Everyone knows that coffee is simply cat nip for humans, so, when my human and I go exploring around the country, we always dip our paws into the local coffee culture. The city of Boston (or Pawston, as I like to call it), proved to be exceptionally apt in the art of roasting coffee. As we explored the city we learned a thing or two about this town’s vibrant coffee culture, as well as, discovered the best coffee roasters in Boston.
- Overview: third-wave coffee
- The Best Coffee Roasters in Boston
- Conclusion on the Best Coffee Roasters in Boston
Overview: third-wave coffee
Before we get into Boston’s coffee scene, it’s worth taking a minute to talk about the idea of third-wave coffee. This concept, also known as the coffee renaissance, has been around 1999. In a nutshell, it’s an increased focus on the quality of the coffee bean.
Third-wave coffee celebrates the unique flavors and characteristics of coffee beans, much like wine enthusiasts appreciate different grape varietals or scotch enthusiasts have strong opinions about growing regions. Purveyors of the third wave recognize that beans are an intricate combination of flavors, influenced by factors such as the origin of the beans, the altitude at which they are grown, the processing methods, and the roast profile.
Artisanal coffee roasters, often sourcing beans directly from small-scale farmers, play a pivotal role in the third-wave movement. These roasters carefully roast beans to highlight their inherent flavors, rather than masking them with darker roasts. This approach allows consumers to savor a diverse range of tasting notes, from fruity and floral to nutty and chocolatey.
The third wave also champions sustainability and ethical practices. Many third-wave coffee producers are committed to fair trade, supporting growers in coffee-producing regions to receive fair compensation for their labor. Additionally, there is a growing emphasis on environmentally friendly practices, such as sourcing beans from organic farms, minimizing waste, and reducing the carbon footprint of coffee production.
Now that you know a little bit about this approach to coffee let’s learn how the growing region can also affect the flavor profile.
Main Coffee Growing Regions
Most coffee beans are grown in tropical and subtropical areas close to the equator. This area wraps around the world and is known as the “Coffee Belt”. Within the Coffee Belt, there are 3 main regions: South and Central America, Africa, and Southeast Asia.
- Central and South America – One the most popular growing regions, countries like Brazil, Columbia, and Costa Rica are longtime staples for sourcing excellent coffee beans. You can expect a medium acidity, medium-bodied, clean taste from most of the beans in this region. This very approachable flavor profile is the main reason why South and Central American coffee beans remain a constant in coffee shops across America.
- Africa – The second most popular growing region for coffee beans, coffee from Kenya and Ethiopia are long-time staples in the craft coffee industry. Both locations are known for bright, fruity, full-bodied flavors. It’s also worth noting that quite a bit of great coffee also comes out of Yemen, located near Africa. Yemen beans tend to have a similar flavor profile.
- Southeast Asia – This region is best known for beans from the island of Sumatra, located in Indonesia, and the Arabica varietal, which comes from Vietnam. Beans from this area are full-bodied, rich, and smooth. They often have a nutty aroma.
The Art of Roasting Coffee Beans
When exploring third-wave coffee another major factor to consider is the roasting process. The flavor profile of any given bean can vary wildly depending on the amount of time it’s roasted. Skilled coffee roasters make decisions about timing based on the quality of the beans and what flavors they would like to bring out. Careful consideration of these factors as well as taste testing throughout the process results in roast profiles that truly realize each bean’s potential.
Lighter roasts are popular at the moment because they tend to preserve the unique characteristics of the bean. They also tend to be higher in acidity and preserve more of the bean’s natural aroma. As you move into a medium roast the flavor becomes smoother and the acidity lowers.
While darker roasts tend to get a bad rap as “ruining” the coffee, they do provide an end product that is smoother and often sweeter than its lighter counterparts. Depending on the bean a skilled roaster may opt for a dark roast to balance sweetness with the varietal character.
Preparing the Perfect Cup
The last factor to be aware of when you are sampling local roasters in Boston is how the coffee is brewed. Factors like the amount of coffee beans, the size of the grind, the temperature of the water, and bean saturation can have a huge effect on how the final product tastes.
