Friday, April 24, 2015

Coffee in Chicago!

Intelligentsia, a Dollop of Metropolis, illy and a pancake house = coffee tasting in Chicago!

Coffee Tree growing in the Crystal Gardens greenhouse of Chicago's Navy Pier!


A visit to Intelligentsia could best be described as an educational visit to a coffee college.  This coffee shop is the real deal and a true find in this coffee lover's quest to learn more about coffee growing and taste my way through the coffee culture. During my visit in Chicago my goal was not to ask specific probing questions about practices and allowed the baristas to teach me about what makes their coffeehouse and coffee special. 

Intelligentsia started as a single coffee shop in Chicago with their own small in house roaster.  Expansion now includes their headquarters and roasting works on Fulton Street in Chicago - home to roasting facilities, coffee labs, coffee tours, coffee storage education and screen printing. 

Intelligentsia Roasting Works and Headquarters in Chicago. Photo from:  Intelligentsia

Another roasting facility is located in Los Angeles, and two training facilities in Atlanta and New York.  Retail coffeebar locations can be found throughout Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.  

I visited the Millennium Park location on East Randolph Street. 

The Coffeebar had several coffee machines and brewing stations that included:

Grinding (for whole roasted beans)
Steaming (milk)
Espresso Machines

Brewed Coffee:

Kalita Wave

For Espresso choices: 
Espresso, Latte, Cappuccinos, etc. they offer: Bourbon Variety

Black Cat 
Classic Blend
Jacques Carneiro & Luiz Paulo Pereira
Fazenda Santa Ines
Carmo de Minas, Brazil

Nyarusiza Rwanda
Single Origin Espresso
Epiphanie Mukashyaka and Sam Muhirwa
Nyarusiza Washing Station
Gikongoro, Rwanda

Brewed coffee varies by selection for that day. 
During my visit they were offering coffee from: 

 El Salvador 

There was approximately four or five hard working baristas behind the counter that all worked a brew station that they were experts in. Each offered helpful information and recommendations for variety, brewing techniques and information about the region the coffee grew in.   Ken was friendly, professional and generous with information about Intelligentsia's philosophy, which is to basically work with farmers directly all over the world looking for the very best quality coffee.  Direct trade is their goal and only the finest quality coffee is bought and roasted.  Organic is important, as is fair trade, and they work hard to seek those coffee farms using practices and cooperatives that support the farm and environment.  Ken explained that fair trade is a focus word right now, and that many people do not understand it.  He said the emphasis for Intelligentsia is quality coffee and good relationships with farmers and growers.  When that happens everything else falls into place. 

Ken asked how I enjoy my coffee (which is a simple drip brew or pressed and serviced black) and recommended the Burundi Bwayi. His co-barista made my coffee to order.

Wow, was this a treat! Brewed in a pour over method using Kalita Wave dripper. 

Served black and elegantly in a glass sniffer style coffee glass with a small refill carafe on the side, all placed on a eco-friendly bamboo single serve tray.

The coffee was amazing and I tasted caramel with a slight tangy but sugary fruit flavors.  I could not smell this but a flowery note could also be tasted. It was hot but not burning, allowing the coffee to be enjoyed without any additives.  The glass felt wonderfully warm after walking in the cool, windy Chicago neighborhoods. 

Wifi working and coffee sipping just go together, and this is definitely a meeting spot as much as a working space.  The coffeebar was very busy, filled with people meeting for coffee or enjoying a cup while working solo.  Mostly bar style high tops and counters, with few tables and chairs placed throughout. There was a even a quiet corner in the rear. Even though the room was busy and full, it did not feel crowded as the trendy and lofty interior always felt more spacious than the crowd.

With plenty of coffee items, brew tools and extras to purchase, including of course the well stock pantry shelves offering all the coffee varieties at their freshly roasted selections.

The only criticism is prices.  The coffee for purchase especially the in season or special single origin by the bag or cup or is not for a budget conscience person or someone looking for chain coffee prices.  This is not really critical because it is indicative of a coffee company really looking for and expecting their customers to appreciate quality coffee.  You definitely get what you pay for and that is: a beautifully served, expertly crafted, satisfying coffee experience.  My favorite part was that my barista Ken, encouraged and strongly recommended coffee aficionados take the time to enjoy their coffee, in house, in a real glass or ceramic cup.  Take out paper cups are an option but if you ask EVERYONE just shrugs.

