Coffee Worth Traveling For

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Photo by Conveyor belt sushi/Flickr CC

On a very cold December day, far from Harvard Square, on an otherwise nondescript stretch of Mass. Avenue I wandered into the tiny lab/showroom/standup coffee bar of Barismo to find the place filled with young hipster tourists from all over the U.S. and a few from abroad. There was enough warmth from the crowd to steam the windows. I found a familiar face and asked, "What is going on?" She said, "I don't know. They're tourists and sometimes they arrive in groups."

They come because Barismo may be the moment's cool coffee company. Barismo is picky about beans and they roast in small batches using two customized roasters from Taiwan. And at 169 Mass. Ave in Arlington, across from Bob Sargent's Flora restaurant, they play, sort of like the Dead End Kids who once had their own basement clubhouse in the movies of the 1930's: Huntz Hall, Leo Gorcey, Billy Halop.

They hang out with each other and pull nearly perfect shots, and they use Japanese brewing equipment to make cups of coffee that may be even better. While I was l listening to visitors describe where they came from and admiring the fashionable, furry head gear of two Japanese girls, the barista lowered his head and concentrated while he prepared a single-origin espresso shot that truly tasted fruity and wine-like. And then using an eccentric Japanese glass siphon the same barista made me the best mild cup of coffee I've ever had. Four of the barismaniacs gathered around to counsel patience while the coffee cooled and be supportive as fruit notes emerged and changed.

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Coffee tourists can be divided into two groups, those who travel "to origin,"--or countries that produce coffee--and those who visit cafes that offer great coffee, or cities that have clusters of famous cafes. New York City was once a terrible city for good coffee but now there are a half dozen excellent coffee companies--none of them selling coffee in the distinctive paper cup livery of the city's Greek diners. Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington, and Vancouver, British Columbia are a kind of Cinque Terre for coffee heads. Italy and Vienna have cafes that lure older customers but the hard-core coffee hipster is more likely to head for Scandinavia. And this banal strip of Massachusetts Avenue in Arlington, Mass.