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The Mass Media

Caffeinate yourself: A selection of our favorite cafes

Hot chocolates and cake at L.A. Burdick Chocolate in Harvard Square
Hot chocolates and cake at L.A. Burdick Chocolate in Harvard Square

Every college student has their tried-and-true coffee favorites for their daily caffeine boost. It’s critical for balancing the grind of work, classes, and homework. Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts are the inevitably wielded labels for mugs and cups everywhere on the University of Massachusetts Boston campus.
However, if you’re feeling a little adventurous and are dying for a new favorite beverage (and maybe a new place to study or hang out), it’s worth checking out these lesser known cafes.
1. L.A. Burdick Chocolate (Harvard Square and Newbury Street)
Chocolate and coffee enthusiasts alike will have much praise for L.A. Burdick, a cafe where the servings are small but incredibly rich, flavor-packed, and, most importantly, all about that cocoa.
“We don’t really have as much competition with nearby coffee shops because we have a unique product. We’re the only shop in the area that places so much focus on chocolate, ” Alyse Vinoski, assistant manager at the Harvard Square branch, says.
“We also have the café, which has coffee like any other place. But our hot chocolate sets us apart. We’re primarily advertised as a chocolate shop. We have little cakes and some pastries that are a little different from other cafés, and the pastries we do have are chocolate-based.”
Don’t just take Vinoski’s word for it. The hot chocolate is an especially popular treat for Burdick visitors and should be at the top of your list. It’s thick and frothy, and it’s all about quality. In dire need of some caffeine? Give the mocha a try—it’s got the same level of richness as the hot chocolate, and almost the same taste, but with an added punch of energy.
The café attracts a lot of college students because, as Vinoski points out, it’s situated close to Harvard, Tufts, Leslie College, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But the fact that there is an ever-returning older crowd says a lot about the consistent level of quality that L.A. Burdick delivers. Many of the clientele have been returning for years since the location’s opening in 1999.
Aside from the unique attention given to its chocolates, the café seeks to set itself apart with its design.
“The goal of the store is to give a European café or chocolate shop feel. A lot of other cafés around here are more about the unfinished wood, rustic look, which is a cool spin on the cafe scene, but we try to bring European roots to our store,” Vinoski says.
Much of the European influence stems from the backgrounds of the major names of the company. Larry Burdick, the owner, was inspired by Switzerland, and Michael Klug, the chocolatier, is a native of Germany.
2. Caffe Nero (Downtown Crossing and Jamaica Plain)
Of all cafés attempting to invoke a “welcome home” vibe, Caffe Nero reigns supreme. Peering into the cafe is like taking a look at an old classic film, sepia tones and all. Think classic, European library with a touch of contemporary art.  It’s comfortable with its elephantine wooden furniture, yet tasteful with splashes of artistic creativity, like the array of dangling industrial lightbulbs.
“The vibe centers on the antique bookcases, the couches, the loveseats, the fireplace,” Sarah Clark, shift manager, says. “The idea is to make it homey—to get people to want to sit down and relax and not always be about that idea of grabbing coffee and running on the go.”
The family-run Italian cafe, situated at Downtown Crossing—a couple blocks from the T-stop—tends to be buzzing with people, young and old, on dates, meeting up with friends, and working on school projects. It can be a little tough to grab a seat, but the vibe, the coffee, and the desserts trump the slight hassle of maneuvering the crowd.
Clark says the customer pool has everything to do with location. Because of the cafe’s proximity to the financial district, universities like Suffolk, and the Millennium Building, the business gets an even blend of working people, students, and international visitors.
The selection for coffee and tea is what you’d expect—the typical assortment of cappuccinos, lattes, and the like. There’s a slight twist in understanding the terminology, however.
“We get a lot of people who come in with ‘Starbucks lingo’ – for example, what they call a macchiato at Starbucks is considered a latte by Italian standards,” Clark says. “We’re trying to introduce traditional Italian coffee lingo and expand that to a more global audience.”
As a bonus, to go along with your beverage, it’s also worth trying out a slice of one of the different flavors of cake Caffé Nero has to offer, like the five layered chocolate cake or the classic cheesecake.
3. Caffé Bene (Massachusetts Avenue)
Perhaps the most unique as far as selections for deserts, flavors, and beverages, Caffe Bene is like no other. If you’re feeling especially adventurous, or are already an avid Asian desert and drink fan, this cafe’s got your supply of delicious goodies ready to go.
First and foremost is the inclusion of an incredibly vast variety of desserts. Anything you could think of, and even beyond, they’ve got. You have your waffles, with creamy gelato and fresh fruit; your patbingsu, a Korean desert consisting of shaved ice and flavorful toppings; and your cakes, ranging from small selections to theatrical dishes that come in a pan, like the Dig It Cheese Cake.
The beverages have their own incredible variety, ranging from traditional coffee shop drinks like cappuccinos and macchiatos to bubble tea and the misugaru latte, a multigrain beverage that’s got a slight nutty flavor.
“Our menu has a variety of items with a focus point around coffees,” the manager of the Mass Ave. branch, Jake He, says. “Since Caffé Bene originated from Korea, we have various items on the menu that our fellow Asian customer might be familiar with.”
Similar to L.A. Burdick and Caffé Nero, Caffé Bene‘s clientele consists of a mix of students and working professionals alike, especially because of the cafe’s proximity to Northeastern University.
The café is highly dependent on its student population. “The most challenging part of the business so far is adjusting to slower business when students are away for winter break,” he says.
Still, Caffé Bene focuses 100% on providing delicious food year-round, as well as a safe haven not only for students to study and young professionals to work, but also, He says, to help “the customer relax and get away from a busy schedule to enjoy a cup of coffee.”