Review: Thinking Cup Coffee Bar

Toning down technology and one-upping fair trade
By ARIEL SHEARER  |  August 31, 2011


This past December, Thinking Cup Coffee Bar opened downtown, serving up strong brew in an atmosphere that fosters low-tech creativity. With 14 small tables, no Wi-Fi, and just one electrical outlet, laptop nomads should steer clear. But for those who prefer to ruminate life in a Moleskine, it's a writer's paradise.

Occupying a cozy spot on Tremont Street, Thinking Cup's front-window seating overlooks Boston Common, offering some of the best people-watching in town. And if that's not enough to get your creativity flowing, every square inch of tabletop here is lined with pages of old Boston newspapers sealed under clear resin, highlighting curious headlines dating back as far as 1896.

They specialize in gourmet sandwiches made to order, like oven-roasted chicken on apple cranberry bread with brie cheese, green apple, mixed greens, and cranberry mayo ($7.95). Try smoked salmon on harvest wheat ($9.95), tuna salad with avocado spread ($7.95), prosciutto with fresh mozzarella on ciabatta bread ($7.95), or go vegan with a quinoa salad and hummus sandwich ($7.95).

And to minimize wait time for downtown workers on lunch break, Thinking Cup preps grab-and-go half-sandwiches (e.g., ham and Swiss or chicken/walnut/grape salad) on mini baguettes for $4, or a meatless special: goat cheese, arugula, and apricot jam for $4.95. Herbivores can also get small to-go salads (pasta salad, mixed greens) for $4.95 or quinoa salad for $5.95.

Artful pastries include a stacked tiramisu ($6.50), moist and colorfully frosted cupcakes in flavors like chocolate peanut butter, red velvet, and cherry-filled chocolate ($3.25/each; $29/dozen), mini cupcakes ($1.95/each; $18.95/dozen), carrot- and chocolate-cake slices ($4.95), and tarts (lemon meringue, chocolate peanut butter, or fruit, $4.25).

All coffee ($2.50 for a large hot regular) comes from Stumptown Coffee Roasters, whose beans are primarily direct trade — an ethical-coffee-market alternative for farmers frustrated by the fees and corporate agreements required to go the fair-trade route. Specialty drinks like the vanilla-ginger latte (laced with homemade syrup; $3.90; $4.40) all include two shots of espresso, and their special Ethiopian iced coffee ($2.75; $3.25) was so rich I didn't need to add any milk (although it was hormone-free, from local dairy High Lawn Farm).

On my last visit, I watched a scruffy blond dude in plaid sketching furiously with a ballpoint. Nearby, a man in blue scrubs took up an entire table reading one tiny hardcover novel, and next to him sat two young girls with pigtails, drinking Coca-Cola from glass bottles. Sure, it's a blast from the past, but Thinking Cup celebrates old Boston with a relaxed vibe and caffeine strong enough to percolate fresh thoughts without the help of Google.

THINKING CUP, located at 165 Tremont Street in Boston, is open Monday–Thursday, 7 am–10 pm, and Friday–Sunday, 7 am–11 pm. Call 617.482.5555 or visit

  Topics: On The Cheap , Coffee, cheap eats, Sandwiches,  More more >
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