Around the World (East to West), September/October 2016

The Hong Kong skyline at dusk, looking across Victoria Harbour from Kowloon towards Central and Two International Finance Centre, the tallest building on the island.In 2016 I achieved a lifelong desire to travel around the world, although how it came about was almost by accident. I had a long-standing engagement in Chicago in October when work asked me if I would go to a meeting in Shanghai in September. Looking at the timings, that would mean flying to and from Shanghai before having to fly out to Chicago a few days later.

I’m not sure what first gave me the idea, but I distinctly remember thinking, “why don’t I just keep going?” I did some investigations and it turned out that keeping going was indeed a viable option. Over the summer, my plan slowly came together: I would fly to Hong Kong, a city I’d always wanted to revisit after my first trip there is 2008, then, having become acclimatised and recovered from jet lag, I’d fly on to Shanghai.

This was to be my first time in mainland China and, not knowing what to expect, I allowed myself a few days sight-seeing after the meeting, before flying to Chicago, crossing the international date line in the process. I thought that this would be the difficult/expensive part, but as it turned out, it was actually pretty cheap. Finally, after 10 days staying with friends in the Chicago suburbs (where my jet lag was really bad) I flew home.

I arranged all the flights myself, managing to do the whole trip, flying economy, for around £1,000. Along the way I discovered that buying one-way tickets on the regular US or British carriers was ruinously expensive, often costing two or three times the cost of a return. Instead. I flew from Manchester to Hong Kong via Dubai with Emirates, from Hong Kong to Shanghai with China Eastern and from Shanghai to Chicago via Beijing with Hainan Airlines. The only real difficulty I had was the leg from Chicago back to the UK, where I was looking at some rather unpalatable options until I remembered my air miles, using them to book a one-way flight with Virgin Atlantic.

You can read about the journey in the Travel Spots below. Unlike my more recent Travel Spots, which concentrate on the journeys, these earlier ones are more about the places I visited. Note that I didn’t finish this series during the trip itself, only coming back to it in 2020. What you’ll find, therefore, is a mixed series of posts, most written at the time, with the later ones written or completed four years after the event.

You can also find all the Coffee Spots I visited during my time in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Chicago at the bottom of the page.


Header Image: my first view of the Shanghai skyline, seen as I approached the Huangpu River from the west, along the line of the Wusong River.


Travel Spots

You can read about the trip in the following Travel Spot posts.

Brian’s Travel Spot: Heading East

My new travel kit: from left to right, starting at the top: Espro Travel Press, feldfarb grinder from Knock, UpperCup reusable cup and metal pouring jug.Welcome to the fourth of my occasional Brian's Travel Spot series. The first Travel Spot recounted my adventures in the summer of 2015 as I flew to New England, travelled across America by train and spent a week in the Pacific Northwest, an amazing, three-week long adventure. The second Travel Spot saw me back in America this February, flying into New York, before travelling down through Philadelphia to Washington DC, then back up to Boston via New York and Providence. The third was this summer’s one-off, recounting my Porto adventures.

As with all my Travel Spots, they provide a record of my travels, something a little different from posting the actual Coffee Spots I visit (which always takes place after the event). This, my fourth Travel Spot, is possibly my greatest adventure yet. Where I’m going will unfold with successive posts, but for now let’s just say it’s going to take me somewhat less than 80 days. My first stop is Hong Kong, where I’ll be spending a few days acclimatising myself to heat, humidity and, above all, time zone, before my second stop, Shanghai.

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Brian's Travel Spot: Hong Kong

The famous Star Ferry, seen here in 2008, crossing Victoria Harbour between Hong Kong island and Kowloon.Welcome to second instalment of my Brian’s Travel Spot series, which started with my flight out to Hong Kong via Dubai. This post covers my time in Hong Kong, an amazing city which I first visited in 2008 on a business trip. However, I added on some sight-seeing time at the end and, despite Hong Kong never having been on my destination list, I fell in love with it.

I've been wanting to return ever since, so when work wanted me to attend a meeting in Shanghai, it seemed like the perfect opportunity. I could fly to Hong Kong, acclimatise and (perhaps more importantly) get used to the different time zones, then fly on to Shanghai for my meeting. In the end, I spent four days on Hong Kong island, which was nowhere near long enough, but it did give me a chance to reacquaint myself with the island, explore its excellent speciality coffee scene and, best of all, get over my jet lag!

