More Than a Cup of Joe: Boston’s Best Boutique Cafes

In Boston, a great cup of coffee is just around the corner. Here are a few special coffee shops you can try. 

by Jodi Hilton
January 21, 2022

In Boston, a great cup of coffee is just around the corner. Here are a few special coffee shops you can try. 

Barismo

Barismo 171
📍171 Massachusetts Avenue, Arlington 
Barismo 364 (formerly Dwelltime) 
📍364 Broadway Cambridge

Cortado at barismo 171 in Arlington. Photo by Jodi Hilton

Back in 2008, when Barismo owners Jaime van Schyndel and his wife, Xong Hue, first started roasting coffee out of a small storefront in Arlington, the local coffee scene was limited. But in the past few years, boutique cafes have been springing up around the city. Barismo, which in Spanish means the art of the barista, is an apt name for the van Schyndel’s endeavor. Obsessed with learning and mastering coffee, Barismo was one of the first companies to include roasting dates and elaborate “wine style” note descriptors on the labels of their fresh roasted beans to take home. Barismo has since opened and operated two cafes, one in East Arlington and another in Mid-Cambridge, specializing in cold brew, nitro and espresso drinks. Their espresso drinks are made with exquisite care, with expertly brewed espresso topped and just the right amount of well-textured steamed milk.

Curio Coffee

📍441 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02141

Coffee and Liège Waffles? Yes, you can get both at this popular East Cambridge cafe. Due to the pandemic, it’s order online and takeout only these days, but the waffles are still crispy, hot and scrumptious, and the coffee is delightful. 

Tamper Cafe 

📍340 Boston Ave, Medford, MA 02155

Funky, trendy Tamper Cafe, named after the heavy metal tool used to pack coffee grounds into the portafilter, is located on the edge of Tufts University next door to Espresso Pizza. After months of take-out only, Tamper is welcoming guests back to sit on one of the two dozen stools lining long butcher block tables. Tamper uses Brooklyn roasted beans for their well-crafted espresso drinks and drip coffee. You can also enjoy a craft beer, a glass of wine with your quesadillas or curry bowl. 

Gracenote Coffee Boston 

📍108 Lincoln St, Boston  

Gracenote Coffee Roastery distributes its distinctive beans to some of the city’s renowned cafes and shops, including Formaggio Kitchen (Kendall Square) and Nine Bar (Boston and Somerville locations). Although they once ran two cafes in the area, the Cambridge location is closed, so head on down to Boston’s Leather District to sample Gracenote’s roast, where the espresso machines are positioned below counter level providing customers with a full view of the barista making your special brew.

Ogawa Coffee USA 

📍10 Milk Street, Boston (Financial District)  

This is a Japanese-owned cafe whose Kyoto-roasted coffee beans originate in Latin America and Ethiopia. Ogawa offers artfully presented espresso drinks and matcha lattes in a modern cafe. The funky “stadium” seating” stairs add extra space for those who choose to linger in Yoshinori Uda’s first international cafe outside Japan. In addition to coffee drinks, Ogawa prepares exceptional tea, houjicha lattes, sandwiches and sweets. 

Render 

📍563 Columbus Ave, (South End) 
📍121 Devonshire St. (Financial District) 

Offering single-origin coffees and hazelnut and vanilla lattes, Render’s spacious South End location has pastries and bagel breakfast sandwiches too. In the Financial District, it’s strictly coffee on offer. A new cafe is slated to open in Boston’s Seaport District in January 2022. 

Revival Cafe + Kitchen 

📍103 Newbury Street 
📍197 Elm Street, Davis Square, Somerville
📍125 Cambridgepark Drive, Alewife, Cambridge 

This Boston area cafe has three locations, Alewife, Davis Square and Newbury Street. Contactless ordering and pickup are available at the time of writing, and indoor seating is available at the Newbury Street and Cambridgepark Drive locations. Revival brews George Howell coffee beans and rotates their espresso offerings weekly (at the time of writing they were offering Kuma from Seattle). Full soup, salad and sandwich menu available, including the Bageliscious; bagel with egg white, broccoli, cheddar and aioli or the Thai peanut salad with napa cabbage, romaine, cucumbers, roasted peanuts and peanut ginger vinaigrette. 

Intelligentsia Coffee Watertown Coffee Bar 

📍810 Mt Auburn St, Watertown 
📍225 Franklin Street, Boston

Kris Dewey, manager and barista at Intelligentsia Coffee in Watertown, MA. prepares a cafe latte. Photo by Jodi Hilton

A sign simply stating “coffee” marks the trendy black and blue striped cafe run by Chicago-based roaster Intelligentsia. Intelligentsia has cafes in five US cities including two in the Boston area, where it serves its signature Black Cat espresso, “notes of chocolate, raw sugar and marshmallow” make a bold base for espresso drinks. A great place to meet, sit and stay, Intelligentsia has a large indoor seating area with well-spaced tables and a few outdoor options. 

Tokava

📍7 Pond Street, Jamaica Plain 

In addition to typical espresso bar offerings, tiny Tokawa makes a slightly sweet, delightful rosemary maple latte. Tokava is so small you just might walk right past without noticing it, as I did on my first visit. But once inside, wonderful smells beacons you in. There are three window seats so one can enjoy your coffee in-house. Beans are roasted by Broadsheet in nearby Cambridge (which has a cafe in its own right). You can also take your coffee to go, along with a gift, as Tokawa sells desirable items like Compartes chocolate bars, maple syrup, honey, soaps, scents and teas. 

Jodi Hilton is a freelance photographer and journalist who grew up in the Boston suburbs and is currently based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her work has appeared in The Boston Globe, The New York Times and others.