Cambridge packs a lot of culture into seven square miles—especially when it comes to cafe culture. The city’s coffee shops draw inspiration from the community they serve, and each puts its own spin on your standard cuppa joe.
If you’re bored with bar crawls, spend a weekend visiting the different cafes in each neighborhood instead. It’s more of a lesson in people than in coffee, and you’ll notice that the nuances of each neighborhood shop are what make Cambridge a haven for both caffeine lovers and the baristas who serve them.
Beatnik Beverage Co.
325-355 Main St.
Monday – Friday, 7 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Visiting Kendall Square can feel like stepping into another world, where a high-tech stratosphere sets the tone for the whole neighborhood. That includes the area’s dining establishments—especially new spots like Beatnik Beverage Company, a late 2015 addition to this ever-evolving hub. In the wide-open indoor plaza you’ll find a technicolor screen ceiling and free sitting spaces. In the back sits a wood-paneled coffee kiosk draped in twinkle lights and surrounded by floating succulent terrariums.
General manager Sarah Rodgers says that Beatnik is a place to “drink differently.” Their specialty beverages can be broken down by the numbers: six cold-pressed juices, made fresh weekly; three Kombucha drinks, otherwise known as fermented tea; and two specialty coffees. Nitro-blend nitrogen infused coffee and Bulletproof coffee, their trademarked blend, bring variety beyond the usual dark or light roast. Beatnik uses these beans to being the latest advances in the coffee world to its customers. Bulletproof coffee is mixed in a blender, then combined with grass-fed butter and XET oil (which is similar to coconut oil). The result is a “buttery, frothy, cappuccino like-cup,” says Rodgers.
One thing that’s not on the menu? Espresso. But for an extra boost, try unique add-ins like matcha, an energy pick-me-up, or collagen, which can improve the look of skin. The Beatnik team wants visitors to to try something new and feel good about it—from the coffee beans to the milk that’s added to them, everything here is organic and grass-fed. “We are healthy, mindful and create drinks that define good juice,” says Rodgers.
89 Main St.
Weekdays 8 a.m. – 11 p.m., weekends 9 a.m. – 11 p.m.
Students and workers, longtime locals and brand new neighbors, residents and international travelers—Central Square is a juxtaposition. The perfect reflection of that? Toscanini’s, an ice cream shop and cafe located in the heart of the neighborhood.
Ice Cream has been homemade on-site at Toscanini’s since its birth in 1981. As a place where you can find original flavors with multicultural influences, it’s no surprise that Toscanini’s has become a hot place to cool down. South Asian flavors like saffron, Indian rum raisin and Italian tiramisu are just a few of the ever-changing flavor offerings.
But you can get more than just sweet stuff here; two employees have helped owner Gus Rancatore add coffee into the mix. Mark Mooradian, previously of Espresso Express and MEM tea, and Lindsay Bolger, who moved to Washington state after her time in Cambridge and worked at both Evergreen coffee and Green Mountain, helped Rancatore “learn what’s involved in coffee,” he says. He’s found a happy medium of ice cream shop and cafe, creating a unique offering that appeals to the masses.
Rancatore sees Toscanini’s as a “third space between home and work, not unlike a bar.” Its customers are an eclectic mix of workers (in the cafe biz, they’re known as “campers” because they camp out and work on their laptops), MIT students, musicians playing area clubs like the Middle East, and blue-collar workers heading to or from their shifts—basically, anyone and everyone. Two kinds of coffee are sold here—Somerville-based Barismo and the darker-roast Bronsa from Washington state. The coffee menu and available drinks evolve as the coffee world does, along with the ice cream flavors.
“We’re not exclusively anything, we’re a different mix—from the people we hire and the different music we play,” says Rancatore. He strives to create a wholly sensory experience for his customers. “I want customers to hear something and find something that they’ve never heard of before.”
Central (and Inman) Square
1369 Coffee House
75 Massachusetts Ave.
Monday – Thursday 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.
Welcome to 1369 Coffee House, your home away from home. After 22 years in Central Square and 23 in Inman, 1369 knows a thing or two about the coffee scene in Cambridge. “We’re mellow, friendly and open,” says assistant manager Hillary Dezotene. The employees at this classic neighborhood cafe know their strengths—“We do really good espresso,” Dezotene says.
The coffee shop’s peach and magenta walls are draped in canvas paintings and murals, and soft music fills the warm, inviting room. Clocks set to Hawaii, Kenya, India and 1369 time are hung above the community bulletin board, which is plastered in flyers about local happenings. Located just across from city hall, 1369 is truly in the center of the community buzz.
Seats are filled with first-time visitors and regulars, those working hard on laptops and those grabbing a drink with friends. “We focus on our customers and building relationships,” Dezotene says. “It’s fun.”
Aside from delicious espresso drinks, 1369 offers pastries and some fixings for lunch. No stranger to the vibrant neighborhood in which it’s located, the shop has specialty concoctions like Mexican hot chocolate and Vietnamese coffee. Because its customers like to try new things, 1369 features a new flavor of tea each month for just $1. And while it’s a long-time neighborhood staple, this place knows how to keep up with the times. As long as you’re located in the delivery zone, customers can receive fresh-brewed, bicycle-delivered bottles of cold brew coffee right to their door. Talk about customer service!
