While Chicago is well known for its Deep dish pizza, its eponymous hot dogs, and the Blues, one thing many are unaware of is its great locally roasted coffee.
I visited some of the best coffee roasters on the north side of Chicago to check out the scene. Here are four of my top picks that coffee aficionados and amateurs should know about.
2021 W. Fulton St.
Right in the center of the Kinzie Industrial District is a new coffee roasting business. While mostly a supplier, Metric now has a small cafe in the front of their roasting operations. The baristas are knowledgeable about the different flavors that the beans hold and can find you the perfect blend according to your mood and taste. They do not mess around with fancy flavored lattes or pretty foam designs. Lacey, the cafe manager, said, “Metric grew out of the collaboration of two long-standing coffee experts. We focus on the quality of the coffee. We care about making specialty coffee accessible to all. We just want to hang out and talk about coffee.” Metric is a perfect cafe for the people who love the aroma of coffee. They also offer free coffee tastings every Friday.
Dark Matter: Mothership
738 N. Western Ave
If you are looking for a laid back smooth jazz coffee shop vibe, this is not the place for you. They keep the place dark and play punk music loud, but the ambiance fits perfectly with their coffee. Made from rare and special beans from El Salvador this coffee is unique. Mike, the manager, said, “What makes our coffee special is our close relationship with our farmers. We know the farmers of 99% of the beans we use. We also experiment with different fermentation processes during the roasting. We like to focus on the bright sweet side of coffee.” This coffee makes your heart pump fast and your head ache (like the punk music you are assaulted with when you enter the cafe) but leaves people wanting to come back for more. This strange sensation of pain and happiness all in one cup leaves people in love with this place.
2035 N. Western Ave
The mission of this cafe is to build community. Everyone knows each other on a first name basis. Geoffrey, a barista, said “We are about making sure our customers have the best experience. We have as much love for each customer as we do for coffee.” But Ipsento is not just focused on the love of its customers. Geoffrey said, “We put as much love and care into cupping our coffee as our farmers do growing the berries; it’s the continuation of the story.” They make several different specialty lattes with flavors that vary from spicy cardamom to sweet Nutella. This cafe was also one the first to introduce a Nitro Brewed ice coffee. They pride themselves on continually experimenting and creating new ways to experience coffee.
Buzz Killer Espresso
1644 N. Damen Ave
While many now shun Bucktown as a result of its gentrification, it is unquestionable that this cafe overcomes the sadness of the neighborhood. Buzz Killer employees roast all their beans in a small room on the second floor surrounded by windows so customers can watch the roasting operation. This is an amazing environment to do work in. The cafe is filled with long tables covered in succulents and plaid laden coffee drinkers working on sticker-covered macs. Logan, a barista, and roaster, said, “Our roasters work in shop and discuss openly with the customers. Most places the roasters aren’t also baristas.” They take great care in each and every espresso they craft and keep the coffee making process open to the public. They make wonderful creative espressos that leave people wanting to try dozens of different flavors and giving them a reason to return.
While many now drink coffee from Starbucks because of the convenience, there is something special about having a relationship to the entire process of a cup of coffee. People rave about Intelligentsia, Metropolis, and Bow Truss, but that is only the tip of the huge coffee scene in Chicago. Many have lost this connection, but these roasters bring art to this unquestionably amazing drink. It is incredibly special that there are so many places in Chicago that can link growers in Africa to drinkers here.