The Best Coffee Shops in Cambridge
If you live in Cambridge, chances are you’re a student. Or a professor. Or another human being who thinks real life revolves around reading, writing, spending money and stalking people on Facebook.
After almost two years of living and studying here, I present you with the list of places I like to sit in – alone to study or with friends to talk (and study). Note: Although HBS is on the Boston side of the Charles River, to get decent coffee one has to cross the river to the Cambridge side. Hence my test for whether a day is really cold is whether I’m brave enough to walk 15 minutes to get my cup of coffee or not. I’m happy to say that so far no more than 7 days qualified as “really cold days” according to this scientific method.
My criteria for judging places are very simple:
- Coffee: the coffee has to be good – i.e. Italian (cappuccino, espresso) . The regular American “Filter Coffee” – a.k.a liquid horse manure – does not qualify.
- Free WiFi: without free wireless internet access (or at least access to Harvard University Network – free for Harvard students) any place is almost worthless as a study place.
- Space: should be easy to find a spot and not feel guilty about occupying it for 3 hours over one cup of (small) cappuccino.
- Restroom: needs to be close, and clean.
- Temperature: the place needs to be warm. 80% of the year here is winter, and apparently heating is something that many coffee shops try to save on. On the other hand, I admit I might be more cold-sensitive than the average person.
- Food: can be useful when you’re hungry. However, don’t expect anything spectacular on that front (after all, it’s not Orna Ve’Ela… or Lehem Erez… or even Aroma)
So without further ado, here they are. I also created a Google Map with all of them, it’s embedded at the end of the post.
Peet’s 100 Mount Auburn Street, Cambridge, MA 02138
It’s Peet’s – nice chain, but nothing special. Because of its central location in Harvard Square it’s always full of (sometimes strange) people.
Coffee: it’s Peet’s, so it’s pretty good. Tip: if you don’t want to start running around like an Energizer bunny, ask for a single shot in your small cappuccino (default is two shots of espresso, which will keep you up till next week).
Free Wifi: no, but you can get Harvard University pretty consistently.
Space: usually hard to find a spot, especially on weekends or nice days. Most of the time you can get lucky. However it’s pretty crowded and noisy.
Restroom: yes, two, and quite clean.
Temperature: bearable when I use my coat as a blanket.
Food: none, unless you count chocolate-coated berries.
Finale 30 Dunster Street, Cambridge, MA 02138
Fun dessert place to take your girlfriend to.
Coffee: consistently good.
Free Wifi: no, and access to Harvard University network is patchy at best.
Space: it’s not really the kind of place to go and sit for hours, unless you sit outside in the patio (when weather permits). However it’s a great place to go have a cappuccino and amazing desserts with your friends, and there’s usually space for that.
Restroom: yes, clean.
Food: good desserts (it’s not Paris, but it’s trying to get close). Surprisingly, the non-desserts food is pretty good too. Tip: it’s worthwhile to get a Finale Sweet Rewards card – for every $50 you spend, you get $5 back, as well as other benefits (free cake on your birthday – yay!)
Overall: (4 for the food, 3 for not really being a place to sit and study)
Finale – that’s the way I roll (or read cases)
Dado Tea 50 Church Street, Cambridge, MA 02139
(there’s another location on 955 Massachusetts Avenue but I’ve only seen it from the outside)
In the first year I spent most of my time here, thanks to the convenient location and the adequate space. Lots of students, good music (though if you stay there for a while the music totally repeats itself), and “authentic” cashiers (“Have a wonderful day, and stay focused”).
Coffee: it’s good. True to their name, they also have an impressive variety of different teas.
Free Wifi: yes! Harvard University is also accessible.
Space: despite its central location, I almost always find a free place here. The window seats are especially nice, but can get pretty cold.
Restroom: no. You have to take a key and go to the restroom which are at the end of a corridor (which gets really cold during winter).
Temperature: might get too cold. The lighting isn’t amazing either.
Food:very original… they have all sorts of “healthy” stuff, which also manages to be tasy. Their sandwiches are made on the spot and the soups and salads are also good. Sweet stuff include nice cookies and somewhat strange cakes.
