Welp, I have survived my first couple weeks of Chicago - in January. I owe it to staying indoors with pots of coffee within reaching distance and of course, Friends's new home on Netflix (It's actually a problem. At this point I can review Central Perk in full detail, but let's save that one for a rainy day.) Even in the white, dreary snow days Chicago can be very colorful. Chicago is rich in history and unique cultures; from Little Italy to Asian influences and Latino foods - Chicagoland is certainly alive.
For this reason it is no surprise that the arts and music scene are valued. And with the higher art appreciation, the higher hipster population (my own personal theory). And of course what is a hipster, but a loner wandering the streets, without their natural habitat - coffee hubs.
Yes - Chicago is a myriad of coffee shops. So, it called for a little research (after all, wandering the streets of Chicago in January is a kind of torture for this southern Californian). And Intelligentsia quickly rose to the top of my list for a couple reasons. Let's begin with their story.
Intelligentsia is awesome because of their Direct Trade relationship with coffee producers or coffee farmers (I will have an entire post on Direct in Trade soon!) Each harvest season their buyers spend months with the farmers to help develop coffees, exclusively for Intelligentsia. Basically this careful one-on-one with farmers transforms what would be lower quality cheaper, commodity coffee into a specialty coffee. In Intelligentsia's words, "when a farmer learns to become an artisan rather than simply a harvester."
And this knowledge isn't just written on their website's page to sit on, but every barista is well educated on the entire coffee process. I spent a pretty long time chatting with the baristas behind the counter (longer then they cared for I'm sure) about the coffee they serve. They were knowledgeable about which regions of the world their in-season coffee was from, the chemical process of growing and roasting the beans, etc. Plainly put - they were pretty passionate about what they do.
Alright, now let's get to the good stuff. Their coffee was amazing. And to tell you the truth, I can't even remember what I drank because the baristas kept feeding me small sampling shots of different coffees and even carbonated teas (amazing, rejuvenating stuff, if I may add).
I do recall the Rwanda blend and it was coffee. And what I mean by that is that it was smooth, bold and not bitter. It called for absolutely no milk or sugar, which is really how every cup of coffee should be appreciated. I drink coffee multiple times throughout the day, but this is specifically one I would love to wake up to and grab on the go. And for $18 you can brew yours at home. So, for all of you early morning shakers, I suggest this to put you at an at-ease, but also certainly alert mood.
There's a good chance you are near an Intelligentsia coffee bar. There are six locations in Chicago, three in Los Angeles and two in New York. Alright, there's like a ten percent chance - but my point is they are pretty spread out. Their original coffee bar was born on the North Side of Chicago, their Broadway location. So, they have certainly grown to say the least.
I live closest to their Wicker Park location (Wicker Park is known to be an up-and-coming, hipster thriving area). They have little seating in this location, unless you want to be propped up an awkward cube block. The layout of the coffee bar itself is clean and beautiful.
Service, as mentioned above, was fantastic. Baristas were super welcoming, knowledgeable and more than willing to give me insight into the complex and fascinating coffee industry.
I am sure I will be stumbling into one of their eleven locations soon, but I am pretty sure all of that coffee sampling will be keeping me wired for days.
Speaking of, coming up next on the blog! How much is too much? Let's discuss coffee and your health :)
Until the next Chicago coffee shop I find refuge in,
The Coffee Nomad