the challenge

I guess it wasn’t so much of a challenge. More of a goal. Or objective. Regardless, we moved to Chicago in March of 2017, and my goal for the first year was to buy only coffee roasted in this fine city. Having lived in the suburbs for so long, just a short(ish) drive or train ride from the city, I put off trying a lot of local coffee because I wanted to pick it up from the cafes. Why pay shipping if I can just go and pick it up? Except I didn’t go pick it up much, because I was lazy/it was out of the way/a long drive. So now that we were living in the city, I was determined to not make any more excuses.

Chicago actually has a pretty big coffee scene, thought it feels like it often gets overlooked in the face of Portland, Seattle, New York. Intelligentsia was one of the first big third wave roasters, and is a staple in Chicago - it can be found all over. But there are many smaller, local roasters popping up all over the city.

the coffee

I wish I had kept better notes earlier on, so some of this is just based off my (foggy) memory:

Metropolis - This is one of, if not my favorite, roasters. Consistently great, consistently a few bucks cheaper than other roasters for comparable beans. I’ve tried a handful of new to me beans (Papua New Guinea, Ecuador), as well as some staples (Brazil, Rwanda) and enjoyed them all. It doesn’t hurt that I don’t even have to cross the street to pick them up at Dollop.

In particular, the Papua New Guinea Keto Tapasi was easily my favorite from Metropolis. This was my first coffee from Papua New Guinea, and I was a little skeptical because it was something new and to me not really known as a powerhouse region for coffee production. I was very impressed with the cups I brewed, it was very balanced and smooth, sweet but not too sweet. I wish I had bought a second bag of this.

Intelligentsia - Probably the biggest roaster here in Chicago, and one of the big players in third wave coffee. They’re a major force in the city, and can be found pretty much anywhere. Their beans are always very good but it always feels a little bit big box. I just don’t get the same vibe or wow factor as I do at the smaller roasters here. The beans are always a safe bet, and always have some good seasonal blends and single origins on hand, just not always my favorite.

Dark Matter - The Dark Matter cafes are easily my favorite cafes to hang out in the city. Best vibe/community feeling, hands down.

They do a lot of experimental stuff with their coffees, fermenting and aging in wine/whiskey casks. Lots of interesting experiments pushing the boundaries of coffee. I appreciate what they’re doing, but it’s not always my cup of tea (…coffee). However, A Love Supreme is my favorite house style blend, and it makes fantastic cold brew.

Metric - I think I got a bag of Kenyan beans from here, and that it was very good. However, I picked the beans at the cafe at Revival and they had something like a $5 up-charge compared to picking up at their cafe or online. Which kind of soured me on them. The next beans I pick up will likely be from here, and I’m really excited to give them another shot. Plus I can’t wait to check out their cafe in West Fulton.

Passionhouse - I visited the cafe in snowy Logan Square on a much needed day off from work. I had a pour over with some Ethiopian beans as I sat by the window. The pour over was so good I ended up picking up some beans to brew at home.

The beans were from Ethiopia Sidama Guji, one of their M genre beans (A Ambient, blends, M Mainstream, single origin, E Experimental, single origin micro lots grown/processed in unique ways). Using Passionhouse’s beehouse brew recipe, I was able to brew some dynamite cups - a little on the under-extracted side, but these beans lent themselves well to that.

Groundswell - Picked these beans up on a lovely springtime walk back to work from Field Notes. Actually, I think it was February but it was like 50+ degrees out and wonderful. Anyways, the barista on duty was super enthusiastic and helpful in helping me choose my beans, going in to the different flavors and mouthfeel and experience the different beans would have. I got some Ethiopian beans. They were really good, but I realized about half way through the bag that I was getting tired of Ethiopian beans and probably should have changed it up.

Halfwit - Halfwit has been around for a while, and their cafe Wormhole is a Wicker Park staple (there’s a DeLorean in there!). Their beans are solid, I can’t remember which ones I got though.

Gaslight - I feel like Gaslight is better known for their espresso than their filter coffee. I had a really good cortado in their Logan Square cafe, and brought home some beans of African Origin. All I remember is it took me a long time to finish the beans. I don’t think it was because I didn’t like them, more likely I was going through a down phase in my coffee consumption (it happens sometimes!)


I’m not sure if there’s much of a conclusion here other than there’s a lot of great coffee in Chicago, and it’s all worth trying out! There were a few roasters I haven’t had a chance to try yet, and I fully intend to grab a bag of their beans in the coming year.