Best Coffee Shops in Chicago: We Love Beans, Brews and Baristas

Written By: author image Simon Ritchie
author image Simon Ritchie

Chicago, truly renowned for good reason for its dynamic food scene, also boasts some of the best coffee shops you’ll find in any major city. From the robust single-origin brews of artisanal roasters to the inviting spaces ideal for both work and leisure, the city’s cafe culture is one that continues to thrive. Specialty coffee enthusiasts can explore an array of options where the latte art is as impressive as the taste and the aroma of each cup of Joe. So that’s why we’ve written our best coffee shops in Chicago guide so that you can find the very best beans no matter where you are!

Whether you’re after a rustic, cozy ambiance or a sleek, modern setting, there’s a spot that fits every mood in Chicago. In fact, the best coffee shops in Chicago not only prioritize the quality of the coffee served but also emphasize sustainable and ethical sourcing from various regions around the world.

This combination makes grabbing a brew, a testament to Chicago’s passion for the craft of coffee-making and is integral to the city’s culinary identity, inviting both residents and visitors to join in the rich tapestry of flavors and amazing caffeine-filled experiences.

The History of Coffee in Chicago

The Rise of Specialty Coffee

Chicago’s journey with coffee has seen a significant transformation in the past few decades. Initially, coffee shops served as basic hubs for a quick caffeine fix. But with time, a noticeable shift occurred, as the city’s palate (and foodie scene) evolved, seeking more sophisticated flavors and brewing techniques. This led to the rise of specialty coffee shops, marked by an emphasis on quality, sourcing, and direct trade practices.

Intelligentsia Coffee, founded in Chicago in 1995, stands tall among the pioneers in this movement, spotlighting single-origin coffees and setting the bar for other entrants in the specialty coffee market.

Influence of Hiroshi Sawada

The history of coffee in Chicago wouldn’t be complete without also acknowledging the contributions of Hiroshi Sawada. In 2014, he opened Sawada Coffee in Chicago’s West Loop, introducing a blend of Japanese and American coffee cultures to this vibrant city.

Sawada, a renowned barista and the first Asian to win the Latte Art World Championship infused the local coffee scene with his distinctive style that marries an incredible aesthetic and presentation with an approachable vibe. Sawada Coffee rapidly garnered a following (even setting up another branch in New York), known for its military latte, a concoction that blends matcha with espresso, a visual and flavorful testament to Sawada’s influence on Chicago’s coffee scene.

The Best Coffee Shops In Chicago by Neighborhood

Chicago’s coffee scene is as diverse as its exciting and electric neighborhoods. Each district boasts signature cafes that not only serve exquisite brews but also reflect the unique character of its dynamic population.

West Loop Favorites

West Loop is renowned for its vibrant foodie scene, and the coffee shops contribute significantly to its reputation. Alongside Sawada Coffee, Groundswell stands out with its exceptional drinks. The area’s industrial chic vibes are complemented by the cafes’ relaxed interiors and top-notch coffee.

South Side Gems

Moving to the South Side, the community finds its caffeine fix at places like Sputnik Coffee Company, which has made a name for itself in New City, offering a single outstanding roast that has become a local favorite. Nearby, within the historic quarters of Hyde Park, coffee shops near the University of Chicago offer both a leisurely ambiance for college students and locals alike.

North Side Must-Visits

On the North Side, coffee connoisseurs visit neighborhoods such as Wicker Park and Bucktown for a coffee culture that’s robust and eclectic. Fairgrounds is a highlight, offering a variety of roasts from esteemed roasters across the country within an inviting, modern space. Each corner of the area, from Lincoln Square to Andersonville, provides a unique coffee-drinking experience with a cozy atmosphere.

Perfect Cortado

What Makes a Great Coffee Shop

Coffee: The cornerstone of any of the best coffee shops in Chicago is the quality of its coffee. The best Chicago coffee shops should source high-quality beans, from local roasters and many esteemed international suppliers.

Baristas: Knowledgeable baristas are essential and Chicago has some of the best in the world. They adjust their brewing techniques to enhance the taste per variety, whether it’s for a robust espresso or a lighter pour-over.

