Restaurant Review: Boston Coffee ShopsBy Shao-Fei Moy
In an attempt to make our lives at the institute of all-nighters more bearable, I've taken the opportunity to review coffee, our last source of stimulation when the clock strikes twelve and a long night of problem setting awaits. The following review is meant to offer a description of some of the good, and not so good, coffees found at or around MIT.
First stop: Toscanini's. Owned by a guy named Gus, Tosci's has become a favorite hang out among MIT students over the years. Don't let the alternative feel of the atmosphere intimidate you, because Tosci's, although known primarily for its ice cream, houses some of the finest coffee in Boston. A favorite drink of mine is the hot vanilla latte. This blend of steamed milk, vanilla, and a double shot of espresso has the perfect balance of flavor and caffeine intensity. For those of you not too fond of the bitterness of espresso, have no fear the hot vanilla polishes off the rough edges of espresso to make your palette think more chocolate milk than coffee. If, however, you're just in the mood for a simple cup of coffee, I urge you to give the Yrgachffe grounds a try. A bit more refined than the French Roast, a cup of Yrgachffe goes down smoother, especially late at night, than your everyday coffee.
Another place to get some fine coffee on campus is the Building 4 coffee shop. Be careful not to assume that all Aramark coffee is as good as the brew offered at this particular outlet, because this shop, located at a main junction of the infinite corridor, owns a particular flavor unfamiliar to the rest of its family. The one that I've often tried, and liked, is the hazelnut coffee. Mixed with the right amount of sugar and half-and-half, the hazelnut blend produces a creamy and nutty taste much to the resemblance of caramel glazed peanuts. The coffee shop also offers other interesting flavors, including toasted almond creme, french vanilla, and chocolate raspberry, though none are as satisfying as the hazelnut.
Given that the times when we need coffee the most are those not concurrent to normal business hours, it's good to know that there is a 24-hour coffee shop located on the third floor of the student center. Upon entering you will find not only a splattering of offerings in coffee flavors, but also in the sizes of the cups. The flavors range from the MIT Midnight Rebel, a rough and tough darker roast, to the hah-vahd yahd decaf (need I explain?), and the sizes run from a pint size small to a bladder bustin' bazorg. Though I haven't tasted every single coffee offered, the ones that I have tried are more than acceptable in taste. Even better than the coffee at the Top of the Hub.
Given enough time to venture off campus to enjoy a cup of coffee, there are several places where one can find some delectable brew. Dunkin Donuts, though never quite thought of as a gourmet entity, certainly churns out some flavorful coffee. With its closest location in Central Square, it is no more than a fifteen minute walk away. Again, it is the hazelnut I find most pleasing. Much like in Building 4, there is a natural creaminess to the Dunkin Donuts hazelnut coffee. And for just a little over a dollar a cup, its richness in flavor comes at fast food prices. Not to be overlooked is the regular as well as French vanilla coffee. And don't forget to bring your Student Advantage card to claim your free donut with any medium coffee order.
Moving up the scale in the coffee hierarchy we enter the doors of Starbucks. Seemingly on every street corner, the least you can say about Starbucks is that it's just there, no matter where you are. The coffee, on the other hand, has never been there. Their strong brew seems fitting only for the veteran coffee drinker. There seems less room for coffee appreciation and more room for a quick caffeine fix. One sip and my natural reaction is to grimace. This does not necessarily relegate Starbucks to the category of bad coffee, but for a lack of a better phrase, it's certainly not my cup of tea. Not to go down without a fight, the Starbucks espresso bar pounds out a fantastic cup of mocha latte. The richness of the chocolate tamed by the espresso shots creates a potent yet tasty cure to drowsiness.
Finally, there's Au Bon Pain. Much like Starbucks, Au Bon Pain has a variety of locations, as well as a variety of coffee and espresso drinks. I have noticed a difference in the quality of coffee depending on the location. One of their most reliable shops is the one located in Harvard Square. And one of their most reliable drinks in terms of satisfying taste buds is their iced mocha blast. Although this isn't the season to be slurping down chilled coffee, the iced mocha blast offers a refreshing dose of caffeine during the warm season. As its name suggests, this drink involves adding chocolate to a coffee base. The flavor produced is much like Hershey's chocolate milk with a bite. Topped off with whip cream, the iced mocha blast not only looks unhealthy, but also tastes wonderfully unhealthy.
Being exposed to so many coffee shops in the Boston area, it's hard to choose one favorite without giving credit to several other places. But given the choice of only one shop to live and die with, I would have to pick Tosci's as my second home. In addition to having great coffee, Tosci's comes with a fully stocked espresso bar that offers a variety of boutique brew. Call it an addiction to its convenience, but there's still a certain quality packed in every cup.