The 18 Best Coffee Shops In Chicago

By Staff in Food on Mar 12, 2014 8:35PM

We'll admit if it wasn't for a hearty cappuccino every morning we don't know how we would have gotten through this winter. There's something about the smell and taste of coffee and the warmth of a hot cup in our hands that is reassuring whenever nature decides to prank the city with another five inches of snow.

Coffee is booming in Chicago with companies like Intelligentsia, Asado, Metropolis and La Colombe doing wonderful wholesale business. Intelligentsia under Doug Zell has grown to the point where it is seen as an industry leader standing side by side with Starbucks, with cafes located across the country.

Chicagoans who want to drink their java from a smaller more local option have many choices at their disposal, some within blocks of each other. We've gathered our favorites for this week's best of listicle and we're certain the discussion will focus, as always, on what readers feel is missing. So have at it and let's open a discussion.

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(Photo via Ipsento's Facebook page)

Ipsento
Ipsento might seem like a little neighborhood joint tucked away just north of Armitage Ave in Bucktown, but they are creating some seriously original coffee options and doing impressive work within their cramped confines. Thankfully they’ll be expanding soon and opening a store down the street where they’ll focus on their roasting, classes and a tasting room. Still, Ipsento isn’t the type of place you camp out hogging a table with your laptop all day. It’s a place to unwind, grab a seat in the cozy back room and enjoy a really wonderful cup of coffee. Roasted on the premise, they have a variety to choose from. They work with a lot of other local vendors as well and are very community oriented. If you want something a bit more indulgent than your average cup of joe, try the Nutella latte or Cardamom Rose. Or check out my favorite the Ipsento, made with coconut milk, honey and a dash of cayenne. They also have wonderful seasonal drinks as well, with their pumpkin latte (made with real pumpkin puree!) being a favorite beverage of mine last year. And when the weather gets warmer, their sidewalk seating is the perfect spot to meet friends and spend an afternoon catching up in the shade. —Lisa White

Ipsento is located at 2035 N. Western Ave.


Bridgeport Coffee Company
Mike Pilkington took a chance on opening a coffeehouse on the South side long before anyone wanted to do business south of Madison Street. Ten years later Bridgeport Coffee Company is still going strong at its flagship shop at 31st and Morgan and two new shops at the Roosevelt Collection retail/residential complex in the South Loop and the Hyde Park Art Center. Pilkington and his staff roast their own beans in a fluid bed roaster, which pushes the beans in the air slightly to allow for a more even roast and little burn. The result are flavorful coffee blends that don’t overpower the palate and appeal to both coffee aficionados and generations of Bridgeport residents who grew up on Hills Brothers, Chock Full O’ Nuts and chicory-blended coffees. Some customers claim pour-overs here are transcendent but you can just as easily enjoy the flavor of Bridgeport Coffee’s blends in a French press or as an espresso. —Chuck Sudo

Bridgeport Coffee Company has locations at 3101 S. Morgan St., The Roosevelt Collection at 1021 S. Delano Court West and the Hyde Park Art Center, 5030 S. Cornell Ave.


Knockbox Cafe
[UPDATE: As of October 2014, Knockbox has closed due to rent increase and have not opened at a new location.]

Knockbox is everything you’d want in a neighborhood coffee shop: plenty of seats and outlets, wifi, good coffee, friendly staff, relaxed atmosphere, and tasty food. When I need a place to hunker down and work, I head to Knockbox rather than fight for a cramped spot at other trendier coffee shops. It’s the coffee shop equivalent of my favorite warm comfy sweater, a place I can retreat to that feels like home. But in this case Knockbox makes a much better sandwich than I do. They have a wide selections of paninis, my favorite is the roast beef full of thick cuts of meat with a side of blue cheese coleslaw that doesn’t skimp on the blue cheese. They serve Metropolis coffee, a favorite local bean of mine. I enjoy their chai latte as well. The atmosphere is what seals the deal for me. It can get crowded on the weekend, but it never feels cramped or loud. Everyone is friendly, I’ve shared tables with strangers working before, and the staff is always cheery and nice. Also it’s only a few blocks north of Chicago and California, so after an afternoon of working I can walk down and get some chicken at Feed and a cold beer at Continental. Knockbox to me is just the perfect neighborhood coffee shop, a spot that any community would be happy to call their own. —Lisa White

Knockbox is located at 1001 N. California Ave..