Generally speaking, all these factors contribute to the extent that you “extract” the flavor of the bean. The finer the grind, the hotter the water, and the longer the brew, the more flavor you’ll extract. With that said, you can easily over-extract and end up with a cup of coffee that just tastes bitter. Over-extraction will quickly mute the acidity and sweetness that the grower and roaster worked so hard to produce.
Higher-end coffee shops tend to lean towards the pour-over method for brewing since it is easy to ensure full saturation of your beans without the risk of over-extraction.
The Best Coffee Roasters in Boston
Now that you know about third-wave coffee culture and all that goes into sourcing, roasting, and brewing the perfect cup, you are ready to start trying the best coffee roasters in Boston. This list only includes artisanal, independent, craft roasters who focus on quality over quantity. Many roasters also run local cafes, which are some of the best coffee shops in Boston.
Broadsheet Coffee Roasters
Founded in 2017, Broadsheet prides itself on a high-quality roast. They aim to maximize sweetness and balance and are one of only a few roasters that sort out color-based imperfections in the post-roast stage. This unique practice in quality control leads to increased clarity in flavor.
Broadsheet’s founder, Aaron Macdougall, started his career in the coffee business after discovering his love for coffee while living in Hawaii. As an amateur roaster, he won a professional roasting contest, spurring him into his new career. In continuing to pursue his craft Aaron has now placed as a finalist twice in the US Roaster Championship.
Broadsheet’s cafe can be found in Cambridge and their beans are roasted in Somerville, MA. Their menu offers drip coffee and excellent cold brew, as well as, specialty coffee drinks from their espresso bar. Their beans sourced from all over the world can be purchased in-store or from their website.
George Howell Coffee
This coffee company’s namesake played a major role in the evolution of American coffee. Growing up around Berkeley, California, George Howell was privy to the first “second wave” coffee shops like Peets and Starbucks.
When he moved his family to Boston in 1974 he began in career in the coffee industry bringing concepts like single-origin coffee and roast dating to the East Coast. George Howell was responsible for Boston’s first craft coffee shop, known as Coffee Connection. After selling to Starbucks, he worked in economic sustainability policy for coffee farmers for nearly 10 years before returning to the retail market with George Howell Coffee.
This coffee company is known for offering beans from locations around the world and providing varying roasts to bring out the unique character of each crop. You can visit a George Howell Coffee cafe in the Godfrey Hotel and the Boston Public Market. They roast their beans about 45 minutes outside of town in Acton, MA.
Recreo Coffee & Roasterie
Founded in 2015 in West Roxbury, the original Recreo Coffee Shop is known as the living room of West Roxbury. Bringing coffee straight from the family farm in Jinotega, Nicaragua, Recreo’s beans are 100% single source. A true specialty coffee roaster, the family carefully roasts all beans onsite, making Recreo a unique farm-to-cup experience.
With a focus on giving back to the community, a third of all profits go to the farm and provide a quality education for workers and their families. Recreo follows strict sustainability standards and is Rainforest Alliance Certified.
Their second location was opened in 2017 inside of Boston’s City Hall. This prestigious location was earned due to Recreo’s sustainability practices and community support. Come enjoy a variety of roasts or one of their truly phenomenal expresso drinks. Beans can also be purchased online.
Flat Black Coffee Company
Welcome to Boston’s largest independent coffee roaster. Founded in 2003, Flat Black specializes in single-origin coffee beans from all the major growing regions. Their name is an Australian reference to the drink known as the Americano in the US.
Sadly the last Flat Black Coffee cafe shut down in early 2023, however, you can still purchase beans directly from their website or enjoy their coffee through the wholesale distribution program. Flat Black is currently available at American Provisions and Milton Fruit Center.
With 2 local coffee shops, Render provides light to medium-roasted coffee beans from around the world. They are meticulous with their roasting, always completing the roast and shipping on Mondays from their roasting space in Shirley, MA.
This roaster is also known for its specialty coffee drinks, like malted cold brew. This must-try drink is a deliciously sweet version of a standard cold brew.
Render is one of the smaller roasters in Boston, but that just means that more love goes into each bean. Come check out the Render Cafe in downtown Boston at 563 Columbus Ave or order some beans online.
