I’ve a long-standing soft spot for Intelligentsia, the Chicago-based veteran speciality coffee roaster and coffee shop chain. Indeed, I learnt to enjoy speciality coffee through its Black Cat espresso blend in the Monadnock coffee bar on Jackson Boulevard in The Loop long before I knew what speciality coffee was. Since then, Intelligentsia has spread its wings, with six Chicago locations, plus outposts on the West Coast (four Los Angeles locations) and East Coast (High Line Hotel in New York City and now two branches in Boston).
The Millennium Park coffee bar, down in The Loop, is the fourth Chicago Intelligentsia I’ve visited and the only surprise is that it’s taken me so long. Occupying a simple spot, it’s a large, open, high-ceiling space with, given the size, minimal interior seating in an uncluttered layout, plus a small outside seating area. The coffee, as ever, is excellent, Black Cat, decaf and a daily single-origin leading the way on espresso, another single-origin on batch brew and two more on pour-over, all changing daily. The pour-over, by the way, uses the (new to me) Poursteady automatic system. There’s also a wide range of Kilogram Teas and a small cake and savoury selection.
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
Intelligentsia’s Millennium Park coffee bar is in the northwest corner of Chicago’s famous downtown district, The Loop. On East Randolph Street, it’s a few blocks south of the river and a stone’s throw from Millennium Park and the Cloud Gate (more commonly known as the Reflecting Bean). It’s also around the corner from Millennium Station, one of Metra’s four terminus stations. Quite why it’s taken me so long to visit is a mystery, although to make up for lost time, I went twice, first on Sunday morning with Amanda and again the following evening, making the most of long evening opening hours to grab a post-work pour-over.
Located at the base of a large skyscraper, Intelligentsia occupies a street-level shop that seems to be surrounded (left, right and above) by LA Fitness! An enclosed seating area on the opposite side of the pavement, with its four small, round three-person tables, provides a view of the passing traffic passing. Meanwhile, you can watch the L-trains thundering overhead half a block away above Wabash Avenue.
The front is all glass, a central revolving door offset to the left, a more conventional door to its right, leaving a narrow space on either side. The counter, set back on the right, occupies maybe a third of the interior, an enclosed kitchen and restrooms beyond, with the seating in the remaining L-shaped space.
To the right are four two-person tables with stools arranged in a square between counter and window. The window itself has a standing bar, but, due to the proximity of the tables, there’s no room to stand. Alternatively, grab one of the four bar chairs at an extension at front of counter, where you get a great view of the baristas at work.
On the left, the revolving door, which projects into Intelligentsia, creates a narrow nook at the front, home to a five-person bar which runs along the left-hand wall. Next is a long, free-standing 10-person communal table, followed by an extensive array of retail shelves against the wall. Finally, right at the top of the L, with the kitchen/restrooms to the right, a bench runs the width of the back wall with a four-person table (left) and a two-person table (right).
On my first visit, Amanda (on her first very visit to Intelligentsia) had a classic Black cat cappuccino, while I also had a cappuccino, but with the Peruvian single-origin espresso. Both were excellent, the Black Cat, unsurprisingly, having classic, chocolate notes, while mine was much lighter and really smooth.
On my solo return, I had a Kenyan single-origin pour-over. This was made in a Chemex using the Poursteady automatic system, installed towards the end of last year. Fully-programmable, this has a single bar running over the pour-over devices (eg Chemex, V60, Kalita Wave or <insert favourite pour-over device here>) with an adjustable nozzle which runs back and forth, stopping over each pour-over as required, dispensing bursts of hot water according to the selected recipe. Impressively, the nozzle both rotates and tilts, mimicking the actions of hand-pouring with a kettle.
The resulting coffee, served in small carafe, with a mug on the side, was delicate and well-balanced, demonstrating that machines can make good pour-over too. I paired this with an excellent cinnamon bun, neither too sickly sweet nor too sticky.
|53 EAST RANDOLPH STREET • CHICAGO • IL 60601 • USA|
|Monday||06:30 – 20:00||Roaster||Intelligentsia (espresso + filter)|
|Tuesday||06:30 – 20:00||Seating||Tables, Counter, Bar; Tables (outside)|
|Wednesday||06:30 – 20:00||Food||Cake|
|Thursday||06:30 – 20:00||Service||Counter|
|Friday||06:30 – 20:00||Payment||Cards + Cash|
|Saturday||07:00 – 20:00||Wifi||Free|
|Sunday||07:00 – 19:00||Power||Yes|
|Chain||National||Visits||5th, 6th May 2019|
You can see what fellow coffee blogger, Bex, made of Intelligentsia, which she visited later on the same month as me. You can also see what I made of the other Intelligentsia locations that I’ve visited.
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