Hardboiled Coffee Company
Beverly has a coffeehouse fitting with its working class roots in this spot along South Western that roasts its own beans in small batches on premise. A cup of their house blend is a marvel to the palate but their espressos and blended drinks (using cold-pressed coffee) are no slouches in the flavor department. —Chuck Sudo

Hardboiled Coffee Company is located at 9135 S. Western Ave.


The Perfect Cup
The Perfect Cup is the perfect embodiment of a neighborhood coffee shop, tucked away on a residential-feeling section of Damen in Ravenswood, removed from the hustle of Lincoln Square. Though it’s just steps from the Damen Brown Line stop, the clientele is decidedly local - a mix of parents with young kids just stopping in for a coffee or a cupcake, young professionals taking advantage of the comfy, ample seating and free wi-fi with purchase and groups of neighbors meeting to catch up over Café Umbria coffee and Two Leaves and a Bud teas. Since expanding into the adjacent storefront a couple of years ago, the Perfect Cup has also beefed up the food menu to include breakfast wraps, sandwiches and paninis. The staff is friendly and warm, the prices are reasonable for a small independent shop and there’s a great bench right outside where I love to sip an iced coffee and watch summer in the city go by. — Lizz Kannenberg

The Perfect Cup is located at 4700 N. Damen


Elaine’s Coffee Call
Back in the day, Hotel Lincoln was the seedy residence of off-color authors the likes of David Mamet, who inspired enough affection among its staff for Elaine, the hotel operator, to faithfully call his room each evening asking if he’d like his nightly cup of coffee or tea. Today, the service remains every bit as personable—Elaine’s picture hangs on the south wall—while the coffee has inevitably improved, because lattes just don’t get smoother than this. Funneled from the neighboring Perennial Virant kitchen, fresh brioche and other floured sundries are also worth braving a line that can snake out the door come Green City Market hours. In its quieter moments, however, Elaine’s still echoes with Mamet’s restive search for meaning, affording enough solace to brood over your own masterpiece, coffee, tea or peanut butter muffin at the ready. —Melissa Wiley

Elaine’s Coffee Call is located at 1816 N. Clark St..


Big Shoulders Coffee
I always thought that a slight air of pretension was an intrinsic quality in any coffee shop, but that was before I met Big Shoulders Coffee. The staff consists of some of Chicago’s friendliest faces serving a no-nonsense coffee with a complex, nuanced flavor. Tim Coonan, who’s been a part of Chicago’s culinary scene for years, is an expert at roasting his beans. The coffee drinks are delicate and simple, and while the espresso is a little too acidic for my taste, I’m devoted to their coffee. Each roast has unique qualities with lingering notes that dance on your palate. The prices are also quite reasonable, with a coffee starting at $2.00. With the welcoming smiles and wonderfully straightforward coffee, you can’t help but leave with a smile. — Erika Kubick

Big Shoulders is located at 1105 W Chicago Ave


Heritage General Store
Yes, Heritage General Store is technically a custom bicycle shop. It’s also one of the best places to work remotely in the city, because Portland’s Stumptown beans make for a deep, rich brew while ample natural lighting casts a happy glow on even your grumpiest customer. And if you’re feeling squeezed for elbow room at the communal table of artfully distressed wood beneath a chandelier of repurposed bike rims, picnic tables await you outside. Supplying Mast Brothers chocolate bars, Glazed and Infused donuts, Southport Grocery cupcakes, and Milk and Honey granola, this is urban Americana at its sweetest, while their house vegan chocolate-pecan cookies have become a personal addiction. If by chance you don’t ride your own set of wheels over, come here often enough and you almost certainly will. The floor models possess absurd amounts of vintage charm, as do the baristas. —Melissa Wiley

Heritage General Store is located at 2959 N. Lincoln.

