Once upon a time it was hard to find a great cup of coffee in the Windy City—at least a cup of coffee anywhere other than at the "big kids" of Chicago roasting, Intelligentsia. And though the roaster's three shops still remain at the top of the city's—and country's—coffee game, they're at long last joined by constantly multiplying numbers of wonderful, small, serious (and not-so-serious) coffee bars ready to serve some of the finest brews in the midwest. Here's a tour of some of the city's must-sips.
The Coffee Studio
If you fell out of Wallpaper magazine and into a cafe, you'd be sitting in the ski-chalet-cum-urban-oasis of The Coffee Studio, a perfect Andersonville outpost for serious coffee. The nearly four-year-old high-style spot is loyal to local Intelligentsia for providing its beans, of which they offer a large selection to take home. Drip coffees are the best order here—try a coffee brewed on the Caffe Solo, a stylish carafe infuser known for its flavor as much as its high fashion. There's a small amount of real food on offer, as well as a well-stocked magazine rack and a selection of handsome coffee wares (like beautiful cups from local artists Circa Ceramics), in case you drink so many coffees you feel like outfitting your apartment as stylishly as the cafe.
The Coffee Studio
Metropolis Coffee Co.
Long lingering in the shadow of that "other" Chicago roaster, Metropolis have always been plenty satisfied to be the alternate game in town. Their roasting facilities outgrew their Edgewater cafe a few years back and moved offsite, making that much more room for hanging out in the neverending rooms of their Granville Street cafe, which feels quite collegiate inside. The roaster has long focused on espresso, but now has a full-fledged manual brew bar (and tea bar!) in back, allowing for a more sophisticated sampling. Though flavor profiles and preparations still tend towards the old(er) school, sweet staff push this cafe experience from good to great.
Metropolis Coffee Co.
The flagship store of this now-six-cafes-wide chain is where it all started, a little mom and pop coffee roastery now esteemed at providing some of the highest quality coffees in the world. This shop on Broadway has changed quite a lot in its more than a decade of residence in Lakeview/Boystown, but then again, specialty coffee has changed quite a lot, too. Gone are the extra-large drinks and blender mochas, and in are a constantly rotating series of seasonal single origin coffees carefully calibrated each morning for the manual brew bar, or feature single origin and blended espressos drawn to exacting standards that highlight the terroir from whence each coffee came—even in milk. There's plenty of room to sprawl out here, at a communal table or in a somewhat comfy chair, and as such the innovative cafe remains a community hub of sorts. A full selection of Intelligentsia's whole bean line, and an array of brewing devices is available for purchase as well. (We love the tea, too.)
If you've ever mourned the loss of video store culture—and wished it could be resurrected in the form of a coffee shop—Wicker Park's The Wormhole has finally answered your deepest nostalgic prayers. Featuring everything from plush mogwais to a Delorean—yes, there is a Delorean parked in the coffee shop—The Wormhole is a novelty shop wrapped inside a cafe (wrapped inside an enigma?) The steady brews here are by Metropolis, but featured roasters, like LA's Handsome Coffee Roasters, regularly fill the extra grinders. If you're looking for an intense coffee in a ridiculously chill environment, you're going to want to lose a few hours in The Wormhole.
1462 North Milwaukee Ave, Chicago IL 60622 (thewormholecoffee.com
New to the game but already changing the rules is West Division's Caffe Streets, an ultra-beautiful coffee space trying to turn Chicago's two-roaster-town into a haven for sampling coffees from all over. Feature roasters are at the forefront here, with a variety of preparations available on the quick-to-rotate menu of selections (V60, Chemex, Caffe Solo, Kyoto drip...the list goes on) alongside a small assortment of doughy treats. The intense design sense—all terraria and white wood—simply creates a sunny space to enjoy the politely prepared coffee of your choice. (We sampled a Chemex-brewed Kenya Gitchithaini roasted by Heart in Portland, Oregon that knocked our socks off.)
Extra credit: Ch'ava, Kickstand, Ipsento, Buzz: Killer Espresso, and the other two Intelligentsia shops at Millennium Park and in the historic Monadnock building are all worth extending your stay for.