The Story of Windy City Coffee

In recent years, Chicago’s craft coffee scene has boomed with an influx of unique cafes and local roasters that go the extra mile (or rather, the extra thousand miles) in bean sourcing, roasting, and brewing. The result? A dynamic, multifaceted caffeine scene in a city whose appetite for java shows no signs of slowing. So let’s start at the beginning—the roaster—and weave our way through the many Chicago cafés that execute espresso pulls and foamed milk with such aplomb, we’re the envy of the Midwest—if not the entire nation.

The Roasters

Intelligentsia {multiple locations}

One of the granddaddies of Chicago’s craft coffee scene, Intelligentsia was founded in 1995 by Doug Zell, well before the notion of pour-overs and French presses were part of the common vernacular. Since its inception, Intelligentsia has been a pioneer in sustainable sourcing, getting its beans from independent farmers in Central and South America, Ethiopia, and beyond.

Metropolis {1039 West Granville Avenue; 773.764.0400}

Another prominent coffee innovator, Metropolis took shape in 2003 when father-son duo Jeff and Tony Dreyfuss christened their café in Edgewater. A deep-seated love for coffee, earned while living and working in other avant-garde coffee cities like Seattle and Portland, begat one of Chicago’s finest coffee brands. Nowadays, they’re renowned for their small-batch roasting, rooted in beans responsibly sourced from family farms.

Metric Coffee {2021 West Fulton Street; 312.982.2196}

Metric Coffee has come a long way since its inception in 2012. Their main goal was to establish relationships with coffee importers and taste-test all roasts before heading to market and building a reputable brand. “The sourcing process is at the heart of what we do,” explains Co-Owner Xavier Alexander. “This part of our business is what takes us from Chicago to different parts of Central and South America in the search for not just quality coffee, but sustainable relationships with producers we support.”

Halfwit Coffee Roasters

Halfwit Coffee Roasters fuels Wicker Park’s feverishly popular Wormhole, which has been packing in the thirsty, laptop-wielding crowds since 2010. The team behind the café actually launched the roasting business in 2012 (with a new roasting facility opening soon in Logan Square). The company goes above and beyond, sourcing hand-selected beans from sustainable farms in Ecuador, Brazil, Colombia, and the Congo.

SpaRRow {1201 West Lake Street; 312.648.6415}

A rigorous commitment to quality sourcing and roasting has fueled Sparrow’s success since its facility launched in the West Loop. The company is a labor of love for Owner Chris Chacko, whose commitment to organic coffee and eco-friendly methods has helped the company achieve success. Beyond that, Sparrow roasts each batch both “sous vide,” without oxygen, and with fire to heighten the aroma, flavor, acidity, and texture.

Restaurants With Coffee Programs

Kingsbury Street Cafe {1523 North Kingsbury Street; 312.280.1718}

Eclectic and wholesome breakfast and brunch is the bill of fare at this popular Lincoln Park eatery, so naturally, quality coffee plays a big role. After all, what would Apple Cinnamon Breakfast Quinoa be without a hot cup of java? Owner Monique Mark uses a strong custom-blend coffee from the Chicago Coffee and Tea Exchange, along with unique offerings like their Vietnamese Drip.

CUPITOL COFFEE + EATERY {455 East Illinois Street; 312.414.1400}

At Cupitol, a new coffee and eatery concept that originated in Evanston in 2016 before expanding to Streeterville in early 2017, Owner Sellia Georges uses both local and imported specialty coffee from Europe. Chicago coffee is used for their house brew and cold brew, while imported beans from Athens, Greece serve as the base for signature espresso drinks. In fact, the espresso is a specialty blend chosen by Georges for its caramel and spice notes, elevating Cupitol’s signature freddo (or cold) drinks.

Goddess and Grocer {multiple locations}

“We take our coffee program very seriously, while still having fun with it,” explains Tamar Mizrahi, partner at Goddess and Grocer and Goddess and The Baker, one of Chicago’s most venerable café collectives with locations in Bucktown, the Loop, Navy Pier, the Gold Coast, and beyond. A love letter to Chicago’s craft coffee scene, the shops feature local favorites like Metropolis, Dark Matter, and Metric. Seasonal coffee creations are a signature of the Goddess shops, including items like a Salted Caramel cold brew perfect for warm-weather sipping.

Demera Ethiopian Restaurant {4801 North Broadway Street; 773.334.8787}

When most people think of Ethiopian dining in Chicago, they probably go right to injera bread and pungent berbere sauce. Coffee may not be the first thing that comes to mind, but in Ethiopian culture, and at Uptown’s Demera, it’s just as integral to the dining table as the food. Here, the restaurant roasts its own fair-trade coffee, called “buna,” fresh from the homeland and boils the course-ground coffee in traditional clay jebana pots.

Fairgrounds Coffee & Tea {1620 North Milwaukee Avenue; 773.770.4444}

A far cry from your typical coffee joint, Fairgrounds Coffee & Tea is an ambitious new Bucktown café serving coffee from artisanal roasters both local and national. Chicago’s Dark Matter shares menu space with other national players like Portland’s Stumptown Coffee Roasters, Milwaukee’s Colectivo, and Los Angeles’ Verve. The slick, colorful space peddles cold brew on draft, a tea program highlighting Milwaukee’s Rishi teas, matcha drinks, and snacks like pastries, breakfast tacos, and sandwiches.

Sawada {112 North Green Street; 312.754.0431}

With ties to Japan, this hip West Loop coffee shop is unlike anything else in Chicago. Named after founder Hiroshi Sawada, Sawada employs intricate latte art, a platform for the acclaimed latte and espresso master to showcase his talents and provide Chicago with something truly special. His awe-inspiring creations have garnered a ravenous fanbase and a serious Instagram obsession. The photogenic wares include the Military Latte, a Japanese matcha green tea drink that gets delicately mixed with vanilla, espresso, and cocoa.

Werewolf Coffee Bar {1765 North Elston Avenue; 773.977.7673}

One of Chicago’s foremost restaurant groups, DMK Restaurants got into the coffee game with its recently opened Werewolf Coffee. Tucked away in an industrial part of Lincoln Park, the café was conceptualized as a company clubhouse for DMK employees, but it’s also open to the public. The buzzing café features local Chicago roasters Dark Matter and Metropolis, along with Portland’s Stumptown.

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