Eat + Drink

On Chicago Grounds: Best Places for Locally Roasted Coffee

Bow Truss (Photo: Courtesy Bow Truss)

Chicagoans work hard and play hard. Chalk it up to no-nonsense Midwestern ethics — and also all that caffeine! High quality coffee roasters have been popping up around town in the past few years, giving the natives their morning (and afternoon and evening) buzz. Whether it’s a nutty latte or chocolaty espresso you crave, you’ll find it at one of these four standouts.

  1. Intelligentsia opened in Lakeview in 1995 by Doug Zell and has sprouted five new city locations since. As such, it’s a growing legend with undisputed street cred. At the manual “brew bar,” baristas finesse single-origin coffees crafted from fair-trade beans, many in limited release. Each roast has a story, and a complex one, at that. (Persephone, a bright spring blend, is inspired by the daughter of harvest Greek goddess Demeter, who plotted to prevent Earth’s plants from bearing fruit until her daughter was allowed to return from her kidnapper, Hades … we did say “complex,” right?) Go for the chocolaty Black Cat Espresso, a hands-down favorite that could incite civil uproar should it ever be removed from the menu.
  2. Dark Matter Coffee lives up to its name. The coffee is strong, dark and unapologetic. Case in point: the intensely nutty blend called Unicorn Blood. Behind the hype is an honest policy: Dark Matter has direct partnerships with farmers in El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico, ensuring that beans make a fair-trade journey from the plant to your hands. Its Humboldt Park roastery — an industrial-punk den of steel and diligence — has a walk-up espresso bar. If you want to sit and relax with your cup, the Ukranian Village and Lakeview locations have ample seating.
  3. Bow Truss baristas are trained to expertly use a Hario V60, Chemex and French Press. And if that doesn’t mean much to you, all you need to know is this: The coffee is amazing. With three city locations and three on the way, this local roaster is the one to watch. Seasonally changing varieties of single-origin blends (try Canopy for notes of chocolate, cherry and peach) have roots in Central and South America. The vibe in Bow Truss cafes is distinctly Chicago, while a vintage record player feeds the Lakeview location with the sound of old soul.
  4. Gaslight Coffee Roasters will make you a believer that taxidermy and coffee were meant to be together. So go ahead and embrace the stuffed pheasant and huge moose head that adorn this hipster haven. They’re part of the rustic charm that only enhances your steaming cup of Brazilian-bean goodness. Gaslight’s flavorful hand pours start with green coffee beans, which are roasted in small batches in the back, all day long. Unlike most other local roasters, this spot also has a full kitchen run by chefs with a leaning for local and organic.