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Jackalope Coffee and Tea (Photo via Jackalope's Facebook page.)

Jackalope Coffee and Tea
Where Bridgeport Coffee Company is the successful businessman who has a routine from which he never veers, drives a Prius and only has a couple cocktails and some Netflix viewing to unwind after a long day, Jackalope Coffee & Tea is the teenager who picks up your daughter for a date driving a customized Chevy S-10 blaring Scandinavian death metal from behind tinted windows for an evening of smoking cheap synthesized marijuana cruising Halsted Street. Owners January Overton and John Almonte have created the ultimate rock and roll coffee shop with blends from Metropolis Coffee, Rishi loose leaf teas, doughnuts from Bridgeport Bakery and Glazed and Infused and some amazing sandwiches and soups. Jackalope’s décor is littered with nods to the mythic beast for which it’s named and beautiful concert posters from past shows at local venues like Metro, Hideout and others. Like Bridgeport Coffee, the Jackalope staff knows their way around an espresso machine and can make some mean pour-overs. —Chuck Sudo

Jackalope Coffee and Tea is located at 755 W. 32nd St.


Eva’s Café
I always like when I order a cup of tea and I’m handed a whole pot. Especially when the teacup is ceramic and its pattern clashes with that of the plate accommodating my turkey pesto sandwich, always satisfying as a quick and filling lunch. I also like the process of choosing one tea from what looks to be a hundred then deciding on a simple cup of Intelligentsia instead. Even better, I like sitting on a slightly faded damask couch, close enough to the window all but directly beneath the Sedgwick brown line stop to hear the train whir past, knowing I can stay here as long as I like, particularly in cold weather when the little house that is Eva’s Café feels homier than my own, because my apartment doesn’t have its own wood-burning fireplace. So however easy to miss, Eva’s should enter your coffee house rotation if you live anywhere in Old Town’s purlieus, because few are as comfortable as this. —Melissa Wiley

Eva’s Cafe is located at 1447 N. Sedgwick.


Kristoffer’s Cafe & Bakery
At Kristoffer’s you come for the coffee and wifi but stay (and keep coming back) for the tres leches and chocoFlan. The quaint family owned and operated shop on the edge of Pilsen has been serving up a simple finely tuned menu for over 10 years and is a wonderful spot to start your day. The shop closes pretty early (5 p.m. on the weekdays and 4 p.m. on the weekends, closed Monday) but that one gripe is forgiven after diving into their delicious tres leches. Many have raved about how good this cake is and rightfully so, a moist rich treat that comes in a variety of flavors, my favorite being coconut. The dark horse is their chocoflan, a dense chocolate cake with flan that inverts while cooking, leaving the flan on top and the cake super rich. When I lived in Pilsen it was my favorite spot to grab a chorizo quesadilla for lunch and a slice of cake and coffee while working on my laptop. They rotate their coffee selection and usually showcase various varieties from Mexico and South America, all organic and Fair Trade. My favorite drink to get is their excellent cortado or cafe au lait. Kristoffer’s is a lovely neighborhood spot but also well worth the trek for a cortado and slice of tres leches. —Lisa White

Kristoffer’s Cafe & Bakery is located at 1733 S. Halsted St.


Buzz: Killer Espresso
When I wander Wicker, it’s usually to head to Myopic Books, which is a favorite haunt of mine. One incredibly toasty summer day, I stumbled on Buzz when panic parking my overheating Jeep. It was love. It was a strange time to fall in love with a coffee shop, but I needed to sit somewhere and unwind, and Buzz has a great ambiance. A cool breeze was blowing, there was a good amount of seating, and a few places to plug in if you wanted to type and sip, which is my way. The staff there was immediately welcoming, and I found them knowledgeable and helpful even to my mostly tea-drinking ways. They serve up an excellent chai tea latte and even gave me their source, encouraging me to get some for times I couldn’t make it in. Now that I wield the power of Aeropress and am really starting to delve into coffee, they’re even more of a draw for me, for their whole bean coffee, their wealth of information and equipment, and their passion for the subject. You can’t go wrong. It was a lucky stumble for me that’s now a haunt, and I recommend checking it out immediately. —Marielle Shaw

