Ben Z. wrote:Northampton coffee is pretty good - they use barington gold (pretty boring), but often have something else available as well. All the other cafes in Northampton have sucked.
I've only visited Esselon on Rt 9 once, but the espresso I had was excellent - one of the best I've ever had away from home.
While Scott Rao wrote a very well received book on espresso, my one visit (about 5 years ago) to his shop in Amherst resulted in me being served a terrible shot. Maybe I should have given them another chance...
That is too funny. I teasingly refer to it as Borington Gold. It definitely helped opened the door to espresso for me, but I never pull it at home, as I generally prefer less comfort-food shots. I have to say, I am always pleasantly surprised by a really tasty shot of Gold. When everything lines up in a perfect way it can produce a shot that is quite palatable.
Northampton Coffee (also found as the original Amherst Coffee or more recently acquired location, Greenfield Coffee) by far the best place to go for espresso in the Valley--top notch equipment, well trained baristas, etc. You just won't find rotational roasters or really bright fruit-forward espresso (Not that this is a bad thing, just a fact).
To really be wowed by a commercially prepared espresso, you have to get out of Western Mass. Whether it is Cambridge/Boston area, D.C. or NYC, you should really just make a day of it and try out 3 or 4 different shops and really engage with the barista at each location, ask questions or just watch his/her technique.
There are threads about DC and New York, but I will mention a couple Boston/Cambridge spots--
Simon's in Cambridge pulls delicious shots of barismo blends and S.O.'s (not sure if they rotate)
You could also stop in at barismo's roastery in Arlington, although it will not be a "cafe" type experience. By this I mean you will not find any chairs or food. What you will find is exceptional hand pour, vac-pot, and espresso.
Thinking Cup is right by the Common, and they use Stumptown, most likely pulling hairbender exclusively.
A place called Pavement in Cambridge uses Counter Culture--have heard good things but have never personally been.