Friday, April 29, 2011

Noble Tree Coffee and Tea

2444 North Clark Street, Chicago, IL

Every time I went to Galway Arms on Sunday nights for my weekly fix of live traditional Irish music, I would see Noble Tree Coffee and Tea next door and rue the fact that they weren't open. When I finally got a day off work and was hanging out in Lincoln Park, Ashley and I decided to stop in. And that's how this delightful café made its way into my Top Five Chicago coffee shops.

Noble Tree features some of the best caffee in the city and boasts three floors of some of the best atmosphere you'd ever want to spend your time in, whether you're there to study, conduct some business, or just to hang out with a few friends. I'm becoming more and more a fan of cafes with great atmosphere—especially after visiting Noble Tree. If I lived in Lincoln Park, there'd be a good chance that I would spend just about all of my free time there.

And the baristas there (one of whom I actually met once before at Kickstand Espresso Bar) really know what they're doing. The traditional cappuccino I ordered was made to perfection and, yes—they do have some serious pie.


Jitters Coffee House

178 N. Chicago Street, Joliet, IL

It is almost impossible to find even marginally good coffee in the suburbs. I think is about a million times truer in my hometown, Joliet, IL. When I was growing up, we didn't have any coffee shops save for a Starbuck's kiosk inside of the Dominick's grocery store and a Gloria Jean's inside the mall. In the eight years it's been since I moved away, Starbucks has at least opened a store on Jeffierson Street, but the Gloria Jean's is gone.

So one can imagine my surprise when I found Jitters Coffee House in the downtown area. A locally-owned coffee shop in The J?? Of course, I wasn't nearly as surprised to find that their coffee is awful. Neither Ashley nor I could even finish our drinks because they were so damn terrible.

I don't think Joliet will ever have a decent coffee shop, honestly. Which is unfortunate. I just don't think the blue collar Everyman cares about great coffee. For him, Folgers or Hill Brothers is just fine. For him, Jitters is probably world-class, gourmet coffee.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Star Lounge

2521 West Chicago Avenue, Chicago, IL

I cannot sing my praises for Humboldt Park's Star Lounge loudly enough. I love everything about this bar-turned-coffee lounge; from their location, to their incredible coffee (which they roast themselves), to their very friendly, skilled, knowledgeable staff, to their spacious layout and backyard seating, to their (most importantly) incredible espresso drinks, Star Lounge really has it all going for them.

I'm just going to come right out and say it—Star Lounge is my favorite coffee shop in Chicago.

Currently, I am sitting at their bar with my laptop and journal, talking to a couple of the guys (former Peetniks like me, actually) about recipes and new concoctions. I just tried their Mayan mocha and was blown away. Now we're discussing possible ingredients for a "French toast latte"—we tasted one and it was good, but still missing a little something. Don't expect me to tell you what we put in there, though—I wouldn't dream of giving away a secret. A barista doesn't kiss and tell.

And, honestly, that's what I love most about this place—yeah, the coffee is fabulous, and, yeah, the location and the music they play are great; but what really sets this place apart for me is that their baristas are down to Earth, legitimately cool guys that really engage with their customers. It's one thing to "be engaging" from a corporate mindset ("Good afternoon, how are you? What can I get for you today? Would you like to add a pastry to that order? That'll be $10 please. Thank you, have a nice day."), but it's completely different to "be engaging" on a personal level. The guys that work here genuinely want you to have the best coffee they can make, so they ask you how your drink is. They'll talk to you about what they put in it, what their different roasts taste like, what new stuff they're working on...

Simply put: they have a genuine love and respect for coffee. And that is immediately apparent when you talk with them and taste their drinks.

For more information, please visit their website above to read about their commitment to great coffee, or stop in to talk with Jay and the rest of the team. They have a wonderful mission that every coffee enthusiast should get behind.


Come back to my table in the corner of the cafe often, because I'll be writing more reviews of their Dark Matter roasts in the future!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Caffé Streets

1750 W. Division, Chicago, IL

Caffé Streets is one of Wicker Park's newest cafes, having only been around for about three months now. I didn't even know of it until last night, while clicking around on Yelp.

I went this morning—a cold, rainy, miserable morning—on the way to work and I was very impressed. I ordered a medium cappuccino, and they informed me that they only make traditional cappuccinos, but they could make me a foamier version of a latter—color me "pleased." I was even more pleased when I sipped it; it had the same texture and mouthfeel as a Peet's latte (I really do think they're the best milk steamers around). The latte art (a rosetta) was a little wonky, but they scored points for even trying.

The only thing I wasn't impressed with was the decor—very trendy, very urban-chic. Wood paneling covered the floors, the walls, and the ceiling, making it feel like a bit like the inside of a wooden box. It felt less like a "social coffee house" and more like a photo shoot from a fashion design magazine.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bridgeport Coffee

3101 South Morgan Street, Chicago, IL

I've always had a prejudice against Chicago's South side—"if it's a numbered street, it's too far south." I've been of the opinion that the South side is full of gangsters, degenerates, and criminals. Low-lives, no-lives, and Sox fans.

But nestled in the heart of the Bridgeport neighborhood, on West 31st Street, is Bridgeport Coffeehouse—one of Chicago's best roasters. I'd been wanting to come here for ages, and I figured the day I got fired from Peet's Coffee and Tea would be the best day for it.

A gorgeous, sunny Spring Sunday—perfect for sipping a hot, perfectly made cappuccino and sitting at one of their sidewalk tables, watching all the locals walk their dogs.

And, of course, the best thing about Bridgeport is their amazing drip coffee, which they roast themselves.



2035 N. Western Avenue, Chicago, IL

Ipsento immediately entered into my top three favorite coffee shops in Chicago as soon as I sipped the traditional cappuccino I ordered.

The baristas are fantastic at their job and everyone there knows coffee really well. The atmosphere is really homey and they make good use of their relatively amount of space.

They also have a signature drink, which is appropriately called "The Ipsento": espresso, steamed milk, steam coconut milk, honey and cayenne pepper. An odd combination to think about, but incredible to sip on a crisp Spring morning.