Friday, January 2, 2009

Intelligentsia Coffee - Chicago / Lakeview

You know you are getting old when you are more excited about drinking coffee than about going out and drinking on New Year's Eve. I was in Chicago to visit my family for the last few days. Since I've been sampling the local Seattle coffee shops, naturally I wondered if Chicago had any coffee shops that were worthy. After my conversation with the barista at Zoka who told me that they had sold their Clover machines to Intelligentsia in Chicago, I naturally assumed that they would be a coffee house that's about coffee, not the typical flavored crappucino type house.

So, yesterday was a perfect day to make the journey from the burbs into Chicago's Boytown neighborhood. Boytown, as you probably guessed, is a neighborhood where there happens to be a high concentration of gay men. I know this is a stereotypical comment, but when there is a high concentration of gay men, there also happens to be a decent amount of high quality restaurants and other foodie establishments. Intelligentsia's Broadway location is at 3123 North Broadway, a block south of Belmont and Broadway (the epicenter of Boytown).

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As my brother and I walked into Intelligentsia, the two Clover machines were the first things that we saw as we opened the door. I knew I'd finally get my chance to drink some Clover coffee. I surely didn't want my first Clover experience to be at Starbucks. I asked the barista what coffee that they were making in the Clover and he responded that Ethopian Yirgacheffe was the coffee of the day. Perfect! I've been sampling a bunch of different Ethopian beans from the local roasters in Seattle, so I figured that I should have a good basis on which to compare.

I was really impressed with the cup of coffee. Normally, I prefer drinking coffee with half & half since it does a good job at covering up a less than perfect cup of coffee's flaws. When I took the first sip of the coffee, it was one of the few times that I enjoyed drinking coffee without half & half. It had absolutely no harshness whatsoever and was silky smooth. In a nutshell, it was what coffee should taste like. The big difference with Clover coffee and French Press coffee is that the Clover has less mouthfeel. It does a better job of removing the grounds from the coffee resulting in a more refined cup of coffee. Although the flavor in French press coffee can probably compete with the Clover if everything in the brewing process is spot on it still won't be able to give as refined of a texture. Thumbs up to the Clover Machine. Right between the people in the picture below are the two Clover machines.

My brother obviously must have been impressed with my pictures on the blog and as a result, he ordered a medium latte. I really didn't expect to see any latte art outside of Seattle, but their latte was decorated nicely. This latte reminded me of Caffe Vita. It was bold and intense, but the latte had a weird bubbled look, not the really smooth texture like Stumptown or Herkimer. I know I'm nitpicking, but honestly the latte would definitely hold its own to the Seattle shops. I have had better lattes than this one, but I bet on average that Intelligentsia can make espresso drinks on par with most Seattle shops.

I did have a quick chat with the barista that made the Clover coffee. He had the same conclusion that I did. His thoughts were that Starbucks simply wanted to pull the Clover machines off of the market. Starbucks can't possibly change its image by having these machines. They aren't known for having the finest coffee. Starbucks is a place to hang out and drink sweetened coffee drinks. The Clover just doesn't fit with their business model, so I can only assume that this was a move to hurt the high-end coffee houses, not to improve Starbucks.

As I was sipping my coffee, a woman passed by with the recognizable Starbucks paper cup. It still amazes me that people will be within walking distance of a superior coffee house and yet they still choose to get the Starbucks. Thoughts go through my head as to why they will walk by a shop like this and choose Starbucks instead:
  • Are they intimidated by a place like Intelligentsia? Some coffee shops don't have clear menus like Starbucks and Intelligentsia didn't have a menu at all that was posted.
  • Are they simply Walmart shoppers that like to buy disposable crap?
  • Do they have inferiority complexes and need to go to a Starbucks where the baristas are more known for having cheery personalities than making good coffee? I'm amazed when I read online reviews of coffee shops. It seems that some people are so timid that they need validation from their barista.
Anyways, big thumbs up to Intelligentsia. They are an oasis in a desert of mediocrity. If you happen to live in Chicago or are visiting, give them a try. It is well worth the trip.

Oh, I almost forgot. Thanks go out to my brother for taking the pictures. I didn't feel like lugging my camera on the flight to the midwest.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review. FYI-It's "boystown."

Mike Rupp said...

I stand corrected. :)

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