0 Brattle St.
Monday – Thursday 8 a.m. – 10 p.m., Friday 8 a.m. – 10:30 p.m., Saturday 8:30 a.m. – 10:30 p.m., Sunday 8:30 a.m. – 10 p.m.
If you’re for something other than coffee, head to Tealuxe, which has been nestled in Harvard Square for the past 20 years and has another location in Providence, RI. Sandwiched between hearty crowds and bustling businesses, Tealuxe is a quaint oasis at the heart of Harvard Square.
Unlike other cafes in the area, Tealuxe only serves tea. They’ve reinvented the wheel, bringing an innovative eye to a timeless drink by offering over 90 kinds of tea. Kay Goodhart, tea tender and shift manager, recommends trying the bubble tea or “chaider,” a “cinnamon cider with steamed chai tea,” that Goodhart says is a seasonal favorite.
The niche menu is reflected in all aspects of the shop. Dark and faded grey walls serve as the backdrop for black, antique nooks and cabinets filled with tea that line the border. Old teapots, mismatched chairs and the incense-like smell of tea create a serene feeling. Though there’s limited seating inside the intimate tea-house, the experience is not to be missed. “It’s a cool vibe,” says Goodhart. “It’s old-fashioned-meets-hipster. This actually used to be an antique shop.”
Loose leaf teas of all flavors—including tea for clearing the sinuses and improving your immune system—can be bought by the gram, as well as teapots and other tea-making accessories. Other tea-related items, like tea soap, are hidden atop the cupboards.
Between loose leaf, matcha, bubble and iced, there’s a new favorite tea to be discovered by all who enter. And don’t worry—the staff will let you know how long to let your drink steep before you sip.
40 Brattle St.
8 a.m. – 12 a.m. daily
Hidden inside the classic New England style Brattle Hall sits Cafe Algiers, a Middle Eastern-inspired, sit-down style cafe that serves both food and coffee drinks. Don’t expect to just grab something and go; the 40-year-old Algiers takes its time to get it right. The food is “all freshly made from scratch,” says Nancy Hart, who has been a manager for over 30 years. “We soak our chickpeas for the hummus. We make our own sausage,” she says, just a few examples of the quality Algiers provides its customers.
Literally a hidden gem, the decor inside Algiers is breathtaking. The two-level shop is ornately designed, featuring mirrors, rich colors and embossed metal details that are reflective of the owner’s Middle Eastern heritage. The perfect place to catch up with an old friend, Algiers has “an old-world, Euro cafe atmosphere,” says Hart.
While coffee prices have skyrocketed, the house drip coffee at Algiers has been the same price for 10 years. “We want people to come in and still be able to have just a cup of coffee,” says Hart. The brey is “a really good brew, strong and bold,” she says. And although Algiers recently added soy milk to its offerings, they will never offer fat-free. “We believe in whole milk,” says a smiling Hart.
It’s okay to splurge on the whole milk calories, because the rest of the menu is chock full of healthy options. “It’s 75 percent vegetarian,” says Hart, noting that most Middle Eastern food is. With its from-scratch menu and fresh ingredients, Algiers has outlasted other fast-food style cafes.
North African influences mixed with European style of serving, Algiers Coffee House is a Harvard Square staple—no matter how many Dunkins or Starbucks move in.
1736 Massachusetts Ave.
Weekdays 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., weekends 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
“Please finish your phone call before ordering,” reads a sign by the register at Simon’s Coffeeshop. A cafe ahead of its time, Simon’s staffers want to keep the experience personal. The cozy Porter Square establishment sits comfortably along the multitude of Mass Ave. businesses, and its warm, inviting environment is perfect when taking the walk from Porter to Harvard Square.
Simon’s has been housed in Porter Square for about 12 years. The smell of chai hits you the second you walk in. Though small, Simon’s creates a perfect gathering space for it’s customers. “We’re a good combination of neighborhood cafe and a place for visitors,” says Alison Novak, who’s been with Simon’s for eight years.
This shop has a whopping list of specialty drinks, but the most popular is the iced honey latte, according to Novak. As coffee culture was developing around Simon’s, inside they were creating their own way of doing things. The Simon’s gang still refers to a cortado, espresso with steamed milk, as a “Gibraltar” because a team member was making the drink before it came into the mainstream. Even after customers began asking for it more and more, the quirky name stuck.
“We’re really good at espresso drinks,” says Novak. “We were doing latte art before most cafes were.”
The intimate environment is built around its decor touches, with soft wooden details accenting everything. The red walls are spruced up with canvas paintings, and soft music plays to set the mood. It’s an inspirational place, filled with a bubbling staff and delicious treats. Pastries are offered, as well as sandwiches and other lunch staples, with vegetarian and vegan options as well.
Feature image by Tony Webster—MBTA Central Red Line, Inbound to Ashmont & Braintree via Park and Downtown Crossing, CC BY-SA 2.0.