Chicago Cafe Recommendations (Coffee Fest 2022) - Page 2

Talk about your favorite cafes, local barista events, or plan your own get-together.
Milligan (original poster)
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#11: Post by Milligan (original poster) »

First off, wow what a great trip. Chicago was a lot of fun especially this time of year where I didn't turn into an icicle. Second, Coffee Fest was a well run and diverse event with a wide variety of representation and education. Lastly, my legs are tired. Did 55 miles of walking in a few days time. Definitely got a taste of the city.


La Colombe
I had a double shot of their Brazil Beleza which is a natural medium roast. It was very nice with a heavy ripe, dark fruit smell (they describe it as black currant.). It tasted the part and was an interesting espresso that I enjoyed. No bitterness. A few days later I had their Cortado and it was great as well, just muted so I wished I had gotten the double again (this is to be expected.). I visited two locations and the staff was extremely friendly. They didn't bat an eye when my friend ordered a pour over during peak hours. The vibe was more along the lines of main stream coffee shop with heavy wood, darker colors, but it seemed less self-important than a typical Starbucks. Lastly, they have awesome free sparkling, mineral water.

Blue Bottle
The first Blue Bottle in Chicago opened recently below my friend's building so I grabbed a Gibraltar (Cortado) from them using their house espresso. It was pleasant though unremarkable. Great traditional taste but lacked anything to set it apart from other traditional espressos. Later I had their SO espresso in another Gibraltar and it was more my style. Fruit forward and rich although not as pronounced as La Colombe. Their vibe I would describe as sterile like walking into an Apple store. Their staff were nice but felt somewhat robotic. A little too lofty of an experience for me.

Heritage Bike
This was the first small-shop cafe that we went to. No corporate polish here. The place had bike parts adorning the walls, antique floors that squeaked, hand made bar, and a very nice barista. The place provided family-style seating with a long table. They were serving intelligentsia black cat for espresso and the house blend for pour over. So I knew what to expect there. I enjoyed a Cortado of black cat while my friend enjoyed a pour over of the house. Not much to say about the coffee since it was simply a well pulled shot of black cat. I'm not sure I'd go out of my way to try it out since the coffee isn't unique but it is a really cool place to visit if you are in that area of town.

Heritage Bike

This one was a bit more upscale than Heritage without losing the small-shop vibe. They roast their own so that is more interesting to me than a cafe that buys in from another roaster. They only had their Cascade espresso for shots which is a darker roast and I had that as a Cortado. It was a good solid drink but I started to get a feeling that Chicago just doesn't tend toward the fruity SO espressos, so I was starting to get a bit bummed about that. My friend ordered their Guatemalan pour over and it was well done and presented. They brought a wooden plank with a small cup of some of the coffee grounds, a small pitcher of the coffee, and a mug. The pitcher was enough for two mugs worth and the grounds were fun to smell. Great environment and service.


Now we are getting into the hip and unique coffee shops with Wormhole. I could tell the owners were very much into 80s and 90s nostalgia. There was a full Delorean sitting at the back of the cafe with innumerable pop culture and video game memorabilia splashed around the shop. The staff was amazing and very helpful. They used Halfwit coffee which is a local roaster. Again, no fruity espresso so I had their normal espresso and it was good but I was more enamored by the unique vibe and great staff. My friend had a medium roast house blend and he said it was good but I didn't try it. While we were there they started cooking something on their stove. We asked what they were making and they said they make their own latte bases. The boiling concoction eventually started releasing caramel aromas throughout the place. It was fun to see them making their products from scratch instead of buying in jugs of flavorings. Overall, Wormhole ranked up a the highest of must see in Chicago.


Dark Matter

The final place I visited was Dark Matter. We stopped by the roastery first and were a little put off. The art and design was amazing with a cross of botanical and geometric design but the subject matter was anything from skulls to guitars to beautiful flying birds. They definitely have their own vibe going on and it was a beautiful place to take in. However, we got there about 45mins before closing and they were a little indifferent to us. I checked out their bags and saw one that said "fermented" on the bag specifically it was the Fuego fermented with Belgian Ale Yeast. All the others were either a Natural or a blend so I wanted to try the fermented style. I asked if they were serving their fermented coffee through the cafe. He said, "Technically all coffee is fermented so what do you mean?" I said, "Well, the one that you guys printed fermented on your bag." He said, while never looking at us, "Oh, you mean the Belgian Ale Yeast coffee." I confirmed and he said, "No you'd have to buy a bag and do that at home."

I pushed through the awkwardness and ordered a Cortado which was fine but it leaned more traditional. My friend got a tap cold brew which was very nice. Had a touch of vanilla added, but no sugar. There wasn't anywhere to sit and they wouldn't let my friend use the restroom (which was right next to the guy that said they don't have a public restroom) so the guy said they had a cafe around the corner.