This tiny, beloved coffee bar is a mainstay in the Boston coffee scene. Known for fantastic expresso and coffee beans, Gracenote provides a variety of beans from around the world. They roast in small batches and sell their beans online and in their two cafes.
Their original location, in the financial district, offers a tiny bar where you can sip your cup while chatting with a friendly barista. Their newest location, in High Street Place, also offers wine and specialty cocktails. While there is no seating at this location, you can enjoy your beverage anywhere in the surrounding food hall.
Barrington Coffee Roasting Company
Located in the Berkshires, this coffee roasting company provides high-quality beans to wholesalers as well as directly to consumers. Even though Barrington does not operate cafes anymore, many locals still enjoy their beans at home.
One unique thing about this roaster is that they roast all beans to order. That’s right! You put in your order (as small as 12 oz), they roast it and send it to you fresh. Barrington is often recognized for its knowledgeable roasters and excellent customer service.
If you are ever in the area, their roastery is open to the public and located at 165 Quarry Hill Road Lee, MA.
Located about 30 minutes outside of Boston, Jejes Coffee roasts its beans inside its coffee house. With all of its beans roasted by Soonhee, a finalist in the 2023 US Coffee Roaster Championship, you can enjoy brewed coffee at peak freshness.
Jejes provides beans from around the world and offers a mix of single-origin beans as well as blends designed to augment different flavor profiles. Opening its doors in 2023, this is one of the newest roasters in the scene.
Common Ground Coffee Roasters
Located in Everett, MA Common Grounds is a small, family-owned operation. Mostly providing beans to local bakeries and restaurants, they also operate two cafes in Everett.
With a focus on small-batch roasting Common Grounds carefully prepares its coffee to bring out the unique flavor of each varietal. Stop by one of their cafes to enjoy fresh coffee as well as an outstanding food menu, designed by Chef Carlos Oliveira. You can also purchase beans directly from their website.
Red Eye Coffee Roasters
Based in Hingham, MA, just 30 minutes south of Boston, this coffee roaster is passionate about creating a great product. Offering beans from around the world, they roast daily and sell their beans online.
Their cafes earns them the honor of being the most picturesque on our list. Located right on the water, the Red Eye cafe is well known as one of the best places to relax while enjoying a spectacular view.
Jaho Coffee & Tea
With 3 locations in Boston: Chinatown, South End, and Back Bay, a great cup of coffee is never too far away. Operating their own roastery, Jaho has a passion for bringing out a variety of flavors in their carefully sourced beans. If you are not local to the area, you can still enjoy Jaho beans from their online store.
One interesting fact about Jaho is that they have a sister cafe in Japan. Kinoshita, a veteran of the Tykoyo coffee scene worked at Jaho in Salam for just 3 months before deciding to open their own branch back home.
Atomic Coffee Roasters
Based in Beverly, MA, and founded in 1996 Atomic has stood the test of time. Well known as one of the best roasters in North Shore. Atomic was one of the first microroasters in the area. Today Atomic operates a 10,000-square-foot roastery and roasts most orders on the same day. They also offer tours and tasting classes.
Check out their craft coffee online or visit their coffee shop in Beverly, MA.
Conclusion on the Best Coffee Roasters in Boston
In conclusion, Boston’s coffee culture offers a delightful journey into the world of third-wave coffee. This movement emphasizes the quality, flavor, and ethical aspects of coffee production, with a focus on celebrating the unique characteristics of coffee beans. The city’s local coffee roasters are at the forefront of this movement, offering an array of options for coffee enthusiasts to enjoy.
From George Howell Coffee, founded by a pioneer in the coffee industry, to Gracenote Coffee, known for its excellent espresso and laser focus on craftsmanship, the city boasts a diverse selection of coffee roasters. Other gems like Broadsheet Coffee Roasters, Recreo Coffee & Roasterie, and Render Coffee contribute to Boston’s reputation as a hub for coffee excellence. Each roaster presents its own unique flavor profiles, sourcing practices, and community involvement.
The best coffee roasters in Boston not only provide exceptional coffee but also embody values of sustainability, community support, and ethical sourcing. Whether you choose to get out and visit Boston coffee shops or simply order online, exploring the local coffee scene is a rewarding adventure for any coffee lover.