After the cities of New York City and Los Angeles, Chicago is the third-most populous metropolitan region in the United States, but it remains first in the hearts of many coffee lovers throughout Chicago, largely for the wide array of tasty and innovative independent coffee houses that are seemingly on every corner of this great city.
While the larger and more established coffee chains like Starbucks and Intelligentsia offer just a few basic varieties of coffee and espresso, the indie shops on our list are more free to experiment with different types of beans and brew-making processes. The result of this experimentation has been an exponential explosion in the number and types of coffee now available in Chicago and cities like it.
In the following article we will highlight just a few of the best and most popular indie coffee shops in the city of Chicago, and describe for you the various types of coffee and snack offerings that are available at each cafe, the general characteristics and atmosphere of the venues, and some of the specials and amenities that have led to these coffee house’s massive popularity and huge following.
Bridgeport Coffee Company
With three independent locations, including its original location at 3101 S. Morgan Street on Chicago’s rough south side, the Bridgeport Coffee Company is a local coffee success story. Owned by Mike Pilkington, who took a big chance on opening up a coffee house south of Madison Street in the Windy City, the Bridgeport Coffee Company continues to win the hearts of fans throughout the city for its excellent coffee and terrific service.
The Bridgeport Coffee Company credits its success to the quality of the local beans it uses and their innovative roasting process. This process, which takes place in a “fluid bed roaster,” is accomplished by pushing the beans slightly up into the air during the roasting session, allowing for a more even roast with little to no burn, and thus eliminating any bitterness. The result of this innovation is a flavorful, yet non-overwhelming coffee that genuinely pleases the palate.
The pour over coffee at the Bridgeport Coffee Company is some of the best you will ever taste, but also popular here are the espressos and French press varieties, followed by the lattes, cappuccinos and flavored beverages. The shop also serves tea and cider, and during the afternoon and evening it has introduced a lineup of local craft beer. Add all this to a food menu that includes cookies, pastries, specialty sandwiches and salads and you have a one-stop shop for beginning—or ending—your day the right way.
Hardboiled Coffee Company
Situated at 9135 S. Western Avenue, in the Beverly section of Chicago, the Hardboiled Coffee Company has been a neighborhood hotspot ever since it opened a few years ago—a café that is always bustling with patrons, particularly in the early, pre-work hours.
Most of the regulars at the Hardboiled Coffee Company brag about the shop’s espressos and house blend, both of which are very satisfying, but also scrumptious is their lineup of lattes and blended drinks, the latter made using a cold-press method to preserve the integrity of the beans. Most of the coffee drinks here can be ordered hot or with ice, and the impressive selection of flavored creams means you can doctor up your order any way you please. Sugary snacks and sandwiches are also offered at the Hardboiled Coffee Company, as are teas, juices and milk.
Located at 1001 N. California Avenue in downtown Chicago, the Knockbox Café is a spacious independent coffee house with plenty of comfortable seats to accommodate its vast collection of regulars. With its soft tones and homey décor, the café has a super relaxed atmosphere, and the baristas and servers always treat you like one of the family. Wi-Fi access and plenty of wall outlets makes the spot very popular for laptop and tablet users, including a large number of students who can be seen here throughout the day.
The Knockbox Café serves up all the varieties of coffees you would expect from an independent brewer, including espresso, cappuccino, and lattes. Their Cortados, Mochas and Caramel Macchiatos are especially delicious, and their seasonal and very scrumptious Pumpkin Latte, made using genuine pumpkin puree, hits the spot on a cold Autumn morning. The Knockbox Café also offers a comprehensive selection of juices and smoothies, as well as iced coffee and iced tea.
Not to be outdone by the coffee, the food menu at the Knockbox Café is also very delicious, with gooey pastries, sandwiches, paninis, and other healthy snacks offered throughout the day.
Located at 2035 N. Western Avenue, just north of Armitage Avenue in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago, Ipsento is a small coffee house with a huge following, thanks in large part to their terrific tasting pour over blends and creatively flavored coffee treats and snacks.
Ipsento is a cozy, lushly furnished café—the type of place in which it just feels right to sit and relax with a hot morning cup of Joe. Behind the small oaken coffee bar, which barely has enough space for the cash register, the friendly and super-capable baristas at Ipsento are always busy creating some of the shop’s most decadent coffee varieties, and despite their confined quarters, each cup manages to taste better than the last.
In addition to having some of the best roasted coffee in the Bucktown neighborhood, Ipsento brews up a wide range of specialty brews, ranging from their rich and nutty Nutella Latte to their slightly spicy Cardamom Rose. The house specialty here, the Ipsento, is particularly delicious and satisfying, a roasted coffee mixed with coconut milk, honey and a dash of cayenne—a true wake up call to get your morning started.
Ipsento carries a nice selection of homemade pastries and other snacks. Free Wi-Fi access is available to all customers (just ask for the password) and the place regularly hosts community events and proudly displays local art from neighborhood artists on its walls.