Milk Options: Many Chicago coffee shops now cater to a range of dietary needs by offering diverse milk options such as almond milk, coconut milk, and other nut milks.

The Best Coffee Shops In Chicago For Ambience and Experience

Ambience: The best coffee shops in Chicago create an inviting atmosphere for any occasion, whether it’s catching up with friends to working on a laptop. Design elements across the city often reflect the personality of the neighborhood and you’ll soon know whether you’re being encouraged to linger or to move on ASAP.

Experience: Some of the best coffee shops in Chicago offer a lot more than coffee. Many cafes serve food, with exciting and interesting menus featuring items like pastries for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, and a selection of salads.

Coffee and Food Pairings

Pastries and Baked Delights

Many coffee shops in Chicago serve a variety of pastries and baked goods that pair wonderfully with their coffee offerings. From buttery croissants that melt in the mouth with each sip of a smooth latte to rich, chocolatey brownies that provide a bittersweet contrast to a robust Americano, the options are always well-crafted to enhance your coffee experience.

  • Croissants & Lattes: A classic combination where the creamy notes of the latte soften the flaky layers of the croissant.
  • Brownies & Americanos: The intensity of an Americano can cut through the density of the brownie, balancing its richness.

Lunch Options and Avocado Toast

During lunch hours, the best coffee shops in Chicago extend their menu to include heartier options such as lunch sandwiches, salads, and avocado toast. These dishes offer a perfect plate that goes hand-in-hand with a range of coffee blends and teas.

  • Avocado Toast & Cold Brew: The creamy texture of avocado toast pairs seamlessly with the smooth, refreshing taste of cold brew coffee.
  • Salads & Light Roasts: A crisp, fresh salad complements the acidity and fruity undertones of light roast coffees.

Keep an eye out for Italicized teas and flavorful smoothies that are available for those of you looking for a lighter or caffeine-free alternative to accompaniment to meal times!

Unique Coffee Offerings in Chicago

Specialty Lattes and Tonics

Oromo Cafe is well known for its quality ingredients and stands out with its military latte, a vivid concoction blending matcha green tea, espresso, and vanilla. This drink epitomizes the café’s fusion of flavors, offering a unique taste experience.

Coffee tonics are now making a real mark on the city’s coffee scene, providing a refreshing twist to caffeine fixes by mixing espresso with tonic water and sometimes additional flavors. These new ave drinks present a novel alternative for coffee enthusiasts who are still looking for a buzz and a unique taste in their coffee flavor.

The Best Coffee Shops in Chigao With and International Flair

Chicago’s coffee shops serve up a world tour in a cup. Turkish coffee is well represented by its thick, rich texture and strong taste, often prepared using traditional methods that date back centuries. Just watch out for potential ‘sludge’ at the bottom!

Vietnamese coffee, characterized by its strong robusta beans and sweetened condensed milk, offers a unique, bold, and sweet profile. Another favorite, this style of coffee is known for its potency and unique preparation method.

Each coffee shop in Chicago brings its own touch to these international staples, allowing you to embark on a global coffee-tasting journey without leaving the city.

The Art of Coffee Making

The intricacies of coffee making in Chicago rotate around skilled baristas and sophisticated roasteries that have transformed coffee consumption into more than just a simple cup of liquid.

Roasteries and Their Arts

Chicago’s coffee scene is distinguished by its roasteries, such as Metric Coffee and Intelligentsia Coffee. These institutions focus on meticulous sourcing of beans, ensuring a transparent journey from farm to cup.

A craft roastery like Metric Coffee, which opened in 2013, not only produces exceptional blends but also educates the public through roasting tours, shedding light on the delicate process of coffee making. Similarly, Intelligentsia Coffee, another heavyweight in the scene, invests heavily in their wholesale partnerships, providing both quality beans and knowledge to a wider coffee-appreciating audience.

Dark Matter Coffee takes a creative approach, experimenting with unconventional roasting techniques and latte art, constantly redefining the presentation and flavor profile of their brews.

The Science of Pour-Overs

The making of pour-over coffee is treated with scientific precision among Chicago’s best baristas. This method highlights the coffee’s flavor spectrum and is a staple for enthusiasts across the city. Each variable, from the grind coarseness to the pouring technique, affects the taste of the final product.

