Dining and food culture in Chicago

Instant Coffee: Crawling Through the Cafe Experience

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Coffee CrawlBy Stefan Castellanos

I drank my first-ever cup of coffee eighteen months ago during a brief, impactful stint in the warehouse of an artisanal Los Angeles roaster and since then, my relationship with the coffee shop—as a concept and a sacred institution—has fully blossomed. Several times per week, we spend social yet deeply personal time together. And all the while, I have eyes for no one else.

We have a great thing going, but the bar-lover in me was curious: could I combine these passions? Could I treat coffee shop time like a night of determined drinking and still feel fulfilled? Achieving true spatial connection at several locales one after another seemed unlikely, a borderline offensive pursuit. Even so, I had faith that the right environments could produce moments of magic regardless of the circumstances. The coffee crawl was on. Read the rest of this entry »

Stollen Memories: Dinkel’s Bakery Feeds the Christmas Spirit

Breakfast/Brunch, Coffee & Tea, German, Lakeview, Pastry, Sandwiches No Comments »

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset By Amber Gibson

My love affair with German bread began in 2007, when I spent a year studying abroad in Germany. Every little town seemed to have a baker on each corner, up before the sun kneading dough and baking bread. Countless frigid winter mornings, my only incentive to get out of bed in the morning was the smell of breakfast brötchen (bread rolls) wafting through my window from the bakery across the street.

The culture of fresh-baked bread and the multitude of hearty loaves studded with nuts and seeds, or a sharp pumpernickel or rye spoiled me terribly. Sliced bread from the grocery store? Oh, the horror! It was in Bickenbach, a small village outside Darmstadt, where I was first introduced to good German stollen—less cloying, more buttery and much tastier than fruitcake. Here in Chicago, many bakeries offer their take on the sweet bread, but none quite captures my taste buds and brings back my memories of the pleasantly plump surrogate oma baker in Bickenbach feeding me extra sweets to fatten me up like the stollen at Dinkel’s. Read the rest of this entry »

Coffee Simple: Bow Truss Keeps the Focus on the Brew

Coffee & Tea, Lakeview 2 Comments »

Boasting a company small enough to “roast on demand, ” Bow Truss Coffee Roasters call themselves a “collective of veteran coffee professionals.” The crew at Bow Truss seeks to simplify the coffee experience. They roast in-house, allowing customers a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how a raw bean turns into a pour-over masterpiece that quells even the most discerning of coffee drinkers. Read the rest of this entry »

Clean Energy: Bean & Body Crafts a Healthier Coffee

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Erik Lucas

“This business would be a fairy-tale story if I said that I grew up on a Nicaraguan coffee farm and I always had this deep passion for it, but it just wouldn’t be true. We just don’t have that dream story, where I was a surfer and discovered a delicious new fruit that I could bottle. I kind of wish that was my lifestyle, but at the same time, it has been a really fantastic journey. It might not be as romantic, but certainly the integrity is there, you know?” Ben Heins, cofounder of Bean & Body, told me over the phone as he drove to Wisconsin.

“When I met Erik Lucas, we had both just been through all four years of college, and he was just one of those guys you meet through other people in your life, and you want to hang out. We had taken a class together. Usually when I had presented an idea in the past, it was to my dad, and the questions after I pitched always resulted in from him, ‘Well, where’s the business plan in this?’” Read the rest of this entry »

The Big Heat #32: Jeff and Tony Dreyfuss

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Jeff and Tony Dreyfuss
Owners, Metropolis Coffee
While Intelligentsia went upscale and started jacking up their coffee prices and dictating serving sizes to their customers, the Metropolis folks shadowed the stoops of every new restaurant, coffee shop and bakery in town with their comparable product. As a result, these small-batch roasters from the North Side are now winning the battle for the hearts and coffee cups of local foodies.

See details on the The Big Heat

411: The Chemistries of Coffee

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Stephanie Levi brings the science

Do you associate science with your everyday morning routine? If you need a cup of joe before you can even start thinking about the day, maybe you should. Tons of chemistry, biology and physics goes into harvesting, roasting and brewing your morning coffee.

You can find out how at Night Lab: The Science of Coffee, a science education outreach program at Schubas on Sunday, June 12 at 7pm as part of an ongoing series on the science behind food.

Sarah Kluth, green coffee manager and buyer at local favorite Intelligentsia Coffee, will be discussing her expertise in bringing the best beans from tree to cup to your mouth, and all the scientific principles involved along the way.

Night Lab is the independent project of Stephanie Levi, the coordinator for the Student Center for Science Engagement at Northeastern Illinois University who holds a Ph.D. in molecular biology. “It’s more like a bar discussion than a lecture. There’s not a whole lot that’s academic about it,” she says about the series. Read the rest of this entry »

Hang Loose: Loose Leaf Tea Loft loves its books

Coffee & Tea, Lincoln Square No Comments »

img_3809Nailed firmly to almost turquoise walls are box-shelves made of unfinished wood that hold pots, moleskin journals and books ranging from Sartre to “House of Leaves.” A tranquil mood is set by slow music playing overhead, where far from bright lights shine from up above. The place: the Loose Leaf Tea Loft.

