December 9, 2016
It’s two degrees above freezing, I’ve just got off my flight, and I’m brrrrrraving the winter breeze on a chilly Boston night. The cold hits my eyes and they shed a slight tear. I was kicking up sand on my last layover, but tonight I’m walking through a bed of leaves in a coffee wonderland.
Sauntering along Newbury Street, I made a mental note of the shops I would visit in the morning. Apart from my usual Bond-like mission of sourcing speciality coffee, this time I was in search of festive filters, merry mochas and seasonal spiced lattes – after all, we’re in the full throes of the holiday season now.
Despite my first coffee stop being called The Thinking Cup, stopping here didn’t require much thought at all, and over a Bourbon Latte I quickly got some gift ideas brewing. The bourbon latte is made with aged bourbon syrup, orange peel, a secret blend of spices and legendary Stumptown espresso; winner of numerous ‘best coffee in the world’ accolades, including from the New York Times. Despite the name it’s actually alcohol free, though certainly not free of flavour, with lingering notes of figgy pudding cutting through the smooth indulgent texture. I wrapped my hands around the glass as though I were warming them over a log fire, and scribbled some gift ideas beneath a cluster of chandeliers.
The Thinking Cup, 85 Newbury Street, Boston
I had over 24 hours to wander the beautiful city of Boston, and it was beginning to look a lot like coffee o’clock. A perfect cup of coffee can make almost any task feel like a walk in the park, so I followed the paths of Boston Common over to Gracenote Coffee in the Leather District between South Station and Chinatown.
As my ‘coffeeing’ mission this time around was all about seeking out festive cups, I opted for a velvety Cardamom Latte fused with green cardamom syrup and topped with silky milk, which was like sipping my way through an exotic spice market. This seasonal speciality is made with Gracenote’s own roasted Alpha espresso blend, the beans of which originate from Brazil and Ethiopia and have a fitting flavour profile of almond, caramel, chocolate and slight notes of cherry preserve – all the things you imagine finding in shiny foil wrappers at this time of year. Gracenote also stock what I consider to be a perfect gift for all coffee enthusiasts across the globe. The World Atlas of Coffee by James Hoffmann is the definitive guide to the world of modern coffee, and is the perfect addition to coffee tables around the world.
Gracenote Coffee Roasters, 108 Lincoln Street, Boston
In my caffeinated ideal world, on all twelve days of Christmas my true love would brew for me – specialty coffee of course. But the next best thing is taking a little train ride over to the trendy suburb of Somerville a few miles north of Boston Common, where I fuelled up on more festive coffee at Diesel Cafe on Davis Square.
With a retro gas pump, bright red pool tables and mechanical spare parts adorning the walls, this buzzing high-ceilinged coffee shop serves hand-made coffees brewed to order. Diesel Cafe may be set in an industrial-looking space but I could taste the seasonal atmosphere in my Vanilla Orange Latte, with each sip reminding me of a good old Chocolate Orange. As lovely barista Andrew explained, the latte is made with actual vanilla pods in the steamed milk – hence the sweet, creamy, toasty taste – and espresso beans from Intelligentsia Coffee; the famous Chicago-based roasters. Tea-loving sippers have been thought of too. The London Fog is a tea-based festive drink made with Earl Grey tea poured over aged vanilla sugar and then steamed like a latte – a little home from home in New England.
Next up, Nine Bar. If the first thing that comes to mind when you read ‘festive drink’ is eggnog, or if milk in coffee simply isn’t your thing, Nine Bar Espresso served me a filter where every drip was worth the wait. I chose the Guatemalan Late Harvest Espresso because of its fitting notes of candied almonds, cherries and chocolate brownies, and it was like sipping on a chocolate covered candy cane. The coffee beans were roasted in Boston by the aforementioned Gracenote coffee roasters.
Diesel cafe 257 Elm St, Somerville, MA and Nine Bar Espresso, 11 Holland St, Somerville, MA
On a winter’s day, hanging out at coffee bars like George Howell Coffee at the Godfrey Hotel in downtown Boston is always time well spent. George Howell – one of the earliest and most influential pioneers of specialty coffee in the United States – founded Massachusetts-based company the Coffee Connection in 1974, which he sold to Starbucks in 1994 before starting work for the United Nations on models of economic sustainability for coffee farmers. In 2004 he returned to his roots, with the creation of the George Howell Coffee brand and its Terroir Coffee line of single estate and regional coffees.
The combination of a Maple Latte and some coffee convo with baristas Rachel and Michael felt like being at a festive coffee soirée. Made with locally sourced honey from the Boston Honey Company, the latte also features chocolate from Somerville and maple syrup from Vermont. And the small-batch espresso beans used to make my cup of seasonal art were roasted that very morning. For coffee lovers who like to enjoy a decaf, I highly recommend George Howell Coffee’s Los Idolos from Colombia; a great gift to include in a festive hamper alongside some hand crafted roasted nut butters like almond cocoa or vanilla peanut sorghum. It’s beginning to taste a lot like Christmas, no?
George Howell Coffee, 505 Washington Street, Boston
On my many layovers in Boston I’ve visited a cosy coffee spot on Columbus Avenue called Render Coffee. I always enjoy the coffee here so I popped by before wrapping up my day to see what festive speciality coffee was being served. Turned out it was a good day for maple, with the Maple Ginger Latte catching my eye. The ginger was warming and punchy and the maple softened the end taste and reminded me of a lebkuchen cookie. Render brews coffee by Tandem Coffee Roasters which is roasted not too far away in Maine.
Render Coffee. 563 Columbus Avenue, Boston
Back on Newbury Street, I usually enjoy the steam punk brewing method at the Barrington Coffee Roasting Company, however this time I was sticking to my festive coffee script and went for an indulgent cup of sweet smokey cocoa with two shots of espresso topped with steamed milk. The espresso used had very fitting notes of intense chocolate, spices and dried fruit, almost like a slice of rich chocolate Yule log, and I enjoyed the first few sips with a couple of cocoa dusted almonds. A bag of this Gold roast by Barrington Coffee would make a great winter coffee gift to brew throughout the season.
Barrington Coffee Roasters, 303 Newbury Street, Boston
Like putting the star on top of the Christmas tree or crossing off the last gift on your list, there’s always a lot of satisfaction in completing a much-enjoyed task. Last on the list for my festive coffee-finding mission was Pavement Coffeehouse on Newbury Street, whose handsome redbrick brownstone location is as inviting as it gets. The featured seasonal and festive drink is their Cinnamon Fig Latte, made using beans from North Carolina-based roasters Counter Culture Coffee and I’m happy to report it tastes not unlike a spiced slice of stollen – delicious!
Pavement Coffee House, 286 Newbury Street, Boston
Well, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed sipping my way through Boston’s festive coffee menus this winter. Happy Sipping to you all wherever you are for the holidays and I’ll be back in the new year with more coffee recommendations from my favourite Virgin Atlantic destinations.