Many of the top roasters and best coffee shops in Chicago focus on the chemistry of coffee, measuring and timing the brewing process to achieve a consistent and flavorful pour-over. Baristas in these settings are akin to chemists, with every motion deliberate and every cup a test of their brewing mastery.

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Cultural and Social Spots

Coffee as a Social Connector

The Wormhole: Customers step back in time at this well-known Wicker Park joint, adorned with 80s memorabilia and known for its unique atmosphere. It’s a great place to hang out with fellow nerds (they have an amazing Ghostbusters print),  sharing nostalgia and a combined love for all things coffee.

Hero Coffee Bar: With several locations, including near the University of Chicago campus, this coffee chain is synonymous with bustling study sessions and deep ‘intellectual’ discussions, serving as a staple for both students and faculty to get their buzz on.

The Best Coffee Shops In Chigao With a Cause

Sip of Hope: More than just serving coffee, this Logan Square cafe dedicates itself to mental health awareness. Every purchase supports their mission, making each cup of coffee a smart decision to help others in need.

Kimball Arts Center: Located nearby, the center benefits from the local cafe culture, where visitors often discuss art and community over a fresh brew. It’s definitely worth visiting and hitting Sip of Hope at the same time.

Our Best Coffee Shops in Chicago List

Intelligentsia Coffee

Location: Multiple locations; flagship cafe at 53 E Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60601
Specialty: Direct trade coffee, in-house roasted beans, and the Black Cat Espresso.

The Wormhole Coffee

Location: 1462 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60622
Specialty: 1980s nostalgia decor and expertly crafted coffee drinks, including their signature Honey Bear Latte.

Dark Matter Coffee

Location: Multiple locations; original shop at 738 N Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60612
Specialty: Unique coffee blends and barrel-aged coffee beans.

Sawada Coffee

Location: 112 N Green St, Chicago, IL 60607
Specialty: Military Latte, a combination of matcha, vanilla syrup, cocoa, and espresso.

La Colombe Coffee Roasters

Location: Multiple locations; one popular spot at 955 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60607
Specialty: Draft lattes and a wide variety of single-origin coffees.

Metropolis Coffee Company

Location: 1039 W Granville Ave, Chicago, IL 60660
Specialty: Artisanal coffee roasting and a commitment to sustainability.

Gaslight Coffee Roasters

Location: 2385 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60647
Specialty: In-house roasted coffee and a rustic, hipster vibe.

Ipsento Coffee

Location: 2035 N Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60647
Specialty: Ipsento Latte with coconut milk and honey, and their unique “nano roastery” concept.

Fairgrounds Coffee & Tea

Location: Multiple locations; one at 1620 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60647
Specialty: A vast selection of coffee and tea from various roasters and tea makers.

Sustainability and Coffee

The best coffee shops in Chicago are not just about the rich aroma and taste, but also about contributing positively to the environment and offering healthier options for consumers.

Eco-Friendly Practices

Certain Chicago coffee shops have now adopted composting to reduce their waste footprint, converting coffee grounds and food scraps into nutrient-rich soil. This commitment goes way beyond the shop itself, with some choosing biodegradable utensils and recyclable packaging to minimize their environmental impact.

The Best Coffee Shops In Chicago Round-up

It’s fair to say that Chicago boasts a remarkable coffee scene. The city’s caffeine hubs serve a lot more than just a cup of joe and esteemed establishments like Intelligentsia Coffee have set high standards with their dedicated approach to brewing and knowledgeable baristas.

Passengers of the Chicago coffee journey and many newcomers will discover unique experiences beyond the beans at every turn.

The quest for the finest coffee in the Windy City is a testament to residents’ passion for better and the endless creativity of its local coffee artisans.

The best coffee shops in Chicago are more than mere points on a map. They’re chapters in the city’s cultural anthology, steeped in the warmth of community and the richness of diversity. While the quest for “best” is always subjective, Chicago’s finest caffeine offerings assure that coffee aficionados and casual sippers will find their own corner in this bean-led tapestry of a city.

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Simon Ritchie Editor