I work 5 days a week as a Shift Manager at Starbucks. Over the past three years, I’ve tried almost every type of coffee Starbucks offers, invented recipes using anything and everything behind the bar, and have hosted coffee tastings for district managers and customers alike. It’s safe to say coffee is a passion of mine, so one January morning I went to every coffee shop on Newbury Street on a search to find the best, most affordable cup of Joe.
My plan was unstructured at best: while Newbury Street has a good variety of coffee shops, things like caramel swirls or cinnamon powder can get in the way of natural flavor. I decided to ask each shop only for a black cup of coffee, but by the time I got to the register of shop number one, The Thinking Cup, I diverged from that idea. Instead, I asked the incredibly sweet barista what she thought their best coffee without added flavor was. She recommended their cappuccino and said it was the “perfect blend of milk, foam, and coffee.” As I sat outside in the crisp thirty degree air, the warmth of the drink worked miracles. At $4 for a 8-12 oz cup, I was expecting an incredible cappuccino. While the espresso was delicious (nothing burned, too bitter or too acidic), the drink itself seemed more like a latte than a cappuccino. There wasn’t a lot of foam; instead, I got a velvety smooth milk with that strong espresso flavor coming through.
Now a man on a mission, I hopped back in my car and drove slowly up the street until I spotted the next coffee shop up the road: Blue Bottle Coffee.Walking up the steps to the shop, I thought they might just sell coffee products. Their windows were lined with boxes of pour-overs, coffee kits, and teas. It wasn’t until I got inside that I noticed the coffee bar toward the back of the shop. The man on register said his favorite coffee was a single-origin Ethiopian roast that they prepared using a pour-over. This specific roast highlighted fruity undertones—an especially exciting flavor for coffee, since most blends highlight some form of cocoa, nuts, or spices. This 12 oz. cup of coffee set me back $5.35, although I think for a coffee connoisseur it was well worth trying. Most coffee houses prepare larger batches of hot coffee, so it’s a unique approach to rely on a single serve pour-over for every non-espresso transaction.
Only a block or two down the street, DeLuca’s Market caught my eye. However, after discovering that they no longer had fresh coffee that day, I instead stopped in Amorino: a gelato shop just next door. Just past the long glass counter of gold-brushed macaroons and seemingly plastic gelato, I spotted a shiny Italian espresso machine by the checkout counter. Again, I asked for whatever the cashier’s favorite coffee beverage was. Amorino did not offer brewed coffee, so she made me a latte. I spent $3.69 for a single shot latte with perfectly frothed milk and creamy espresso. The latte also came with a chocolate filled Italian wafer that perfectly highlighted the semi-sweet undertones of the espresso.
My last two stops were practically next door to one another, and they were both places I was familiar with. Trident Booksellers & Cafe is one of my favorite places in Boston. Pre-pandemic, I would get brunch there with my roommates, friends from Emerson and Tufts, and literally anyone that came into town to visit. It occurred to me that while I could swim in their French Onion Soup, I had never tried coffee there (and any good cafe should sell at least a decent cup of coffee). Although their cafe was only open for pickup, the cashier rang me up for a small black cup of coffee that came out to only $2.50. It was everything you would hope a cafe coffee would be: decently priced, piping hot, and delicious. I would have been content just sipping that cup for the rest of the night, but my journey would not be complete without hitting the Starbucks two doors over.
Though I walked in with confidence, it was almost 5 p.m., and I knew they would only be serving the medium Pikes’ Place roast- my least favorite Starbucks blend. I leveled with them and told them this was my sixth coffee shop of the day. I didn’t like Pike’s Place, but since I couldn’t add flavor, I asked the barista to get as creative as he could with a regular latte. He gave me a tall latte with blonde espresso and ristretto shots instead of regular; switching to blonde or ristretto shots does not change the price of a latte, so this drink’s total was $3.45. The blonde espresso resulted in a much lighter flavor than I’d had in my other lattes, and since ristretto shots are pulled using less water, they’re more concentrated, resulting in a slightly sweeter flavor.
By the end of the day, my choice was clear. Although slightly more expensive than a Starbucks latte, I was blown away by the quality of the latte at Amorino. The espresso was the perfect balance of sweet and tart, and only a truly skilled barista with great equipment could produce the creamy foam that spilled over the top of my cup. If you’re looking for an experience, this is it. However if you’re out and about shopping on Newbury and really just need a cup of coffee, the cup I got at Trident was amazing and is my top choice for a house brew. I am partially biased because Trident has never let me down when looking for good books or good food, but the flavor profile of Trident’s coffee far surpassed that of its competitor up the street that charges over $5 for a cup of equal size.