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Shanghai

The futurist Oriental Pearl TV tower on the Pudong side of Huangpu River, as seen from the Bund at night.Welcome to third instalment of my Brian’s Travel Spot series about my around the world trip, which started with my flight out to Hong Kong and continued with my adventures in Hong Kong itself. This post covers my time in Shanghai, which is the second leg of my trip. I’d never been to China before this trip, so when I got an opportunity to go there on business, I took it with both hands.

I arrived on Sunday, then spent the most of the next five days in a meeting room on the first floor of the Hyatt, an interesting mix of modern western hotel, with Chinese architectural influences and a contrast with my own hotel, the Astor, just down the street. I then spent the weekend exploring the city before flying off on the third leg of my trip, across the international date line to Chicago.

As with all the Travel Spots, this post is split into a number of sections, starting with the relatively short flight from Hong Kong to Shanghai.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Shanghai to Chicago

The Willis (was Sears) Tower, Chicago's tallest building.Welcome to fourth instalment of my Brian’s Travel Spot series, which started with my flight out to Hong Kong, continued with my adventures in Hong Kong itself, then moved onto Shanghai, where I was spent a week on business before having the weekend to explore. This instalment covers the next leg of the trip, my flight across the International Date Line to Chicago, where I spent the next 10 days staying with friends before flying home, in the process, completing my first round-the-world trip.

Originally, this was going to be two separate trips. Chicago had been in my calendar for almost a year before work asked me to go to Shanghai. Since I had it in my head that I would already be flying to/from Chicago, my initial planning was based around returning from Shanghai after my meeting, spending a couple of days at home, suffering horrible jet lag in the process, then flying out to Chicago to do the same again. That, I decided, would be no fun. I briefly thought about cancelling the Chicago trip before checking out the (with hindsight) obvious option of flying from Shanghai to Chicago, a solution which had the bonus that I'd fly around the world in the process!

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Chicago and Flying Home

Mademoiselle Rouge, a Virgin Atlantic Airbus A330-300, on the stand at Heathrow Airport, Terminal 3, having flown me back from Chicago O'Hare in 2016.Welcome to the fifth and final instalment of my Travel Spot describing my first around-the-world trip in 2016. I flew from Manchester to Hong Kong, spent five days there, acclimatising and sightseeing, then moved onto Shanghai for work. From there, I flew to Chicago via Beijing, crossing the international dateline in the process. This final instalment covers my 10 days in Chicago and my flight home to the UK.

It was, in many ways, an amazing trip: my first time flying with Emirates, China Eastern and Hainan Airlines, my first time on an Airbus A380 and my first time in Shanghai. Of those firsts, I’ve gone on to repeat every experience apart from flying with Emirates. That I also flew around the world made it even more special.

It was fitting that the last leg of the trip was in Chicago, a city that I’m very familiar with. That said, although I refer to “staying in Chicago”, I was actually visiting friends who live in Chicago in the same sense that I live in London, the point being that I actually live in Guildford, which is about as far from London as my friends’ place is from Chicago.

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Coffee Spots

You can read about all the Coffee Spots I visited on this trip in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Chicago (listed alphabetically for each city).

Hong Kong

Here are the Coffee Spots I visited during my time in Hong Kong.

18 Grams, Causeway Bay

The words "18 GRAMS" in white in a black circle. Some stylised coffee beans are drawn above the 18.18 grams is a local café/roastery chain based in Hong Kong, with eight branches spread out over Hong Kong Island and on the mainland in Kowloon. Founded in 2010, the Causeway Bay branch, just west of Victoria Park, is one of the first branches to open back in 2011. It’s a tiny spot, with just enough room for a handful of tables inside and a couple more outside down a side alley. However, what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in character. And excellent coffee, of course.

18 grams has a standard espresso-based menu, serving the Black Sheep house-blend. This is supported by interesting options, such as a Shakerato, and a range of single-origin filter coffees. 18 grams is currently roasting eight different single-origins, two of which are available as pour-overs through the V60, either straight up or over ice. There’s also bulk-brew or cold brew if you don’t want to wait.

You’d think that would be enough for such a small place, but no. 18 grams has an impressive range of food as well, all cooked on-site in the tiny kitchen space which is nestled behind the counter along with the espresso machine and grinders.

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18 Grams, Times Square

The words "18 GRAMS" in white in a black circle. Some stylised coffee beans are drawn above the 18.My first experience of speciality coffee in Hong Kong was at the Causeway Bay branch of roaster/coffee shop chain, 18 Grams. Two days later, I found myself in Times Square (opposite Café Corridor) and decided to pop into the 18 Grams there. Although “pop in” might be over-stating things since it took me almost an hour to find it!

