On coffee and Cambridge (and Boston and Allston and..)

It's not always just about the coffee.
It’s not always just about the coffee.

“A journalist is a machine that converts coffee into copy.” -Michael Ryan Elgan

I identify with the above statement, perhaps a bit too strongly.

My love affair with coffee began with a bid for independence– a friend and I would walk to our local Caribou Coffee (a Wisconsin-based chain) after school to indulge in a sugary, hot brew only barely laced with espresso. It was the first place I was a regular, garnering a special greeting from the baristas that made me glow with the acceptance and savvy I craved as an awkward 14-year-old. My money for Caribou’s specialty drinks ran out, but the addiction to coffee and the community around it stuck.

Since then, I’ve explored the coffee-rich environments of St. Paul and Minneapolis (Favorites include Nina’s in Cathedral Hill and Espresso Royale in Dinkytown –for sentimental reasons), Chicago (I lived a block from the Metropolis flagship–Chicagoans, need I say more?), around the country (if you’re ever in Tulsa, the Coffee House on Cherry Street is a can’t-miss) and even around the world (I dream of observing protests while sipping a cafe au lait on the Hotel Balima terrace in Rabat or furiously scribbling thoughts at Art Cafe in Prague).

I wouldn’t say I’m a coffee snob– I’ve had my share of Dunkin over the years, and there is no replacement for diner coffee– but I’m reverent of the unique atmosphere and feeling that a good cup of coffee, cozy shop, and a pen and journal brings out. And no better way to explore a new place, get to know its residents, and get story ideas.

Any good coffeeshop will have its fair share of regulars, perfect for observations and eavesdropping on local conversations. The owner likely has a thing or two to say about business in the town and the baristas likely can attest to the employment (or lack thereof). I’m all for chatting up locals at a bar or other area watering hole, but its likely they’ll also end up needing something to cure that hangover in the morning (and coffee tends to be cheaper).

With all that in mind, I’ve been on a coffee shop tour of Boston, sipping, dunking, and writing my way through whatever places I can find. According to my FourSquare check-ins, thus far I’ve checked out eight different spots (though I can add at least three to the list, and have doubled up on a few of my favorites) and I haven’t even made my way down to Jamaica Plain or Somerville yet.

So if you’re a curious journalist, city explorer, or simply under-caffeinated, here’s a list of where to head for your hit of espresso and local flair. More will be added as I continue to follow my caffeine addiction around the city.

Cafe Algiers (a North African coffee shop where you can get a pot of Turkish coffee for $4 plus an array of Mediterranean cuisine)
Atomic Bean Cafe (midway between Harvard and MIT, no frills but unpretentious coffee and space to think is appreciated)

Refuge Cafe (your typical student populated hipster neighborhood joint. Kudos for good music and huge windows the peek out to the eclectic Allston sidewalk traffic)
Swissbaker (a Swiss outpost, like drinking coffee in an Ikea ad, but the coffee is a taste of Europe on Western Ave.)
The Breakfast Club (okay, technically a diner but seriously good, strong coffee with plentiful refills and a front-row seat to a finely-tuned kitchen machine)

Trident Booksellers (it’s a coffee shop WITHIN a badass bookstore, need I say more?)
Pavement–on Boylston (this franchise stretches across Boston and Brighton but I’m partial to the Berklee location for the phenomenal people watching and mouthwatering cappuccinos)


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