Chicago’s Buzziest Coffee Shops

Barista pouring fresh coffee
Barista pouring fresh coffee | © Mariusz Szczawinski / Alamy Stock Photo

Avoid boring big-chain brews and get your caffeine kick at Chicago’s fancy third-wave coffee shops instead.

Intelligentsia Coffee

Beloved nationwide for its killer pour-overs and vintage espresso machines, Intelligentsia Coffee now has six locations in its hometown of Chicago – plus a recognizable red mobile coffee bar. The company’s award-winning baristas learn how to make the perfect cup of joe at special Intelligentsia training labs, refining the art of frothing milk and pulse pouring. Not only are Intelligentsia’s grounds renowned for their taste, but they’re also ethically sourced. The company works directly with growers from around the world, paying above Fairtrade prices and ensuring the best-quality beans make it into your cup.

Star Lounge Coffee Bar (Dark Matter Coffee)

The coffee concoctions at Star Lounge Coffee Bar are some of the most elaborate in the Windy City. Take, for example, the Mayan mocha, which blends fan-favorite Dark Matter Coffee with chocolate and gives the combination a kick in the form of cinnamon, cayenne pepper and agave syrup. The venue’s neon signage, long wooden bar and spray-painted backyard create a dive-y feel that makes you want to hang out long after you’ve drained your cup.

The Wormhole Coffee

The Wormhole’s coffee is damn good – it uses seasonally selected beans from Halfwit Coffee Roasters – but the café’s true appeal lies in nostalgic ’80s paraphernalia. The space is decorated with vintage decor and memorabilia, including posters from the Ghostbusters and Indiana Jones movies, an ancient boxy Apple Mac and an elevated replica of the DeLorean from Back to the Future. The Wormhole’s signature indulgent drink, the Koopa Troopa – peanut mousse, local chocolate, espresso and milk – will satisfy your sweet tooth.

Ipsento Coffee

The founders of this coffeehouse hope their brews will aid your personal development; the English translation of the Latin word ipsento is “self-discovery.” The craft drinks on offer at the coffeehouse include the lychee matcha matte, creamy nitro and the Nutella latte (it also serves cocktails, beer and wine if you find yourself here in the evening). If you want to learn the art of the flawless brew, sign up for one of Ipsento’s popular coffee-cupping (tasting) classes.

Sawada Coffee

World latte-art champion Hiroshi Sawada opened his namesake coffeehouse in Chicago in late 2015. Expect beautifully executed swirls of frothy milk cut with rich, dark coffee when you order here and – given Sawada’s Japanese heritage – a lot of matcha-based beverages. The coffee shop’s signature drink, the military latte, is a mix of coffee and matcha with milk, plus a little vanilla syrup for goodness. If you fancy a real pick-me-up come evening time, opt for one of Sawada’s boozy steamers – delicious coffee drinks spiked with alcohol.

Bridgeport Coffee

Bridgeport Coffee is specific in its approach to crafting the perfect cup of joe. It starts by building relationships with lauded coffee growers. Then, after importing the coffee, Bridgeport uses a fluid-bed roaster to heat the beans evenly without allowing them to burn, creating rich flavors minus that bitter aftertaste. Try a pour-over to get the full-flavor effect and treat yourself to a molten chocolate cake.

Heritage Bicycles General Store

You can watch the master mechanics at work when you visit this bike-coffee shop hybrid. The walls are lined with American-made bike accessories and parts – from bags and rain ponchos to bike racks and helmets – and there’s plenty of table space to sit and take advantage of the fast, free Wi-Fi while you sip your beverage. Heritage roasts its own coffee and offers a plethora of sweet and savory bites to fuel the rest of your day – be it on foot or two wheels.

Buzz Coffee Roaster and Bakery

This light and airy industrial space is known for its espresso blend – a complementary mix of Heirloom Brazilian and East African coffees. It’s designed to be served ristretto style, which is a short shot made from fine grounds with half the usual amount of water, creating a more concentrated espresso. To accompany your coffee, Buzz Coffee Roaster and Bakery offers a drool-worthy selection of sweet and savory pastries, from fluffy rosemary and sea-salt scones to moist buttermilk blueberry muffins.

The Allis

Situated in the lobby of SoHo House Chicago, The Allis allows you to enjoy the same stylish decor and excellent service without needing club membership. Exposed brick, eclectic seating options and tons of natural light filtering through huge warehouse windows make The Allis a great place for coffee dates and getting work done. Snag a couch and settle in with an americano and a house-made pastry.

Fairgrounds Coffee and Tea

The brew bar at Fairgrounds Coffee and Tea offers a rotating selection of coffees from craft roasters across the country. If you like your caffeinated beverages chilled, there’s also an alternating selection of nitros and iced coffees on tap – pick your favorite or sample a flight of three. It’s the permanent menu of elixirs where the venue really hits its stride, though. Think blueberry rooibos, aged balsamic vinegar, blueberries and mint; espresso with walnut bitters, orange peel and simple syrup; or matcha, frozen pineapple and coconut milk.

La Fournette

The smell of pastries and bread hits you as soon as you set foot in La Fournette – a French bakery and coffee shop in Old Town. Owner Pierre Zimmermann, an award-winning baker, whips up crusty baguettes, flaky croissants and delicate macaroons – an ideal accompaniment to a strong café au lait. La Fournette also serves more substantial lunch fare, including quiche, salad niçoise and satiating sourdough sandwiches.

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