18 Grams’ Times Square branch is inside the City Super super market, which itself is in the basement of Times Square. Occupying a simple, triangular stand, with seating along two sides of the counter, 18 Grams only serves coffee, plus the usual retail selection of beans and coffee-related kit. There’s a more limited offering than at Causeway Bay, but that’s to be expected, with just espresso (a house-blend), several single-origins on V60 and cold-brew. What surprised me was the relaxed atmosphere, making it the ideal place to linger over your coffee.

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Barista Jam

My Indonesian West Java Arananis Honey Process pour-over, served in a carafe with a glass on the side at Barista Jam.In Hong Kong’s relatively new speciality coffee scene, Barista Jam is one of its longer-standing members. It’s also, in a market dominated by small, independent chains, something of an oddity in that it’s a one-off. In a market that also spreads from the fairly basic (18 grams’ Causeway Bay branch, for example) to the fairly sumptuous (The Cupping Room and Coffee Academics chains), it’s definitely down at the basic end of the market.

It’s a bit ramshackle in both layout and approach, but it works, with a no-nonsense approach where the coffee speaks for itself. A combination of retail (downstairs), equipment sales room (upstairs), café (both levels) and roastery (off-site), it feels as if it’s just been thrown together, although I suspect that a lot more thought than that has gone into it.

Talking of coffee, there’s a house-blend on espresso, three different single-origins on ice-drip and no fewer than 10 single-origins available as filter (most of which are available to purchase). Although it’s a small space, there’s a fully-equipped kitchen tucked away under the stairs behind the counter. This produces an impressive array of western-style food, including all-day breakfast options, various pasta dishes, sandwiches and salads.

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Café Corridor

A single-origin Colombian espresso in a branded cup from Cafe Corridor in Hong Kong with 'A passage to the coffee world since 2001' written on the inside rim.That I found the Café Corridor was down to a tip-off from Andrea Burton. Even then, I walked along the street four times before I found it! In Causeway Bay, in the heart of Hong Kong, it’s opposite the gleaming towers and soaring halls of Times Square, hidden in plain sight in the manner of Newcastle’s much-missed Flat Caps Coffee on Ridley Place. The only indication that it’s there is the sign above the entrance, which, fittingly, is a long corridor leading you to the café in a basement-like structure at the rear of the building, complete with outdoor seating in an enclosed courtyard at the back.

Café Corridor has been going since 2001, a forerunner of Hong Kong’s growing speciality coffee scene and, like many such coffee shops, it has a western-inspired menu/coffee. It’s part of small chain of five co-owned independent coffee shops, which includes N1 Coffee & Co. Roasting is provided by its parent (which I’ll call Barista Academy), although each coffee shop has its own beans. In the case of Café Corridor, this includes a house-blend and five seasonal single-origins which can be had as an espresso or filter through V60/Syphon/Aeropress. Iced versions are also available.

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The Coffee Academics, Wan Chai

One of the many interesting statements on the seats of the stools at the communal tables at the Wan Chai branch of The Coffee Academics in Hong Kong.The Coffee Academics is a roaster with a chain of coffee shops which, starting in Hong Kong, where there are multiple branches, has now spread to Shanghai and Singapore. It places itself firmly at the top end in terms of quality, with marketing to match. For example, I’ve never seen a coffee shop with such a fancy menu. Fortunately, the coffee (and the coffee shop) more than live up to the hype.

There’s a house-blend on espresso, with a range of standard drinks, most of which can also be had over ice. The real treat is the filter section where there’s a house-blend and four single-origins, all matched to a pair of preparation methods (Chemex and ice-drip for pour-over, Aeropress and Clever Dripper for immersion).

There’s an equally impressive range of food, which occupies most of the 16 page menu. This includes breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus various dessert options. In keeping with most of Hong Kong’s speciality coffee culture, the food is very western, with staples such as Eggs Benedict on offer. Consistent with the high-end setting, The Coffee Academics is table service only, so find a seat, peruse the menu and wait for someone to take your order.

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The Cupping Room Central

The square facade of The Cupping Room in Central, facing onto the steeply-sloping Cochrane Street.I began my exploration of the Hong Kong coffee scene with Thursday’s Coffee Spot, 18 Grams, which was the first place that I visited. I thought it would be fitting, now that I’ve left Hong Kong, to follow that up with the final place I visiting during my short stay, The Cupping Room in Central. I’d previously visited the Wan Chai branch, also on my first day in Hong Kong, coming away suitably impressed.

