Monday, March 21, 2011

Ah, Discovering Coffee in Chicago

I was never a connoisseur of coffee. In fact I was pretty judgmental of coffee snobs. I remember listening to a student from Seattle bragging about how they had great coffee in the Northwest and Fort Wayne was a coffee wasteland. I thought she was simply spouting her civic pride. I remember having an espresso in New York and hating the jolt of caffeine. However, there were hints of a future conversion.

I remember having tea in England. I was impressed with the respect the process of brewing was given. I liked how everything stopped for a “cupa.” I liked watching the workers in antique shops in London stop working to have their tea. I liked drinking tea served in real cups and saucers at the Channel beach.

I liked drinking coffee from real porcelain cups in Italy. I loved my morning cup of Americano while sitting in the piazza of Assisi. I was learning coffee did not have to be bitter, it did not have to be served in Styrofoam and it did not have to be consumed while on the go.

Practical Assisi #6: COFFEE SHOPS

I enjoyed a cup of coffee with chicory at Café Du Monde in New Orleans. However, to be honest I was there for the beignets with powdered sugar and to listen to the street musicians.

Nola Shines | Cafe du Monde

The nearest I came to appreciating coffee that was not just a cup of Joe was on vacations. I would stop at a Starbuck’s and order a low fat latte with cinnamon and a hint of nutmeg. Oh, and during the fall I would order a pumpkin latté. Hardly the makings of a follower of he bean.

During my first stay at Emmaus Ministries world famous author Nicole Foster introduced me to Dollop. Dollop was a local coffee shop a short walk from Emmaus Ministries. It was also a short walk from Boystown where we did outreach and a short walk from the lakefront. Dollop was great. It consisted of two levels going in opposite direction. The lower level kind of ‘crossed the T’ with the street level. The shop was full of small tales, couches, and coffee tables. There was local art on the walls and artsy literature all over the place. Dollop sold coffee, made tea bags and had a nice pastry selection. However, I just liked the atmosphere. People came in to red, to look at their iPad, to talk with one another and to sip coffee.

When I came back to Chicago for my sabbatical I visited Dollop a lot. It was where I went to grade school papers. It was where I went to read books on Francis. I brought Whitney to Dollops on our way to the lakefront. Emily and I went there to sit, talk and then continue on your journeys. Emily was my partner in adventure. Bethany and I tried to go to Dollop for a quiet coffee. Instead we walked into a well attended folk music concert. It seemed like a stereotype of a coffee house and it was cool.

If it had not been for Doug Van Ramshorst I would have been content with going to Dollop and never exploring all the other bean possibilities in Chicago. Doug is the outreach coordinator for Emmaus. He is also a coffee savant. I am not exaggerating. I do not have a tattoo of a cup of coffee on my arm, Doug does!

Doug knows where and how coffee beans are grown and harvested. He knows all the various ways coffee is brewed. He knows the people and the history of many of the coffee houses in the city. However, for me, most importantly, Doug does not like coffee that tastes bitter or burnt. Not only would Doug recommend places I should visit, he would tell me what coffees to try and which ones to avoid. I appreciated Doug’s delicate palate (NOT a slogan for a T-shirt!)

Doug introduced me to Intelligentsia Coffee. This place was incredible. They had the world champion baristas for the last two years. Now prior to Doug I did not know there were World Barista Championships but then, prior to Doug I did not know what a barista was. I certainly did appreciate the magic the person behind the counter was capable conjure up.

Interview with Barista World Champions at Intelligentsia Coffee

Each cup of coffee at Intelligentsia is individually brewed. This is a place to savor your coffee. People linger here, unless your Sill our Ministry Center Director, then it is coffee to go. The shop is between Lincoln Park and Boystown and walking distance to the lake or Lincoln Park Zoo. It is near theaters, shops, social service agencies, gyms and residential neighborhoods. What a great location to just sit and sip a smooth cup of Guatemalan made just for you. Thanks Doug!


There were so many coffee shops to go to while on outreach. They were places to warm up, to observe and to just talk with folks. Some were good, convenient but limited in their usefulness to us. Caribou on Halsted was great. The location allowed us to sit and do our jobs. However, they closed early in our outreach tours. Dunkin Donuts at Clark and Belmont was always a happening place. The price was right, the coffee was always at least adequate and there were always folks to talk to. The problem was once it got late the tables and chairs were stacked up and there was no place to sit.

Luckily Doug was a resourceful guy. He introduced me to Kickstand. This was a great little shop on Belmont. The motif was or course old bikes. Sometimes it appeared you had to be an intellectual just to enter. Folks would sit around drinking coffee and reading War and Peace. The coffee was always good, the service friendly and the art interesting. The problem was it also closed by 11 PM which is not a lot of help on outreach.

However, our most useful place by far as a chain coffee shop, Starbucks at Clark and Belmont. The service was great. The location was perfect for watching outside activities. Best of all, it was open 2r4 hours a day. The place never slowed down. It was a meting spot for so many sub groups of the Night Community. This included club hoppers, locals, trannies, our guys and the CPD. It was here that I began to develop a relationship with the Chicago police. It was here that I realized how over worked and stretched thin the police were. I loved to sit at the window and watch the city at night. Bethany would meet here with members of the deaf community. Doug would meet community contacts here. Emily would drink tea and plan her next outreach journey while Whitney rested before moving on to Halsted. It held an important spot in the life of our outreach mission. Plus, I liked their coffee.

My favorite coffee house was Metropolis. It was north of Uptown and near the lake. It filled three separate rooms. Each room had shelves of comics and art books to look at. The coffee was great but it was the atmosphere I loved. You could loss yourself in this place.

Metropolis Coffee

I taught at the Adler School of Professional Psychology on Mondays. At the corner was an Argo Tea House. This was a great spot to meet up with faculty and students. It would never have been a destination shop but it was a convenient watering hold.

Across the street from Emmaus, in the Friendly Towers building was the Citizen Skate Café. This was a skate board/coffee shop. It was party of Jesus People USA (JPUSA.) The music was often loud, pounding. The walls were covered with skateboards and posters. Al Tauber described place as beautiful. If beautiful means effective, ale to reach out to a special population then it was beautiful. It reminded me of a 12 year old boys basement getaway. Still, the workers were great. The coffee was very good. And I loved hanging with JPUSA folks.

Citizen Skate Café: JPUSA

Finally, Al also told me about Café Two. Café Two is part of Inspiration Café. This is a non-for-profit organization that trains homeless folks in the food industry. The café is beautiful in a traditional, non-Al way! The food is great. However, I went there for the coffee. The service was always friendly and personal and the coffee was Intelligentsia coffee. It always felt good to know you were getting good coffee will supporting a great organization and helping in the training of folks whose lives were changing.

TrueNorth - Inspiration Cafe :60

So I learned I liked mellow, Central American coffees. I learned to appreciate service and the special skills of well-trained baristas. I learned to find places of respite in a busy city. Most importantly, I learned to appreciate the experiences of Doug, Nicole and Al. Coffee, I like it!

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