – and the only thing warmer than the frothy cappuccinos is the Italian hospitality. Serving cocktails in addition to a range of coffees, Caffé Vittoria is the perfect place to begin your day or cap off your evening – most likely after chowing down on pasta at one of the neighborhood’s many red-sauce joints.