I was therefore keen to try the Central branch before I left. On my way to the airport, bags safely checked-in, I made the short detour from the airport train station to The Cupping Room Central for my Sunday morning breakfast and for what turned out to be my two final coffees before leaving Hong Kong.

Spread over two compact floors, The Cupping Room serves a house-blend and seasonal single-origin on espresso, plus five more single-origins on pour-over, with bulk-brew and iced-filter if you’re in a hurry. All the coffee is roasted for The Cupping Room by Sweet Bloom in America, before being flown over to Hong Kong. If you’re hungry, there’s an impressive range of (mostly Western) food served all day, plus some delicious-looking cakes.

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Shanghai

Here are the Coffee Spots I visited during my week in Shanghai.

And Coffee

Detail taken from the top of the menu outside And Coffee in Shanghai.And Coffee is a small, almost cubic space on the busy Wulumuqi Middle Road, the door on the left and a solitary window on the right. I found it completely by chance, something about it setting off my Coffee Spot radar. I’m not quite sure what, but I’ve learnt to trust my radar over the years.

There’s not much to And Coffee. The counter occupies the back of the room and there’s just enough space for an eight-person communal table in the centre, plus a four-person window-bar at the front. And that’s it. The décor is similarly plain, verging on the austere, with white-painted walls and ceiling, punctuated by a wooden counter-front and wooden table.

Coffee-wise, there are espresso-based drinks, single-origin pour-overs (with a choice of four beans) and cold brew, all using beans from the local Moon Coffee Roaster. There’s also tea, detox smoothies and, if you’re hungry, cake.

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AUNN Café & Co.

The sign hanging outside AUNN Cafe & Co. in ShanghaiAUNN Café & Co (an abbreviation of All U Need Now), which opened in early 2015, is a café, lifestyle store/design showroom and gallery space spread over three floors underneath a hotel on Shanghai’s busy West Nanjing Road. I was tipped off to its presence by Jennifer, a Shanghai resident who I met in And Coffee, and who gave me a long list of places to try.

AUNN café itself is the largest of the speciality coffee shops that I visited on my trip in 2016, spread across the ground floor of the building, the entire front given over to windows, complete with a coffee terrace outside on the busy road. When the weather’s warm but less humid than the October day I was there, the windows can be pulled back to create an open terrace.

The coffee comes from Little Bean in Pudong, with green beans sourced from Nordic Approach. There’s a standard, espresso-based menu, plus cold-brew and what AUNN calls “naked” coffee, filter to you and me. There are two single-origins available via the V60, as well as batch-brew if you’re in a hurry. There is also a small selection of western-style cakes and pastries if you’re hungry.

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BLUEKING Coffee, Nanyang Road

A single espresso made with the house-blend at BLUEKING Coffee on Nanyang Road, Shanghai.BLUEKING Coffee was a chance discovery while hunting down Manner Coffee on the same road on my first visit to Shanghai in 2016. It’s part of a cluster of coffee shops, including Lanna Coffee to the southwest, Sumerian Coffee to the north and, on the same east-west stretch, both branches of Manner Coffee. It also has the distinction, along with Sumerian, of being the only Shanghai coffee shop that I’ve visited on all three of my Shanghai trips.

When I first discovered BLUEKING, it had only been open for six months and, despite its small size, was roasting all its own coffee in the front of the shop. By my return a year later, it had a second shop (just past Manner Coffee on Fengxian Road) and a dedicated roastery, the original branch now forming a cute coffee bar, serving espresso and pour-over, plus a small selection of cakes.

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Manner Coffee

The word "Manner" written partly across an inverted triangle.Manner Coffee was a recommendation from Anna, my barista at Monday’s Coffee Spot, Sumerian Coffee. Handily placed just a few streets away from Sumerian Coffee on the quiet Nanyang Road, I was very grateful for the tip since I’m not sure I’d have found it by myself, particularly since it doesn’t show up on any on-line maps that I know of and has no social media presence.

I’m not even sure I’d have noticed it if I was just walking past since Manner Coffee is literally a hole-in-the-wall operation (for the pedants out there, technically it’s a window-in-the-wall operation). However, the crowd of people standing outside, waiting to order their coffee, might have drawn my attention.

And what coffee! Despite its size, Manner offers espresso (house-blend) & pour-over (various single-origins) from a selection of beans, all roasted in-house. It’s takeaway cups only though, so don’t forget to bring your own.

