Asado Coffee, River North

A mug of filter coffee from Asado, River North.I discovered Asado Coffee when visiting Chicago last summer on my coast-to-coast train trip across the USA. Jeff Liberman, one of Asado’s co-owners, met me when I arrived at Union Station, giving me a behind-the-scenes tour of Asado’s Pickwick Place branch (which has now changed hands) down in the Loop before adding a bonus tour of the River North branch. This was interesting because it hadn’t yet opened, although it was all kitted out and ready to go. It’s the first time I’ve been in a fully-functioning coffee shop before it’s opened. As it turned out, River North would have to wait another five months before Asado finally opened its doors. Hopefully my descriptions aren’t too out-of-date!

At the time of writing, Asado was a coffee shop/roaster chain with four branches in downtown Chicago, although that’s now down to two as of August 2016. Asado roasts all its own coffee, with both shops having their own bespoke analogue roaster. Asado’s other main quirk is that it only uses lever espresso machines, usually from Kees van der Westen, although in the case of River North, it’s an Astoria. As well as espresso, there’s bulk-brew filter in the mornings, plus hand-poured filters throughout the day using Zero ceramic drippers from Japan.

September 2017: I finally managed to visit Asado’s River North location for the first time since it opened. Not a lot had changed since my behind-the-scenes tour, with the obvious exception being the roaster, which is no longer there, freeing up extra seating space. The espresso machine has also changed, with the lever machine being replaced with a more conventional Faema one.

August 2018 Looks like Asado is gone for good. The River North location is shut up and the security guard says it has been closed for about four months. I believe the Lake View location is still open though.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • Asado, River North, on W Eire St, Chicago. I got a sneak preview when I was there in June...
  • ... with a behind-the-scenes tour of the yet-to-opened coffee shop.
  • W Eire St, primarily a residential area north of the River/Loop (hence 'River North').
  • No River North gallery would be complete without a picture of the Hancock Tower!
  • Having said it is primarily a residential area, Asado is on the ground floor of an office building, accessible via the lobby, with Asado off to the left.
  • There's also this raised area to the right which I believe that Asado customers can use.
  • It's nice up here!
  • Somewhere to charge your phone/laptop if you need it.
  • However, to get your coffee, you need to go down here.
  • A slightly different view of Asado from the lobby. The glass partition makes it really accessible.
  • Inside, Asado is long and thin, with high ceilings. And yes, that's a roaster at the back.
  • This cosy little corner is immediately to your right as you enter.
  • Another view of the cosy corner from the end of the counter.
  • A view of Asado from the cosy corner, with the seating along the front of the shop.
  • There's this window-bar to the left as you enter...
  • ... while this bench is further down, near the roaster.
  • The view from the far end, looking towards the door. The space used to be a loading bay.
  • These fold-up doors (seen here from behind) gave access to the loading bay.
  • Back inside, the decor is exposed brick and wooden ceilings...
  • ... with lots of industrial-style lighting. These hang in the raised area to the right of the lobby.
  • These guys hang over the counter.
  • More lighting, this time in contrasting styles.
  • These, which are more functional, are the ones which hang over the counter...
  • ... while this solitary beauty hangs over the cosy corner.
  • There are also exposed bulbs...
  • ... and the odd, reclaimed coaching lamp...
  • ... or two.
  • The stove in the cosy corner. Imagine that roaring away on a snowy Chicago day in winter!
  • Owl!
  • Bookcase!
  • Coffee!
  • Actual coffee! But where does it come from?
  • Here! Asado roasts all its own coffee, with each coffee shop having its own roaster.
  • The view from the other side. This roaster is from the appropriately-named US Roaster Corp.
  • One last look.
  • To business. I believe that the till/ordering point will be on the diagonal part of the counter.
  • Espresso is to the right, filter to the left, retail in the middle.
  • Asado only uses lever machines. This one is an Astoria.
  • The business end of the espresso machine.
  •  Jeff Liberman, of Asado, gives me a demo.
  • The lever is puilled all the way down to create the pressure...
  • ... and then relesed.
  • As the lever rises, so the water from the boiler is forced through the coffee grounds...
  • ... and hey presto, we have espresso extraction!
  • I love watching espresso extract!
  • Almost done.
  • My espresso.
  • Asado also does filter coffee. There's a bulk-brewer for those who can't wait...
  • ... and indvidual hand-pouor filter, using the Zero ceramic filter, for those who can.
  • Jeff showed me the Reserve blend. Here it is in the bag...
  • ... and here it is on the counter top.
  • Jeff has an interesting pouring technique, pouring over the back of a spoon...
  • ... and using the spoon to stir the coffee as he pours.
  • This ensures that the coffee grounds are completely saturated.
  • Almost done.
  • Now we just need to leave it to filter.
  • Note that the water is still filtering through when the mug is full, a common technique.
  • My filter coffee.
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Asado’s River North branch is in the ground floor of an office building, accessible through the lobby. You enter through glass double doors, with the lobby ahead, up a short flight of steps. Asado itself is to the left, separated from the lobby by wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling glass dividers, with their own pair of glass double doors. There is also a raised seating area to right (go up the steps and double back on yourself) which I believe that Asado customers can use.

