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May 2000 Issue
Enjoying the Boston Coffee Scene
by Chris Schaefer
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Now I can say, "Bean there, Done that."

I recently left my place in the comfortable mid-West/Great Lakes region to visit a long-time friend. He lives near Cambridge, Massachusetts; a stone's throw away from Boston. Time ago, and almost ritually, we would find a day between our two birthdays to celebrate. And as we became older, and our ways parted, that special time also parted. You can imagine, then, how anxious I was to take hold the opportunity to visit him. Little did I know that my journey would not only be one of miles, airlines, and subways but also of cultural and culinary revelation. And now I can truthfully say that I've "Bean there, Done that."

I was warned, upon returning, not to call Boston "Beantown." And rightly so. Boston is not only known for baked beans but also for beers, cultural distinctions, and -- of course -- American History. But I need to rewind the tape just briefly. The story actually begins in Cambridge and Somerville. Cambridge houses some distinctive universities: Cambridge, Harvard, and the illustrious Massachusetts Institute of Technology; the latter being one of the world's most recognized and premiere technological institutions. As an engineer, and a graduate of a somewhat smaller-in-stature school, I had only dreamed of the day that I would get to walk the campus of MIT. Dream realized.

However, this story is not about childhood flights of fancy. No -- as my more devote readers can attest to -- there is a hidden agenda. Coffee. And I mean GOOD coffee.

Friday nights in a "college town" are exciting. As a matter of fact, ANY night in a large college town can be exciting. Or at least adventurous. This Friday was of little exception. After a casual meal at the local chain grill-out restaurant, and copious desserts for some in our party, my best friend and I took the suggestion of the waitress and tried out Cafe Paradiso. Let me begin by saying that if a drink is served correctly, then it is a safe bet that most drinks offered will be served correctly AND quality should be of little issue.

The Great Lakes region has its definition of a cafe. Evidently Boston, and surrounding communities have a further developed definition. Paradiso's, even at the early hour of 8pm, was hopping. Being the pseudo-snob that I am (and I fully confess this), I ordered my drinks in Italian when I detected an accent from the staff behind the counter (and the beautiful Bezzarra machine sitting atop). Evidently, the Portuguese didn't mind my snobbery and took my order nonetheless. Neither ashamed nor proud, I could only gloat at what I had in my hands: two small saucers, two small cups, two small spoons and perhaps a total of 2 fluid ounces of liquid gold between the two. Each capped with a dark reddish-gold layer of "crema." (Crema is the dense layer of micro-bubbles/foam that sits atop an espresso; it serves to capture and protect the aromas of the beverage and is created in the extraction process)

I grinned all the way to the perfectly sized, two-seater bistro table. With a prayer of thankfulness, we had downed our first two demitasse of the night. And they were good. So good, in fact, that we had almost read each other's minds: "Do you want another?" Our seconds were as good as the firsts. It wasn't a fluke. This place actually knew how to prepare a proper single serving of espresso... and make it taste right, too! Well, as you can surely imagine, now my hopes, sights, and expectations had been set. If Boston didn't match up, well then, there was no point in staying.

Boston matched up.

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