So an article popped up in my Facebook feed today that caught my attention. Anyone who knows me knows that I love exploring the city, that’s just a part of who I am. Additionally, I am also a huge cafe addict, which you’re fully aware of if you got an opportunity to read my article on South Shore Brew.
I often get ideas for places to visit across the city from various “best of’s” and “top 10” lists, many of which are produced by outlets like Timeout Chicago. However, I often take issue with these articles. To me, they often feel lazy.
The article I’m referring to specifically, 22 best coffee shops in Chicago, is a year old.
So why lazy? Well, the article highlights 22 coffee shops, and as the byline describes,
“The best coffee shops in Chicago include neighborhood joints and downtown cafes that serve excellent coffee drinks”
Well, let’s break this down before moving on:
Of the 22 coffee shops, 20 are in neighborhoods, 2 downtown.
Broken down by neighborhood:
- Wicker Park – 3 shops
- River West/West Town – 3 shops
- Lakeview – 3 shops
- West Loop – 2 shops
- United Center
- Streeterville (I consider this downtown)
- Humboldt Park
- Lincoln Park
- Logan Square
- New City (I’ll also get to this in a minute)
Now, if you know anything about the geography of Chicago, all but 2 of these neighborhoods are considered Northside of the city. The furthest south neighborhood would be Bridgeport, and let me assure you once you pass Bridgeport, you got a lot of city left to go.
That’s mainly why these “best of” articles always feel lazy to me. They highlight Northside and downtown businesses, and I sit here thinking
‘Did you even bother to come south???’
In fact, three of my favorite cafes in the city are all much further south than Bridgeport. To get to Kusanya Cafe, you gotta go another six miles, or 38 stops on the #8 bus. You can also Divvy to Englewood from Bridgeport…I’ve done it.
Now, I am no coffee connoisseur. My biggest claim to fame with coffee is working for three years at Starbucks in Evanston. I learned the basics of coffee, and I’ll be the first to say not only do I know how to make a proper pour over, but I’m pretty damn good at it. It’s all about care.
For me, a great coffee shop is simple:
- The Drinks Taste Good – Most will constitute this as “Good Coffee”. I wouldn’t know good coffee if I ran head first into it, and in fact, I don’t drink drip coffee, although that is something I am trying to get into. I have tasted what is supposed to be some of the best coffee on offer, sipped in, and shrugged. Still tasted like burnt sticks. I like a good espresso drink. You make a good latte, and you’ve captured my heart. Roasting your own beans and all that is great, and I love a barista that can teach me more about their craft, but I want a drink that’s pleasant to my palette.
- Friendly staff – A simple smile, maybe a good conversation, hell some great suggestions…it’s all pleasing to me, and the hallmark of a good coffee shop.
- Pleasant environment – nice decor, some interesting lighting, lots of windows preferably for natural light, those are a few of my favorite things. Additionally, have a great soundtrack, tables that I can actually do some work on, and we are talking love story. I don’t want to feel like I’m being rushed out, and yes, I am against just free-loading and drinking water. I have a strict “buy one thing per hour” policy for myself.
- Wifi and Outlets – I feel like this is a must of the modern coffee shop. I’m usually doing work in a coffee shop, especially with the advent of my podcast. If you have accessible outlets and decent wifi, we’re doing good.
- Snacks/Foods – Gotta have something for me to nosh on. I actually love when coffee shops team up with food or confectionary shops so they both can focus on what they do best.
- Clean Bathroom – Full disclosure: I’m lactose intolerant. A nice clean bathroom is a god send in case something goes wrong.
With that in mind, here are a few coffee shops that I feel are best in the city.
- Kusanya Cafe – Kusanya is a non-profit coffee shop in the Englewood neighborhood. They have a roasting room onsite, and you can buy coffee by the pound. In addition to tasty drinks, they also have a wonderful food selection. Their french toast is some of the best you will have anywhere. Additionally, Kusanya bills themself as a creative community gathering place, and host events ranging from yoga to open-mic storytelling events, and I even stumbled in one day and they had a full exhibit display from the Field Museum on the premise.
- South Shore Brew – As I mentioned before, you can check out my full review of this place here. Nestled in the South Shore neighborhood, it sits right across the street from the Metra station, as well as the beautiful South Shore Cultural Center, if you want to knock out a visit to both in one punch. It’s beautiful, and has an amazing feel, and I was very happy not only with my drink choice, but the food I had. Amazing place for either a date, or just an afternoon kickback and reflection.
- Robust Coffee Lounge – Robust Coffee Lounge is my local coffee house, here in Woodlawn! I generally visit on the weekends. I was just saying to myself yesterday that I should come here more often for work. They have great drinks, friendly staff, and even have a signature drink, the Mocha Diablo for you snobs. They have quite an extensive menu, and I recently tried their Cookie Butter pancakes. Magnificent! I actually have never had any of their lunch fare, but their breakfasts are the bomb.
- Build Coffee – I feel like Build Coffee fits directly in the vein of everything I do; it’s mad off the beaten path, it’s stuck between “community-driven non profits and civic journalism projects” and offers a damn good drink. I also don’t know what neighborhood they rep, so I’m not gonna try and label it. I don’t make it to Build as much as I’d like to, their offers are a little short for my schedule, but I love it when I do get over there. The staff is always pleasant, and being part bookstore, there’s always something to look at and explore. Additionally, it’s very quaint, not small, but comfy. I really dig it.
- Jackalope Coffee & Tea House – I was happy to hear that I was not the only one who took exception to the Timeout list. My friend Heather took umbrage at the fact that Bridgeport Coffee House was chosen for the list over Jackalope, also in Bridgeport. As she explained, “Very eclectic vibe. Has a community hub feel, and their Cubano is life!” I plan on getting over to Jackalope post haste.
Maybe Amy Cavanaugh and Morgan Olsen visited these spots, and they simply didn’t fit the definition of a great coffee house for them. And yes, I will visit the 22 cafes on their list, even the ones I’ve been to already. However, I often feel like these types of Timeout Chicago articles reinforce the same old narrative; that all the good stuff is on the north side…and it simply isn’t true. Come wander with me any day of the week, and I’ll prove it to you.
And one final thing: Who uses the name New City? Does anyone who has lived in that area longer than 5 years use the term New City? Everyone I know who is from Back of the Yards say they are from BOTY. New City is a name city hall uses…that’s where it can stay!
What do you think of the Timeout Chicago list? Do you think it’s accurate? Are there cafes that either they, or I missed? Let’s hear your favorites and experiences in the comments down below.
Also, have you checked out my podcast? The show is Off The Beaten Podcast. You can find the show on Apple Podcast, Stitcher, Spotify, or on our website. Also, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to see the sights of the city and what’s going down.
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