The coffee shop itself is an amazing space. It occupies what was the building’s old loading bay (in the days before it was an office building), and is long and thin, with an extremely high ceiling (it’s probably taller than it is wide). The long side runs along the street, and is punctuated by two sets of generous, floor-to-ceiling windows, which, when coupled its physical dimensions, give it an immense sense of space.

The loading bay’s original clam-shell loading doors take up most of the back wall, starting maybe a metre off the ground. These can still be opened up, allowing the possibility of more, linked seating space for the coffee shop in the area above/behind the counter, which would be amazing.

The layout is simple. Entering from the lobby, the counter occupies the bulking of the back wall (to your right), while to your left, there are window-bars in both windows, separated by a chunky brick pillar. The first has some really comfortable high bar chairs, with coat hooks at either end. The second window has a garden bench and another high chair, although this arrangement might have changed since I was there. Finally, at the far end, against the wall, is the roaster. The only other seating is tucked in immediately to your right, between the counter and the lobby. This cosy seating area is centred on a built-in barbeque/stove and has a couple of very comfortable armchairs.

The counter’s layout is equally simple, with till/ordering point, then espresso machine, retail shelves, and finally a brew-bar at the far end. You can sit at the counter’s near end to watch the espresso machine in action or stand at the far end (by the roaster) to watch your pour-over being made.

The décor is exposed brick, with a concrete floor, and an exposed wooden ceiling high above you, giving it a very industrial feel. The hand-built counter is made from wood reclaimed from a farm, while other features, such as the owl and the coach-lights on the walls, are reclaimed from local buildings.

Jeff told me that Asado’s philosophy was to establish direct-trade relationships with the coffee farmers where possible, and to only roast on bespoke, analogue roasters, using no computer control. Asado likes to roast light, roasting in small batches of a few kilos at a time, the roasting taking place during shop hours, where everyone can see what’s going on.

I’d tried Asado’s Reserve espresso, a blend of Ethiopian Sidamo and Java Island, at Pickwick Place, where I’d been pulled a beautiful espresso shot. However, Jeff was keen that I try it as a filter and so made me a pour-over. This turned out to be a very smooth coffee, with subtle, fruity overtones, but very well balanced (something it also displayed as an espresso).

363 W ERIE STREET • CHICAGO • IL 60654 • USA +1 773-703-3658
Monday 06:30 – 19:00 Roaster Asado (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 06:30 – 19:00 Seating Window bar, Comfy Chairs
Wednesday 06:30 – 19:00 Food Cake
Thursday 06:30 – 19:00 Service Counter
Friday 08:00 – 18:00 Payment  Cards + Cash
Saturday 08:00 – 18:00 Wifi Free (with code)
Sunday 08:00 – 18:00 Power Yes
Chain Local Visits 8th June 2015
14th September 2017

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4 thoughts on “Asado Coffee, River North

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