Ipsento is a long-established player in Chicago’s speciality coffee scene, the coffee shop/roaster first opening its doors in 2006 in Bucktown, just off the speciality coffee corridor of Milwaukee Avenue. I discovered Ipsento three years ago, when I visited its second location, Ipsento 606, as part of my first around the world trip. Although only a few blocks from the original, it was a coffee shop too that day and, sadly, it’s taken me nearly three years to get back to Ipsento. To make up for this oversight, I visited twice during my trip to Chicago earlier this year.
Ipsento is, in many ways, a classic American coffee shop, offering counter service from a bright front room, with additional seating in a cosy back room, plus there’s a large outdoor seating area. However, it’s anything but classic when it comes to the coffee, with the Cascade house-blend, a single-origin and decaf on espresso, plus batch brew and a separate brew bar (until 4pm) offering different single-origins on Aeropress, Kalita Wave and V60, all roasted in-house in a separate facility a couple of blocks away. If you’re hungry, there’s a range of filled breakfast croissants, lunch sandwiches and three toast options.
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
Ipsento occupies the ground floor of a tall, thin, brick-built townhouse on the eastern side of North Western Avenue, just a few blocks north of the Western Stop on the Blue Line. From the outside, there doesn’t seem that much to Ipsento, its central, recessed door flanked by two large, square windows. Indeed, at first sight, there appears to be more seating on the opposite side of the pavement, where six two-person benches line the side of a fenced-in enclosure, waist-high wooden planters separating it from both pedestrian and road traffic.
Ipsento has an open, uncluttered front room, with deep, two-person window-bars either side of the door. The only other seating is a large, two-person table on the left, the equivalent space on the right occupied by a fridge full of soft drinks, plus a retail selection. Beyond this is the counter (right) and brew bar (left).
The counter has a narrow front section with the till and, in a glass case below, cakes and pastries, while the menus hang above. The rest of the counter, housing the three-group Slayer espresso machine and its two grinders (house-blend plus single-origin), runs back at 45° to the front, a small set of shelves on the corner holding retail bags of coffee. Finally, at the back, running the width of the back wall, is the batch brewer and an open, counter-top kitchen.
The brew bar (aka slow bar), starts slightly ahead of the main counter on the left-hand wall, a separate menu on the wall doubling as a retail menu for the coffee. Like the main counter, it too slopes, this time at about 30°, the space behind the counter getting narrower rather than wider as you approach the back. Beyond this is a small takeaway station against the left-hand wall.
However, there’s more. Beyond the brew bar, a half-flight of wooden steps on the left leads up to a short corridor through the back wall, depositing you in the cosy back room., although its more accurately a pair of back rooms, with the second on the right, the dividing wall knocked through. There’s an eclectic mix of furniture back here, including chairs, tables and bench seats, made from upcycled materials such as old doors.
There’s a bench seat right at the back, plus a two-person round table against the left-hand wall, while to the right of the corridor, as you enter, is a solitary armchair. An n-shaped, three-person shelf-table projects from a central pillar, while to the right, there’s a four-person table, a long bench, an armchair and a two-person shelf-table. In seven years of doing the Coffee Spot, I’ve seen some cosy back rooms, but this might just be my favourite.
I visited twice, the first time with Amanda, when I had the tasting flight, which offered the single-origin espresso (an El Salvador Cup of Excellence), plus the same single-origin via the Aeropress. My espresso was served with a glass of sparkling water, while my Aeropress came in a carafe, mug on the side. I found the espresso very bright, while the filter was very different, much heavier and more subdued. Naturally I couldn’t get the tasting notes of sweet potato and almond, but Amanda said she could taste the sweet potato and some nuttiness.
On my return, I tried the El Salvador as a cortado, which was very different again, the coffee and milk going well together to produce a lovely, smooth drink. I paired this with a single slice of multi-grain toast, covered with soft goat’s cheese and arugula, topped off by a fried egg, an extremely tasty combination!
December 2019: Ipsento was a runner-up for the 2019 Best Physical Space Award.
|2035 NORTH WESTERN AVENUE • CHICAGO • IL 60647 • USA|
|Monday||06:00 – 18:00||Roaster||Ipsento (espresso + filter)|
|Tuesday||06:00 – 18:00||Seating||Tables, Window Bars; Tables (outside)|
|Wednesday||06:00 – 18:00||Food||Breakfast, Lunch, Cake|
|Thursday||06:00 – 18:00||Service||Counter|
|Friday||06:00 – 18:00||Payment||Cards + Cash|
|Saturday||07:00 – 18:00||Wifi||Free (with code)|
|Sunday||07:00 – 18:00||Power||Yes|
|Chain||Local||Visits||5th, 10th May 2019|
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