A latte at Bow Truss Coffee Roasters in Lakeview (Lenny Gilmore/RedEye )
Chicagoans take their coffee seriously, and not just when they're drinking it.
"For a long time in Chicago, coffee shops were split into two camps," said Zaida Dedolph of HalfWit Coffee Roasters. "Ones that served Intelligentsia, and ones that served Metropolis."
While some pledge unyielding allegiance toward one of the city's two big-name roasters, a number of more modest, small-batch operations opening over the past few years have brought even more richness to the local coffee-roasting community. That, coupled with existing roasters opening—or planning to open—new locations, means a cup of coffee made from beans roasted within city limits is easier to find than ever.
"There is so much room for growth in Chicago," said Chris Chacko, founder of Sparrow Coffee Roastery, which opened its facility last year in the West Loop and now roasts coffee for more than 80 restaurants, including fine-dining destinations such as Grace and El Ideas. He's also actively looking for a retail space. "I really want to see Chicago like another Portland," he said.
It's clear coffee drinkers are embracing the perks of both Chicago's established roasters and artisanal newbies. The numbers speak for themselves.
A Chicago original that has spread to New York City and Los Angeles since its 1995 inception, Intelligentsia opened a Logan Square coffee bar in April and plans another for Old Town in June.
Think you go through a ton of coffee? Metropolis Coffee Company is on track to roast 800,000 pounds of beans this year -- that's more than 2,100 pounds. per day. The company's plans for a Midway location are on hold, pending the airport's privatization.
Every roaster has to start somewhere. Four years ago, Tim Coonan started planning his roasts for Big Shoulders Coffee, experimenting with 12-ounce batches he roasted on his stovetop. Now his West Town cafe sells more than 1,000 pounds every week.
Since opening in 2011, Joshua Millman of Passion House Coffee Roasters has watched his reputation and his beans spread throughout Chicago, with his roasts now available in approximately 40 locations around the city.
Sharing is caring for some roasters. In March 2012, HalfWit Coffee Roasters started humbly, roasting 140-gram batches of coffee in an employee's kitchen. Now, they share a space in Logan Square with 8-month-old Gaslight Coffee Roasters, where their 12-kilo roaster has helped them land their beans in four cities (with a fifth on the way).
Though Asado Coffee Company has maintained only one coffee shop since its 2009 opening, it plans to add two more locations by the end of 2014. A West Town location at 1651 W. Chicago Ave. will open later this year, with another to follow next year in the Loop's Pickwick Stable building at 22 E. Jackson Blvd.
Year-old Lakeview outfit Bow Truss Coffee Roasters expanded its reach earlier this year by opening a new location in River North. With 14 seats, it's designed more for grab-and-go than camping out for the afternoon.
If your brewing skills stop with popping in a fresh K-cup, Ipsento Coffee House wants to help you step up your game. The cafe hosts regular Coffee 101 classes that teach you how to choose better beans and brew like the pros. The frequently-sold-out 2-hour classes host 8 people each.
Later this year, Bridgeport Coffee will branch out from the neighborhood from which it takes its name. The coffeehouse will expand into the Roosevelt Collection development in the South Loop, occupying a new, 850-square-foot location.
Dark Matter Coffee wants to bring coffee lovers closer to where it all begins, but just a few at a time. The owners recently opened a coffee bar located inside its Ukrainian Village roasting facility with an ultra-exclusive seating capacity of four.
Finding your favorite blend takes experimentation, and lots of it. Beverly Bakery and Coffee Roasters offers 26 different types of coffee, making the choice significantly more complicated than "regular or decaf."
Coffee flavors are strongly affected by the conditions in which the beans grow. Just ask Stefan Hersh of Buzz Artisanal Coffee Roaster, who has been roasting for Buzz since 2011 and sources beans from more than 12 locales around the world.
Small-batch coffee roasting is steadily gaining popularity, but some local artisans are ahead of their time: The Coffee & Tea Exchange in Lakeview, family-owned since its inception, opened in 1975 and has been roasting daily ever since.
Sparrow Coffee Roastery is focused on making the roasting process as earth-friendly as possible. Owner Chris Chacko reports that the operation uses one-fifth the natural gas as a typical roastery of the same size, thanks to an eco-friendly coffee roaster that operates without an energy-hogging afterburner.