Home Brew: Chicago's Local Coffee Makers

Chicago microbreweries open brewpubs seemingly every year, so it's no surprise that coffee roasters are opening cafes to sell their grounds by the cup (and the pound). Intelligentsia may have started it all in Chicago in 1995, but these three roasters are rapidly staking out the best corners and corridors of the city.

Star Lounge (2521 West Chicago Avenue)

Star Lounge

This coffee bar was opened six years ago, before the cafe brewed its own signature coffee brand, Dark Matter. The coffee used to be roasted upstairs above the coffee bar, but the company outgrew its first home and a new roasting facility was opened on Western Avenue, just south of Chicago Avenue, blocks from Star Lounge.

On a recent visit, the cafe was serving three blends of fairly traded El Salvadorian coffee including their flavor of the month, Cherry Bomb. The staff recommends the Mayan Mocha and the Agave Latte, both blended with chocolate, cinnamon, and agave syrup. The difference is the Mayan Mocha contains cayenne pepper, a traditional ingredient in ancient Aztec sipping chocolate. On the savory side, try the Wake & Bake. It's like breakfast in a cup. Take a seat at the long oak wood bar and order your drinks straight up like you would a cocktail or have a seat on the back patio. Star lounge serves iced coffee on draft and in growlers but I assure you, no alcohol is sold here. In the tradition of a true bar, have another round! Rumor has it that the owners are opening another lounge in the Lakeview neighborhood.

Gaslight Coffee (2385 N. Milwaukee)

Gaslight

Anchoring the intersection of Fullerton and Milwaukee in Logan Square is this new cafe serving its own in-house roasted beans. I was told that one of the founder's of Dark Matter roasts for Gaslight. You can see the machinery in the back room through single-pane windows. It's a simple workshop with bins of recently imported Ecuadorian beans and a coffee-roasting machine the size of a large refrigerator.

The menu of coffee is basic yet highlights the coffee itself. What might come as a surprise is the gourmet food menu featuring Duck Benedict and a variety of sandwiches with names like Boss Hog, Winslow, and Mrs. Jones. Kitchen hours are Monday through Friday 9am-5pm and Saturday and Sunday 10am-4pm. It's a perfect place to start your day in Logan Square, a few blocks away from the iconic Illinois Centennial Monument, Historic Logan Theatre, and the gorgeous Logan Boulevard. You will find craft stores like Wolfbait & B Girls and critically acclaimed restaurants like Lula Cafe and Longman & Eagle.

Bow Truss (2934 N. Broadway)

Bow Truss

Bow Truss is a coffee bar that blends the best of Americana with a European sipping culture. Bow Truss is unpretentious and hyper local. Less than two blocks away from Bow Truss is one of their buyers, Next Door Cafe. When I walked into the East Lakeview location, I caught the roasters tossing around and sifting through the beans in the roaster, working on their latest batch of beans. According to one of the Baristas, Bow Truss aims for a low-fi design and decor. The loft-like cafe has no Wi-Fi and the barista flips vinyl records on a turntable that separates the public area from the roastery.

Like Star Lounge, Bow Truss serves concentrated ice coffee on draft, which is brewed for 20 hours and cut with water to reduce the acidity. Come into the Broadway location on Saturday and Sunday to taste local baked goods by Glazed & Infused or Hillary's Cookies. Ask for the Affogato (Italian a for drowning), a scoop of ice cream with a double shot of espresso. The coffee bar has two locations, the original in East Lakeview and the other in River North (406 N. Wells).

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