The Loft is set up by Michelle Wu and Conor Pewarski, Harvard and Yale graduates who, on a brave whim, decided to set up the tea joint in Irving Park after a post-graduation return to Chicago. “We decided to open a tea shop in July 2008, drove all our things in a U-Haul from Boston to Chicago, found a few spaces on Craigslist, and fell in love with this corner immediately,” Wu says. “Then, with help from family and friends, we repainted the entire space and collected wine crates for the wall display. We tasted hundreds of teas to pick our thirty-six for the menu. We filed for restaurant licenses and business permits from the city.”

After about three and a half months from conception to their actual opening, Wu and Pewarski have established a space with a relaxing atmosphere with character to boot. “Our general mission is to promote health and happiness through balance and community,” Pewarski says. “Tea is the perfect way to do that, because a key ingredient is time—time for the leaves to steep, time for conversation. We also wanted to create an intimate space that the community feels free to use for their own artistic, social and intellectual gatherings—poetry readings, musical performances, open mic nights, writing workshops, game nights. We love it when someone comes to us with an idea for an event that they’d like to host at the shop.”

With hopes of attracting delightful crowds, Wu and Pewarski have added to the Loft all the necessary tools for a nurturing atmosphere. “Hoping to create an atmosphere of reading, writing and conversation, we decided to sell notebooks along with tea and put all our favorite books up on the wall for decoration and use. That gave us the name of the shop: Loose Leaf Tea Loft, for loose leaf tea and loose leaf paper. Then with our favorite books in the wine crates, it just made sense to connect the teas with our sources of inspiration,” Wu says. And the teas’ names are no joke, either. “Each tea is named after a different literary character that has some trait or connection with the tea, and almost all the characters come from a book in the shop. For instance, Jack Kerouac’s character in ‘On the Road’ gave us our Sal’s Paradise tea, sharp ginger with tangy orange freshness. Miss Scarlett’s Sweetest is a white tea with playful peaches and spunky tangerine, reminiscent of Georgia and southern society in ‘Gone with the Wind.’ And of course, our Barack’s AudaciTea promises to ‘change the way you think of oolong with the flavor of hopeful hazelnut.’”  (Micah McCrary)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Loose Leaft Tea Lost is closed as of July 2009, and will soon reopen as Latte on Lincoln.

Loose Leaf Tea Loft, 4229 N. Lincoln, looseleaftealoft.com

Resolutions for Culinary Revolution: A few tips for a better 2009

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By Michael Nagrant

I punked out a few times this year. Tired and overworked and having drunk too much bourbon or ingested too much garlic (I’m mildly allergic) on a Pat-Bruno-worthy Italian red-sauce bender, I’ve occasionally written a few columns that didn’t require a whole lot of research (like this one). I’ve hated myself for it. Shame on me. I plan on doing better next year. But, I’m not the only one who mails it in from time to time in the culinary world, and so in the spirit of the New Year, I give you my resolutions for the Chicago food community. Read the rest of this entry »

Indie Coffeehouse Guide

Andersonville, Breakfast/Brunch, Bronzeville, Bucktown, Coffee & Tea, Evanston, Guides & Lists, Humboldt Park, Hyde Park, Lakeview, Lincoln Park, Logan Square, Loop, Near South Side, Pilsen, Ravenswood, River West, Rogers Park, South Loop, Ukrainian Village, West Loop, Wicker Park No Comments »

Sit down, relax and have a cup of coffee.

The coffeehouse has become a center in the contemporary city, serving as a meeting place, a “home office” and a study hall for the community. And the best serve as counterpoint to the prevailing corporate culture: shaggy, friendly and, rather than studies in the science of turning tables as quickly as possible, welcoming enclaves where lingering is virtually encouraged. Chicago has a wealth of great coffeehouses, and with due respect to the chains, it’s the independent, locally owned and operated institutions that give the city its caffeinated flavor. Treasure them and support them, though, for many are fragile endeavors. And as we learned this year when Filter gave way at one of the liveliest spots in Wicker Park, it’s not necessarily Starbucks that threatens their existence. Apparently, it’s the inexplicable need for a bank branch on every corner.

We’ve put together this selective indie coffeehouse guide as a service to those of us who value their existence, and as a service to the spirit they inculcate. Read the rest of this entry »

The Perfect Cup: Intelligentsia’s award-winning barista gives a tour

Coffee & Tea, Lakeview, Loop No Comments »

512404932_fe088514a3_oFor someone who has already drunk roughly six cups of coffee (espresso and drip cup) by 1:30pm in the afternoon, Intelligentsia’s designer, Matt Riddle, is far from excitable. Of course, that doesn’t mean he’s without excitement.

“It’s not just me; everybody here’s really into coffee. You kind of can’t help it,” he says.

A former U.S. champion barista who placed third in the 2006 World Barista Championship, Riddle, 29, now trains and judges Intelligentsia employees for future competitions. And quite the teacher he is—as soon as I walk through the door of the company’s West Town roasting facility, he begins a commentary I imagine might be a voice-over to a factory visit on a “Mister Rogers” episode. Riddle motions to the man tending to the blue vintage German machine that’s making all that noise. Read the rest of this entry »