Whenever I’m on the road, I try to seek out genuine local coffee shops. I’ve been in Chicago a good bit lately, and that has meant morning espresso from Intelligentsia, or a to-go cup of Dark Matter coffee with my insanely good buttermilk old-fashioned donut from Do-Rite. You can’t go wrong at either of those places. I’ve also hit a Lavazza Espression counter, and a Caffé RoM - two Italian-ish chains that didn’t really impress me as caring enough about their coffee. They both feel a bit too polished, a bit too sterile, and neither could make the kind of espresso that delivers my desired reaction of half “wow,” half “ahhhhhh.” Contented excitement is what I want.
Today I may have found a place to replace Intelligentsia as my go-to in Chicago – I got exactly what I was looking for when I walked in this little shop on W. Randolph next door to a row of produce warehouses. This cafe is actually an outpost of a small chain out of Philadelphia called La Colombe Torrefaction, so it’s not quite local, but clearly not corporate either. La Colombe has a few shops in Philly and New York, but they are known more for their roasting prowess. The Chicago shop does some of its own roasting, and also supplies many restaurants around town with fresh roasted beans.
On my first visit, I got my preferred test of a good barista – a cortado (basically equal parts espresso and steamed milk) – and also picked up a bottle of La Colombe’s cold brewed “Pure Black” coffee. No sugar, no cream, no nothing but water and coffee beans (oh, and a touch of liquid nitrogen to help seal the freshness and produce a satisfying pop upon opening). The cortado was spot on, nice creamy texture, great balance of bitterness and acidity and bright flavor. And the Pure Black? Crazy stuff. The flavors are intense, cocoa-ish, malt-y, both big and soft and laser sharp. How do they do that? A stop at La Colombe, and a bottle of Pure Black, is highly recommended if you happen to be in Philly or New York or Chicago.
A few photos of La Colombe Chicago to leave you with: