Purple Llama

The Purple Llama sign, hanging outside the coffee/record shop on West Division in Chicago.In mid-March, I’d just arrived in Chicago and was looking forward to spending a couple of weeks exploring the city’s excellent speciality coffee scene, interleaved with a series of work calls in the late afternoons/evenings. In the end, I managed just one day before the COVID-19 pandemic cut short my trip and I beat a hasty path for home. Today’s Coffee Spot, Purple Llama, is one of three coffee shops that I managed to visit on my single day in Chicago.

Purple Llama is on West Division Street, where it runs along the southern edge of Chicago’s Wicker Park neighbourhood. It feels like it’s been on my list forever, since so many people mention it to me, but, in reality, it’s only been three years since Purple Llama first opened in April 2017.

Purple Llama combines speciality coffee and music, offering a range of vinyl records for sale alongside some outstanding coffee. A multi-roaster, the coffee is drawn from a selection of roasters across the US and Europe, with the specific beans on offer changing once a week. There are multiple options on espresso, batch-brew and pour-over, along with around 10 teas and a range of cakes if you’re hungry.

April 2020: Sad news. I believe that due to COVID-19, Purple Llama has decided to permanently close.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • Purple Llama on Chicago's West Division, seen heading west from Milwaukee Avenue...
  • ... and seen here coming the other way from the direction of the hospital.
  • The view straight on. The door, by the way, is off to the left, under the sign...
  • ... which leaves you in no doubt that you've come to the right place!
  • Neither, for that matter, does the A-board.
  • Let's go in, shall we?
  • The view from just inside the door, with Purple Llama stretching out ahead of you.
  • There's seating at the back on the left...
  • ... while the counter takes up the bulk of the right-hand side...
  • ... although there's more seating in the window (behind you to your right)...
  • ... where you'll also find a rack of records for sale.
  • Returning to the back of Purple Llama, there are four two-person tables arranged in an L.
  • Two line the left-hand wall, with two more by the back wall where there's a padded bench.
  • The view from the back, where you can see the last of the seating...
  • ... a row of three high-backed chairs tucked under an extension at the counter's far end.
  • And here we are, back at the front, where you can see the door in relation to the shop.
  • There is, however, one further part of Purple Llama. In an extension in the back wall...
  • ... you'll find lots more records for sale...
  • ... along with merchandising...
  • ... and a rather awesome lighting feature.
  • Perhaps the best part about Purple Llama is the wall decoration which runs all the way...
  • ... down the left-hand wall, starting with depictions of...
  • ... the Andes of South America...
  • ... and, of course, a Llama.
  • The decor continues with what could be a scene at the Oak Street Beach...
  • ... and ends in the corner at the back with what is clearly the Chicago skyline.
  • Check out the records (and the cacti) on the shelves along the walls.
  • There are more records on the wall (surrounding the choices of beans) by the door.
  • Talking of records, there's a turntable at the back, hooked into the sound system.
  • Meanwhile, the retail shelves are at the front by the counter.
  • There's a selection of beans from the roasters in the current rotation.
  • This Honduran single-origin is from Reykjavík’s Kaffibrugghúsið...
  • ... while there's another Honduran from Vivid, flanked by a pair of offerings from SEY.
  • Meanwhile this colourful packaging is from Sump in St Louis.
  • There's more retail on the counter, including these drip bags from April in Copenhagen.
  • Talking of which, the business end of the counter faces you as you enter.
  • There's a small selection of cakes off to the right...
  • ... while you'll find the menus by the till, tea selection on the left, coffee on the right.
  • Meanwhile, the actual choice of beans is on the chalkboard by the door.
  • The espresso machine comes next, a pleasing purple in colour...
  • ... followed by the tea and pour-over station.
  • I decided to have an espresso, the Martir, a Colombian single-origin roasted by SEY.
  • I'll leave you with this overhead shot of my coffee which tasted as good as it looked.
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Purple Llama is on the north side of Division, close to Saints Mary and Elizabeth Hospital. About a 15-minute walk west of the Division Station on Chicago’s Blue Line, it’s a similar distance south of Damen, the next stop along Milwaukee Avenue.

Purple Llama is part of a row of ground floor shop and cafés, with apartments above. The shop itself is long and thin, with a set of French windows at the front, housed under a semi-circular window. These are closed for the winter, but look as if they can be opened in the summer, effectively extending Purple Llama onto the pavement. The door, meanwhile, is in a deep, brick-lined recess to the left.

Stepping inside, the counter is on the right, slightly back from the door, and running almost all the way to the back while the seating is effectively split in two. There’s a pair three-person bars, each with tall chairs, in the window space, which is behind you to your right as you enter. Rather than being in the window itself (which would mean it couldn’t be opened in the warm weather), they are against either wall, the space in the middle being occupied by a rack of records.

The remaining seating is at the back on the left, although you can sit at one of three chairs at a small extension at the counter’s far end, where there’s space to get your knees under the countertop. Failing that, there are a pair of two-person tables against the left-hand wall opposite the counter seating, with two more in front of a short, padded bench which runs along the left-hand side of the back wall. Finally, there’s a short, corridor-like extension in the back wall on the right that houses the bulk of Purple Llama’s records, plus some merchandising. If you are looking for coffee, by the way, you’ll find retail bags to the right of the counter.

Talking of the counter, you order at the short section at the front, which faces the windows. You’ll find the menu here, along with the cakes, although the bean selection is chalked up on a blackboard on the wall immediately to the left of the door. The long part of the counter, which runs along the right-hand wall, consists of the appropriately-purple La Marzocco Linea espresso machine and its two Mythos 1 grinders, followed by the tea and pour-over station, after which you’ll find the seats.

Talking of tea, Purple Llama has a good selection, including black tea from San Francisco’s Song Tea, herbal tea from Chicago’s Kilogram and kombucha from Nessalla in Madison, Wisconsin. The coffee, meanwhile, is drawn from a current cast of six roasters: SEY (New York), Vivid Coffee Roasters (Vermont), Sump Coffee (St Louis), Junto Coffee (Greenville), April Coffee Roasters (Copenhagen) and Kaffibrugghúsið (Reykjavík).

During my visit, there was a Kenyan Gatomboya from Sump on batch-brew, two options on V60 (a Peruvian Alto Lagunillas from Junto and a Costa Rican Varabanca from Kaffibrugghúsið) and two options on espresso (the same Kenyan batch-brew and a Colombian Martir from SEY). If I hadn’t already been overcaffeinated from my earlier visit to Fairgrounds, I would have loved to try the Kenyan as both an espresso and a batch-brew. As it was, I went for the Colombian as a straight espresso, served in a classic grey cup, which was a lovely, sweet, well-balanced coffee with a touch of acidity that really livened it up.

www.purplellamachicago.com +1 773-687-9900
Monday 07:00 – 17:00 Roaster Guests (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 07:00 – 17:00 Seating Tables, Counter
Wednesday 07:00 – 17:00 Food Cakes
Thursday 07:00 – 17:00 Service Counter
Friday 07:00 – 17:00 Payment Cards + Cash
Saturday 07:00 – 17:00 Wifi Free
Sunday 07:00 – 17:00 Power Limited
Chain No Visits 15th March 2020


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