The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

For Coffee, Dark Cloud Offers a Silver Lining

By John DiGilio in Food on Mar 24, 2011 8:30PM

2011_3_DiGilio_DarkCloud.jpgIn today's hustle and bustle, coffee has become less of a beverage and more of a cultural icon. For many, it is how we start and end the day. It is the libation of choice at meals, a midday pick-me-up, and even a common thread that brings us together with friends. We don’t call it “coffee culture” for nothing. Coffee shops have become much akin to temples these days, drawing the caffeinated faithful to witness the miracle that transforms beans and water into a dark-roasted cup of heaven. If in java you trust, then let us recommend a place of pilgrimage. At DarkCloud Urban Coffee Lab, it’s not just a latte, it’s an experience.

DarkCloud is one of the newer arrivals on Chicago’s coffee scene. Yet it brings a rather unique approach to the art of brewing breves. In fact, the full name of the place captures its experimental nature quite well - it's a coffee lab. What the owners and baristas hope sets their place apart from the rest is their particular focus on the overall quality of the coffee experience. From the rotating selection of unique and independently roasted beans to the meticulous attention given to the brewing process to even their focus on educating the public about coffee selection and quality, DarkCloud is simply different. DarkCloud is not beholden to any one roaster or process. They focus on choosing the right blends and then doing right by the farmers and roasters by delivering real quality in the cup.

We happened into DarkCloud on a very chilly Friday afternoon. A palpable warmth was in the air as well as in our cups. The baristas were friendly and knowledgeable and seemed to really enjoy helping us choose from a selection of which we had never heard. Their recommendations were spot on too. The Peru Chirinos from Milwaukee’s Alterra Coffee was smooth, bold, and sweet. The perfect accompaniment to the chocolate croissant we ordered. More striking still was the full-bodied flavor of the El Salvador la Pinera roasted by MadCap Coffee of Grand Rapids. Both were worthy of slow sipping and savoring. While we were enjoying our joe, a representative from Counter Culture Coffee was in the back offering a free demonstration of the cupping process for quality control. It was fascinating to say the least. We were more than happy to participate and even came home with a bag of their Decaf Jagong. It was exquisite!

The folks at DarkCloud host regular coffee cuppings, tastings, and pairings. Many are free to the public and some come at a nominal charge. True coffee-lovers will not want to miss such rare opportunities to really get behind the scenes of the process. A full schedule is available on their site. The baked goods come from the popular Bleeding Heart Bakery, so you know they are good. There is certainly something to be said for a coffee house that not only brews a wicked cup but gives you so much to think about in the process. We think the appropriate word is bravo!

DarkCloud is located in Lincoln Park at 2122 North Halsted and is participating in the 2011 Tour de Cafe.