Intelligentsia: Chicago Coffee At Its Best


intelligentsia coffee

You might say my list of passions runs long, but nothing gets me talking like the importance of good coffee. The tyranny of preground, prepackaged dirt that was roasted circa 1998 and canned for the office slaves is coming to an end. The best part of waking up is definitely not Folgers. And it isn’t Starbucks either, which has certainly proliferated a movement towards better everyday coffee, but is being perfected one self-roasting coffee shop at a time. Chicago, I’m happy to say, is at the forefront of this movement with companies like Intelligentsia and Metropolis Coffee servicing both local and national stores with freshly roasted beans from direct trade providers (meaning they actually work with the coffee farms and monitor quality control rather then rely on importers/exporters).

If you haven’t experienced Intelligentsia beans yet then I’d suggest beginning with one of their actual “Coffeebars,” located on Broadway in Lakeview, on Jackson in the Loop, and in Millennium Park. Each swanky tattooed hipster barrista is a certifiable espresso bad ass who can dish out as much knowledge as they do excellent service. Their exclusive “Clover Brewer” system that produces perfectly brewed brown love into futuristic pods from a custom faucet is no gimmick and leaves you with a notion of how serious these people are about their brew. Their spots are often crowded, but you can usually nab a seat and there’s just as many people chatting it up over fine java as there are study slaves sucking up the wireless. This allows for no need to worry about piercing the library silence that a lot of independent shops demand. Oh, and they have their own line of quality tea too, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Once you’ve been to Intelligentsia, you’ll inevitably begin spotting their logo around town. Their coffee is available for purchase by the bean in more and more grocery stores around the city, with a variety of regions to wet your whistle. Notice I said regions, not “flavors”, though they do offer a few blends as well. The price runs a bit high I admit; a one-pound package might make you pause to wonder if it’s worth it. But trust me, it is. They are the first coffee bean company I’ve seen to actually provide a roasting date on the package. Roasted coffee beans are like dried herbs, the longer it’s been since it was cooked the less flavor it holds. That’s why their packages are smaller. Remember that jumbo bag of Costco beans you bought 8 months ago? How’s that tasting these days? You can also get yourself a grinder and a French Press for under 30 bucks — less than most counter-hogging coffee makers.

Intelligentsia coffee shops are popping up in major cities around the country, but it all started here. They even offer classes and tours at their roasting facility in the Fulton district.

For more information check out their website.

David Frankel McLean

About David Frankel McLean

I’ve been thinking philosophically about Chicago since I was jaywalking the streets at the age of 10. I don’t root for both baseball teams and I don’t put Ketchup on my hot dogs. When someone says they’re a Chicagoan they are speaking of a heritage and a doctrine, not just a location. What that doctrine is I’m not entirely sure, it’s constantly changing with the growth of the city and I’ll spend my entire life trying to figure it out.

One Comment

  • John
    April 20, 2010 | Permalink | Reply

    Nice article. It’s content is cool, and its got me all excited for coffee!

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