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 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.
|2140 WEST DIVISION STREET • CHICAGO • IL 60622 • USA|
|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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