No coffee tour of Boston would be complete without a stop by Barismo. Other than Terroir, which doesn’t have a coffee bar of its own, it’s hard to think of a local roaster that’s done as much for Boston area coffee as has Barismo. Barismo has been consistently pushing for the use of new brew methods, better brewing practices, and general attention to coffee culture. Oh, and they’ve been supplying some very good coffees.
That said, you should know that Barismo, located on Massachusetts Avenue in Arlington, isn’t too much to look at, literally. The entire space, including the roasting area, is smaller than most cafes. You’ll find a coffee bar up front, almost immediately after you walk in and a small bar along one wall. The space has no seating and no restroom, but it still is fun to visit. The wainscoting and pressed tin walls stand starkly against the two tiny, bright yellow, moded out roasters that sit churning away in the back half the store. Up front, both window areas are lined with Hario products, and there’s always coffee conversations to be had with the staff.
I first visited Barismo last summer during their taste of Kenya event, which they held at both at their headquarters and several wholesale client cafes in the area. Barismo purchased four Kenyas and wanted to show them off. The event included free tastings of all the Kenyas brewed in both a siphon and a Hario woodneck brewer. The event also provided customers the chance to visit with staff and hear about the coffees and brewing techniques being used.
I somehow managed to try only three of the four Kenyas. The Kieni on a siphon was full of candy-like sweetness and something of a jolly-rancher like quality, with deep bass notes and was surprisingly dry in the mouthfeel. The Kagumoini was a sharper, yet juicier coffee with pronounced floral notes. The Kiandu, which I previously tried at home and liked quite a bit, was sweeter still with wine-like acidity and flavors that worked better brewed in the woodneck than as a siphon. All in all, I rated these three Kenyas as somewhere between a 3+ and a 4-.
These two brew methods – siphon and woodneck – are also what you’ll find on a typical day at the Barismo Bar, although the coffee selection may be a bit more restricted. Oh, and Barismo will charge you for the coffee. On my recent visit, the brewed coffee choice was a Sulawesi, which I passed up in favor of an espresso. I had to limit my caffeine intake by that point in the day and the Kenyas had given me a pretty good run of Barismo’s attention to filter coffee detail.
Last summer, owner Jaime Van Shyndel, pulled me a shot (which I paid for) of Barismo’s Ethiopia Yergacheffe Koke espresso on their two-group La Marzocco GB/5 (the one on the left). The crema was a gorgeous golden color and marked distinctively with a small peak, but the espresso, despite an intensely buttery mouthfeel and significant fruity sweetness, was far too bright and acidic for my tastes (3+). I never got clear whether that was the intended profile or something was off, but I wanted to give Barismo’s espresso another try when things were less busy.
On my recent visit, with some consultation from Jaime, I opted for the Homunculus. This cleverly named blend is comprised of a Sidamo (40%) that seems to manipulate that wild and unruly, but dominant Koke (60%). This shot (the one on the right) had that same characteristic squiggle as the one before. Unlike the straight Koke, however, this espresso hit all the right notes. It was bright without overwhelming, and it was full of light, clean fruit, like strawberries. It also had plenty of delicate floral notes. This one’s a keeper (4).
With the Sonata 4 espresso I had at Hi-Rise and this shot of Homunculus, I think Barismo is finally getting their finger on the pulse of espresso blending, a skill that still seemed up and coming when I first tried their Linnaean St. espresso over a year ago. Of course, it’s possible I’m also just coming to appreciate their roasting style more as a I more frequently consume their coffee. Don’t kid yourself, Barismo’s coffees are still intensely light roasted coffees and may not be to everyone’s taste. What’s important, though, is that the craft is top notch, the brew options are varied, and you can get time with the staff to answer your questions. What more can you ask for in a roaster’s cafe?