Learn about five places you should drink coffee in Chicago, the unofficial capital of the Midwest, the third largest city in the U.S., and a place enamored with caffeine. Listings appear in alphabetical order, not in order of preference.
1. Asado Coffee Roasters (CLOSED: Visit 2 Other Locations)
Jeff Liberman and Kevin Ashtari launched Asado Coffee Roasters in 2009 and grew the brand to four locations, including this Ukrainian Village outpost. Asado roasts on-site using a black US Roaster Corp. machine and brews with a snazzy Mirage espresso machine and a row of pourover cones, never with batch brewers. The barista I encountered was particularly proud of their single origin coffee, so I bought a cup of smooth, chocolatey Meru AA Bourbon from Tanzania. The contemporary space includes wood banquette seating and yellow bulb lamps, with a white rhino head sculpture and framed motorcycle art on the walls.
2. Intelligentsia Coffee
Intelligentsia Coffee, which Doug Zell and Emily Mange founded in 1995 and sold to Peet’s Coffee & Tea in 2015, has remained a leading force in specialty coffee, having established a direct trade model between farmers and green buyer/co-owner Geoff Watts. I’m well versed with their Los Angeles locations, and paid homage to their home base at their Millennium Park shop, which resides near the old Marshall Field (now Macy’s) department store right in the Loop. Disneyesque art lines the walls, including a big sign encouraging customers to Love & “B” Loved. Brewing methods include Synesso espresso machine, Chemex, Fetco, and Eva Solo. Businesspeople pile into wood counters and communal tables. Bonus: Intelligentsia carries Floriole Bakery pastries, including a canele and chocolate hazelnut cookie.
3. Sawada Coffee
Restaurateur Brendan Sodikoff lured Tokyo coffee star Hiroshi Sawada to Chicago’s West Loop to open a branch that overlooks Green Street Smoked Meats. Sawada Coffee’s first U.S. location features exposed rafters, corrugated metal, communal seating at a wooden ping-pong table, and skeletal street art, including skateboard decks. Sawada is equipped with a custom Victoria Arduino three-group espresso machine that sports an American flag. Patriotism extends to a camo-patterned military latte with matcha and a double shot of espresso. Get any drink “Tokyo style” for $1 and get kuromitsu black cane sugar syrup. They also sell a proprietary Doughnut Vault military Donut with matcha, espresso, and chocolate.
4. Star Lounge Coffee Bar
Dark Matter Coffee is specialty coffee company that roasts in Humboldt Park at The Mothership espresso bar and International Headquarters lab. Around the corner, you’ll find Star Lounge Coffee Bar, a homey coffeehouse with long wood bar, colorful art-lined walls, and three-group La Marzocco espresso machine. Out back, you’ll find a large back patio with picnic tables and wall-to-wall murals, including a lurking cat from Slangism that seemed to take a shine to my iced coffee. Shiratado is their take on an espresso, made with signature Unicorn Blood espresso. Star Lounge also carries Do-Rite Donuts, if you’re hungry.
5. The Wormhole Coffee
Step back into the ’80s at this Wicker Park coffee bar, which has a DeLorean resting on a ledge in back, blue-grey walls for posters of movies like “Ghostbusters” and “Heathers,” of course ’80s music on loop. Wormhole’s coffee program involves a three-group aqua and green Synesso and Halfwit Roasters coffee roasted in-house. If you need a caffeine break, consider The Chronic, a beverage crafted with juniper, tonic, grapefruit, and black peppercorn that the counterman compared to a Negroni. Grab a seat at a wood table or counter.