Buzz: Killer Espresso is located at 1644 North Damen Ave


Star Lounge Coffee Bar
When I first moved to Chicago, Wicker Park and Bucktown were areas known more for gangs, art galleries and dive bars. It was gritty, dirty and I loved it. My favorite spot in those neighborhoods was a coffee shop called Urbis Orbis (located in the space where Real World Chicago was filmed and a Cheetah Gym now resides). It had a certain vibe that no Starbucks could ever come close to replicating. After years of searching, I believe Star Lounge to be the closest to capturing that ambiance. The staff there is extremely knowledgeable and helpful in offering suggestions for their coffee, which is roasted down the street at Dark Matter Coffee. The room, while small, is very comfortable. Along with chairs and tables there is long wooden bar (left over from the previous tenant in the space). It is a great place to drink and get work done. During the summer months, patrons can sit outside in the back patio to soak up some vitamin D along with getting their daily caffeine fix. —Paul Leddy

Star Lounge Coffee Bar is located at 2521 W. Chicago


Z&H Market Cafe
Short for “Zaleski & Horvath” this Hyde Park market makes some of the best coffees, teas, blended drinks and espresso drinks in Chicago. Their cappuccinos, lattes and espressos are never overpowering and amazingly balanced while their coffees are always sweet and warm, without sugar. Come for the coffee, stay for a sandwich or pick up some provisions for dinner. —Chuck Sudo

Z&H MarketCafe is located at 1126 E. 47th St. and 1323 E. 57th St.


Filter Cafe
Filter has always been my preferred haunt for hunkering down and doing some work. Although it’s usually hoppin, there’s plenty of room to spread out and enough outlets to go around. I like nothing better than sinking into an oversized vintage chair and people watching over the top of my laptop or book, and the furniture isn’t the only eclectic element at the Wicker Park hangout. With reliable Wi-Fi and a menu of actual food, including veggie-friendly options Filter is a great place to get things done, just make sure you have cash. Don’t miss out on the sweet potato fries with horseradish sauce and the alley-scape ceiling mural. — Jessica Mlinaric

Filter Cafe is located at 1373-75 N Milwaukee Ave.

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Gaslight Coffee Roasters (Photo credit:Dan Fogel)

Gaslight Coffee Roasters
My second favorite pour-over in Chicago belongs to this Logan Square spot which combines the attention to detail of Intelligentsia with the devil may care attitude of Star Lounge or Jackalope. Their pastries and sandwiches are also on point and a great way to spend the day doing absolutely nothing but caffeinating. —Chuck Sudo

Gaslight Coffee Roasters is located at 2385 N. Milwaukee Ave.


Bad Wolf Coffee
Bad Wolf Coffee has gotten a reputation for incredibly well-crafted pastries, but the coffee is just as good. Owner Jonathan Ory serves beans from Durham’s Counter Culture that often have strong notes of fruit and chocolate. Not the kind of coffee shop for writing your dissertation, as there are no seats or wifi, but exactly the kind of place for meeting interesting people while standing at the communal table with a strong cup of coffee and a fresh custardy canelé or one of Jonathan’s other great treats.— Melissa McEwen

Bad Wolf Coffee is located at 3422 N Lincoln Ave.


Cafe Jumping Bean
This Pilsen coffeehouse has been a funky oasis for artists even before the neighborhood began to gentrify. The coffees here are top notch, the pastries stellar and the atmosphere brings back memories of when coffeehouses in Chicago were true communities where people would gather and believe they could change the world with a thought. In fact, that magic can still be felt there. —Chuck Sudo

Cafe Jumping Bean is located at 1439 W. 18th St.