by Jesse Schroeder
Having become almost as synonymous with college students as alcohol, coffee has taken on a subculture of its own as both a practical beverage as well as an artform. Typically injected with caffeine, coffee drinks are a go-to jolt of energy in the mornings for many city dwellers, as well as outside Chicagoland. However, as society moved toward efficiency and profits in the twentieth century, we started to see these wonderful drinks degrade in quality as the businesses got bigger and more mainstream. We became so dependant on the surge of energy it provided, that we forgot the care and attention it deserves to be a quality beverage. Big businesses also had major impact on the ethics of wholesaling coffee beans from Ethiopia, Kenya, Colombia, and others, where farmers were not guaranteed a high enough value in the stock market to sustain their efforts.
Thankfully, brilliant minds sought to advocate for fair trade coffee, where the harvesters are valued just as much as the customer. These businesses are run by passionate connoisseurs who worked hard to bring back the quality that coffee used to have. There are many more opportunities aside from chain stores that offer high-value coffee. Here is a very short list of some of the best coffee shops in Chicago, all of which easily accesible by bus or train from campus.
Wicker Park, off Western Blue Line, $$
Located just off the now abandoned railway that’s been turned into a pleasant rec walk, the 606, Ipsento 606 rests on Milwaukee Ave greeting with big windows, a delightful aroma, and friendly baristas. Like Nighthawk, this place is a coffee shop by day and a bar by night, though their drink selection is often fused with either espresso or coffee flavors alike. They also offer a unique nitro-conditioned coffee which is truly a one-of-a-kind cold coffee experience. They also have their original spot on Western with a smaller, more homey feel. If you have classy taste, or are looking for a fine, fresh spot for your next date, Ipsento 606 is a solid option.
Lincoln Square, off Western Brown Line, $
This is one of the coziest, homey coffee shops run entirely by women, The Grind has become an local favorite of mine over the years located in a great neighborhood with uber friendly people. Just across the street from the Davis Theater, this place offers outdoors seating in the warm months, as well as local art for sale adorning the walls. They always have a house blend drip option as well as a specialty brew. Their breakfast food selection is your biggest bang for buck here; the ladies are really killin’ it here.
Lakeview, off Southport Brown Line, $$
Bikes, coffee, and beautiful aesthetics - what more could you ask for? Located on Lincoln Ave with an equally impressive bike service and retail options, Heritage brews excellent pour over blends, beautiful latte art, and is a great spot to meet up with an old friend you haven’t seen in forever. Partnering with FLATS Chicago, Heritage has since opened two other shops in the city connected to the lobbies of apartment complexes, both located in Uptown. Heritage Outpost sits on the corner of Wilson and Beacon, with a humble little seating area as well as one of the only current coffee window services in the city. The second one is on Lawrence and Kenmore at The Lawrence House - FLATS, with a very spacious and well designed study area with plenty of couches and tables.
Millennium Park, off Randolph & Wabash Brown Line, $$
With eight locations in the city, the most of any on this list, there’s a higher chance that there’s an Intelligentsia is nearby wherever you are in the city. They have shops in Logan Square, Lakeview, The Loop, and West Loop, making Intelligentsia a stable, top-tier Chicago coffee. They even offer popular barista classes at their locations for those desiring a career in coffee. My preferred location is at Randolph and Wabash when I find myself downtown and needing a solid spot. Intelligentsia Coffee Roasters has partnered with Goose Island Brew Co in the past for their legendary Bourbon County Coffee Stout, which has become widely revered as one of the finest collaborations between coffee and beer - an unlikely but delicious combination.
Wicker Park, off Damen Blue Line, $$
Located in the heart of Wicker Park, Buzz offers some killer (no pun intended) pour over options from Peru, Ethiopia, and Columbia, as well as their strikingly strong NCK gourmet espresso drink. If your tolerance to caffeine is built up high, Buzz’s espresso will get the job done. It’s one of the few coffee shops with two floors, so seating is less of an issue in this space.
Lincoln Park, off Armitage Brown Line, $
Offering locations in Andersonville, Wicker Park, and Lincoln Park, La Colombe has some well designed locations as well a great selection of drinks from Ethiopia, Guatemala, and others. Like Intelligentsia, they also offer barista classes at their locations. If you and your friends are craving a drink and some dinner of your daily dose of caffeine, their Andersonville location shares the block with one of the best draft bar and dinner spots in the city, Hopleaf Bar.
The Wormhole Coffee. An 80s themed coffee shop, this is the pop culture nerd’s favorite place for coffee. With a full-size Delorean in the back, and an eye-catching Ghost Busters logo looming over the sugar and cream, this spot can be overwhelming for some, but it’s one of the most memorable locations for coffee in Chicago.
Beans and Bagels. The closest one to campus, this shop separates from the coffee shop from the seating area making it an ideal study spot. Offering both a great breakfast selection as well as beverage, many students have chosen this place to be their go-to spot to get work done when they need to exit campus for a bit.