We walked over there and they were MUCH MUCH nicer. Completely different. I'm so glad we went to the cafe after because I was really put off by the arrogant guy at the desk at the roastery. My friend and one the baristas started talking about their favorite metal bands. I ordered a nitro barrel aged cold brew (which was a highlight of the day.). Had a pleasant oak, red wine taste with a lot of body from the nitro. Pretty wild what they can do with coffee, it was nearly a beer-like experience but fruitier. I ended up buying a bag of their coffee and a mug to take home.

Overall, Dark Matter was my favorite cafe, avoid the roastery.

Dark Matter


With all those great cafes I visited some may be wondering what was the best coffee/espresso? None of them. The best was at Coffee Fest BY FAR. I was extremely lucky to have exactly what I wanted to try, a fruit bomb shot. The stars aligned and I saw Erica Jackson at the show who works for Onyx and has done several of their videos on brew methods. She was pulling shots of Mother Tongue Ethiopian Chelbesa. Jen Apodaca founded Mother Tongue and she is an amazing roaster with a ridiculous list of accomplishments (Q grader and 2019 cupping champion.). Erica pulled the shot in the Rancilio booth with one of their high end new specialty machines. I sipped it and it was like nothing I've ever had. Full flavor blast of deep, rich fruit with a complex deep body finish. Absolutely no sourness or bitterness, just all flavor well balanced. It was head and shoulders above anything else I had the entire time. Even outside of coffee, I've never experienced such a potent blast of fruit flavor, not even with real fruit. I totally get why people get enamored by these types of espressos. I'm a fan. Even a burp 2 hours later was pleasant :shock:

I also took a fermented coffee cupping course and it was highly informative. The instructor was a q-grader and specialized in green buying but had a personal fascination with fermented coffees (both dry and wet fermentation.). He brought 10 different coffees. Each were in sets of 2, so 5 groups of 2 sets. Each set was the exact same bean but processed differently. Several stood out. But one in particular was extremely good. Had a grapefruit kind of acidity, super bright that bites along the edge of the tongue but had a berry flavor. Extremely pronounced, not just a hint. He said it was a very experimental 21-day fermented coffee which he said was an extreme amount of time to ferment. It was the class favorite.

So it was awesome being exposed to all those coffees but at the same time now my palette is completely ruined to most coffees. My big take away is that fermented coffee is going to play a huge role in the coming years. As fermentation becomes a more controlled process like in beer and wine, we will see a lot of new flavors and experiences emerge in coffee. The key seems to be getting a consistent process.

Riff on Starbucks Reserve Roastery

I was on Michigan avenue buying gifts for family and noticed a towering building with Starbucks signage. It claimed to be their "reserve" roastery, whatever that means. I wondered inside. First thing that came to mind was "brand masturbation." They had a giant Probat roaster that had obviously never been used set up in a mock roastery area. They had a 5 story tall weird cross between a machine and sculpture that reminded me of something out of a children's science museum that kids would throw a ball in and watch it twirl through tubes as it made its way to the top. I'm not sure what it was for other than to look impressive.

They had random mid-range coffee equipment with their reserve logo branded on the products while asking more than you could just go to Crate and Barrel and pay. Which was kind of the through-line for the entire experience there. Other people's products with a Starbucks logo attached to it. Lastly, they had Starbucks "reserve" bags of coffee in a fancy bag with an origin tag attached with a metal clip. You only get 8oz in these bags and low and behold.... No roast date! So much for specialty coffee. Some were priced as high as $40 for 8oz. I'm sure many tourists will be very pleased with the marginal flavor improvement over their typical Walmart purchased Starbucks blonde roast.


#12: Post by Sideshow »

Great write ups and pics! It's always good to do something like this to revisit the state of the coffee world in Chicago (or at least some of it). My favorite roaster/cafe is Gaslight, and it's highly regarded here generally, if not a lot folks' favorite. Next time add that to the list. But it sounds like you had a fun little adventure! Thanks for the report.


#13: Post by Catherwood »

Late response but will add to the list for anyone else to try while in Chicago.

Avondale Coffee club at Elston & California. Great roaster, great coffee. They usually have a few natural processed beans on the shelf.
They have an Evanston location, Reprise, on Main St.

When I'm in Chicago, must have a cardamon/rose latte at Ipsento 606


#14: Post by TallDan »

Funny you mentioned Crate and Barrel while talking about the Starbucks roastery (and yes, they do roast there, or at least do at the one in Seattle).

That building was the flagship Crate and Barrel store, when they announced it was closing, it was announced that Starbucks was moving in. The reserve roastery opened a few years ago, I haven't been there yet, but was in the Crate and Barrel a few times.


#15: Post by Yum »

No, you just have to find great roasters, out if state from Illinois