To learn more about Intelligentsia coffees, brewing tools and tutorials; including workshops, tours and barista classes visit:


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Wildberry Pancake and Cafe is a restaurant that 
serves Intelligentsia coffee and even has a barista counter at the front of the restaurant for those not staying for breakfast and are looking for quick take out coffee.

Photo: Wildberry Pancakes & Cafe

Our breakfast waiter at Wildberry did not know a lot about the coffee, but he was friendly and willing to ask the manager for more coffee information.  He ultimately brought us a bag of coffee which was a Columbian Catuai that Ken at Intelligentsia talked about, and referred us to the headquarters to learn more. 

I had the Catuai French Roast, made by drip method, first black then my second cup with a little cream and sugar.  The coffee was a rich and hearty robust flavor, and together with my big breakfast (perfectly poached eggs) it was a perfect start to a walking day in Chicago.

Wildberry has three locations, and was voted best pancakes in Chicago!  Not just for breakfast, the menu featured lunch items and the menu tempted a longer stay to try each and every offering. 

Wildberry Pancakes & Cafe

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espressamente illy 

Located on the corner of E. North Water and N. Cityfront Plaza in downtown Chicago, this a tiny espresso bar featuring of course the internationally known coffee producer illy, was on the side of the Chicago River and the convention center I was presenting in that brought me to Chicago.  

Admittedly what drove me in to this small little espresso bar was mostly curiosity and the opportunity to try the espresso coffee that is found literally all over the world served authentically in one of their shops. 

 It was a very brief visit. The tiny cafe was very busy and crowded for late afternoon. Standing room only and patrons have to squeeze by carefully avoiding spills and accidents from hand held espresso cups. I was nervous and preoccupied that coffee would be spilled on my camera!

I asked a few questions about the coffee, not needing anything particularly answered, I just wanted a feel for the service and the knowledge shared.  It was also super busy, so I didn't expect much.  Instead of questions answered a free espresso sample was handed to me promptly in a little beautiful espresso set! 

Sweet deal!  I smiled, winked and and said thank you.  Then shot my espresso and was out the door. Perhaps another time or day and this visit wouldn't feel so rushed. Verdict is, this is really really good espresso and an award for biggest ceramic espresso cup!

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Dollop Coffee Company

I loved this coffee shop.

Dollop has five locations, and coffee is definitely a passion here.  Casual, comfortable and with a laid back atmosphere, my visit to the Streeterville location had me wishing I brought my laptop and some books.  I could have spent the whole day here working or reading or both.  

This space was trendy but unpretentious, warm with touches of wood and couches to sit in throughout.  A wall of windows that allowed natural light to filter in, giving the cafe an open airy spacious area to work or just relax in. 

 A variety of brew styles and options to choose from from drip blends to espresso drinks and brewed to order single origin selections from Brazil to Ethiopia.

Super cool and clean counter spaces with espresso machines built UNDER the counter allowed patrons to watch their coffees being made, and their espressos and steamed milk crafted before them.  

My barista offered any coffee variety, as she said the coffee was so good it didn't matter between brew technique.  I opted for an espresso blend called Red Line made as a latte.  

It tasted like dessert.  It was rich, velvety and tasted like a chocolatey coffee with ripened fruit, maybe like a wine? It was hard to describe, and I don't order coffee with steamed, frothed or heated milk often, but this was one of the best lattes I've ever had. EVER.  

I bought a bag of these beans along with a bag of heirloom variety Ethiopian coffee from the Gedeo Kongo region, processed naturally from the Sedie Kongo Farmers Group.

Nice touches like the help yourself filtered water and a clean up after yourself area; gave the coffee shop a cozy home feeling but in a gorgeous modern space. 

People were socializing
working, meeting and relaxed.

Yoga anyone? 

Affordable, helpful, knowledgeable and willing to share about their coffee, I found Dollop both warm in hospitality and rich in coffee selections. 

Additionally, Metropolis is also located in Chicago and they sell their coffee online too!

Dollop and Metropolis equals a perfect morning and a definite best from my trip to Chicago! 

To learn more about Dollop Coffee houses or Metropolis Coffee Company visit their websites here: 

Dollop Coffee Company

Metropolis Coffee Company

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