Window seats @ Dado Tea.
Darwin’s 148 Mt. Auborn Street, Cambridge, MA 02138
(also 1629 Cambridge Street, but I’ve only been there once)
Its “secret” location gives it an air of “only people who know how cool this place is come here” – which is kinda true. Full of students and other cool people, comfy sofas.
Coffee: very good, and the mugs are really cute.
Free Wifi: yes, but not throughout the entire day.
Space: can be hard to find, especially on weekends. Be prepared to shared real estate, too. A bit too dark to read.
Restroom: yes… downstairs in the basement, “under (permanent!) construction”.
Temperature: can be pretty chilly, especially near the windows.
Food: the made to order sandwitches are the highlight of this place. The other things are nice, too.
Overall: (the location is a bit off and there are space problems)
@ Darwin’s – “02138: The most opinionated zip code in America”
Anadala 286 Franklin Street, Cambridge, MA 02139
A very cool place with an “off the beaten path” feel to it, perhaps because of its location right off Western Ave. The location also means that I try to avoid going to this place at night.
Andala belongs to “our cousins” from the middle east, which reminds me of home on the one hand but sometimes reminds me of the unpleasant sides of home on the other hand.
Coffee: very good. If you’re getting a cappuccino, verify they’re not going to “decorate” it with cinnamon and / or cocoa.
Space: you can almost always find a spot here, maybe except for really nice weekends. The window seats are my favorite.
Restroom: yes, downstairs, after the photo exhibition of refugee camps.
Temperature: usually ok. A bit chilly by the windows.
Food: really good. Perhaps I’m biased because I’m coming from the same part of the world, but what can be better than lentil soup + pita + fresh salad? They also have ridiculously good freshly squeezed fruit juices (apple, pear, orange and more) and smoothies. This is where I go when I want to eat normal people’s food.
Overall: (could have been perfect if not for the location, the chairs that are a bit uncomfortable and the “middle Eastern” music they sometimes play)
Labane, pitot and olive oil @ Andala. Yum!
(I go to these 3 locations: 114 Bishop Richard Allen Dr, Cambridge. MA 02139 in Central Square, 750 Memorial, Dr Cambridge, MA 02139 near Trader Joe’s, and 36 Jfk St # 2, Cambridge, MA 02138 in the Garage in Harvard Square)
You can diss Starbucks all you want, but when I go there I know I’ll get a consistent experience, friendly cashiers and drinkable coffee.
Coffee: I think it’s actually not bad. In the summer, their Frappuchino’s are a lot of (sugary and fat) fun.
Wifi: yes, but complicated – if you get a Starbucks card and use it once a month, you can use their AT&T network for two hours for free every day. In the Garage location you can also get Harvard University network.
Space: Central Square is usually not crowded. Memorial Drive is very small, so you get get unlucky. The Garage is crowded but turnover is high.
Restroom: yes, decent, in all locations.
Temperature: for some reason the Garage is really cold, I don’t know why.
Food: it’s ok. When I’m really hungry I try to go somewhere else, but their snacks are not bad (the Madeline cookies are divine, unfortunately).
Tall Frappuchino Cafe Vanilla no whipped cream for me, please.
1369 757 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139
(There’s another location but I only go to this one)
Cute place, but wifi isn’t free.
Coffee: very good.
Wifi: not free!
Space: it’s pretty crowded and sometimes completely packed.
Food: real food and not just coffee shops food. It’s pretty good.
Overall: (no wifi and no space)
Crema 27 Brattle St., Cambridge MA 02139
The new kid on the block – opened this summer I believe. Great coffee, great location, great design and free wifi, which means this place is usually full.
Coffee: very good.
Space: usually full, including the second floor. Turnover is pretty high so you might get lucky if you’re willing to wait a few minutes. But it’s very crowded and noisy.
Temperature: the air conditioner on the second floor has a life of its own – be sure to avoid.
Food: ok real food.
Overall: (no space)
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