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Rumors Coffee Roastery, Hunan Road

The Rumors Coffee Roastery logo from the front wall of the original Rumors in ShanghaiMost of the speciality coffee shops I visited in Shanghai in 2016 were very western in style/influence. In that respect, Rumors Coffee Roastery, in the old French Concession, stood out from the crowd, drawing its inspiration from Japan, where it is reminiscent of the likes of Tokyo’s Café de L’Ambre.

Rumors roasts all its own coffee in its second branch on Xingguo Road, serving a wide range of single-origin beans. If you’re looking for an espresso or flat white, however, you’ve come to the wrong place since Rumors only serves pour-over using Kalita-style ceramic filters. Pick your bean and the barista will make it there and then behind the counter.

Talking of which, Rumors has counter seating, another typical feature of a traditional Japanese coffee shop. It’s a fairly small place, so the seats are limited. Like many of the small places I visited in Shanghai, Rumors has no air conditioning, so it can get very hot and humid inside, despite the best efforts of the ceiling fan. If it’s too hot, you can sit outside, although it’s unlikely to be any less humid!

You can, of course, buy any of the beans to take home with you and, if you’re hungry, there’s a range of cakes.

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Seesaw 433

The Seesaw logo.Seesaw is a roastery and a chain of seven Shanghai coffee shops, although this one, Seesaw 433, is the original, having opened in 2012. Like most of the places I visited in Shanghai, it helps to know where it is, only more so in this case, since it’s at the back of a design centre, with no obvious signs on the street. If I hadn’t have known it was there, I would have missed it completely.

However, it would have been a shame to walk past since it’s a beautiful spot, with an enclosed courtyard, complete with glass roof. Perhaps because the courtyard is completely enclosed, it’s no smoking, but despite this, it can still get very hot and humid. If you want air-conditioning (or power outlets for your laptop), you’ll need to head inside the coffee shop proper, off to one side of the courtyard.

Seesaw roasts all its own coffee in a dedicated facility. There’s a seasonal house-blend and single-origin on espresso, with six or seven further single-origins on pour-over/cold brew, with all the typical origins represented. You can also buy the beans to take home with you, while if you’re hungry, there’s a selection of western-style cakes.

March 2019: Sad to say, Seesaw 433 has closed. It looks to me as if the whole building has been vacated rather than Seesaw itself moving/closing down.

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Sumerian Coffee

A lovely cappuccino in a handleless cup from Sumerian Coffee in Shanghai.My first taste of speciality coffee in Shanghai came from a chance discovery on twitter/Google maps when trying to find a coffee shop that someone in Hong Kong had recommended to me. I’ll say this for the Shanghai coffee scene: there are lots of great places out there, but they take some finding. I was very reliant on people that I met helping me out with directions and suggestions.

Sumerian Coffee is a roaster and coffee shop, which also specialises in bagels. Like most of the roaster/coffee shops I came across, Sumerian does its roasting in an off-site facility. The coffee shop itself is a fairly spacious, bustling spot, kitted out almost entirely in wood. While it wouldn’t have looked out of place in London, there was something of the local character about it.

Turning to the coffee, Sumerian has a house-blend on espresso, a very impressive-looking La Marzocco Strada taking pride of place on the counter. There are five single-origins, including a decaf, available as pour-over, plus cold-brew and various coffee-over-ice options. For food, there are the aforementioned bagels, plus a range of (western) cakes and homemade cookies. You can also buy any of the beans in 200g bags.

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Chicago

Here are the Coffee Spots I visited in Chicago when I was staying with my friends in the suburbs.

Buzz Killer Espresso

The reflection of a light-bulb in my cup of coffee at Buzz Killer Espresso, Chicago.I feel a little bad about taking so long to write up Buzz Killer Espresso, since it was the first place I visited in Chicago when I was there last October as part of my around the world trip. However, given that I’m sort of back in Chicago (I’m actually in Madison all week), it seems the perfect opportunity to rectify this.

Buzz Killer is just off Milwaukee Avenue to the northwest of Chicago’s centre, in the area known as Wicker Park, one of the longer-standing members of a cluster of great coffee shops which includes Ipsento 606, La Colombe and Wormhole Coffee. Buzz Killer roasts all its own coffee, with a house-blend on espresso, plus a blend and a three seasonal single-origins on V60. There’s also decaf, while the bulk-brewer, that staple of the American coffee shop, is mercifully absent.

Buzz Killer occupies an interesting spot, offering a small, sheltered outside seating area and two contrasting floors. Downstairs (which is ironically up a flight of stairs from the street) is full of little tables, tucked away in corners, while upstairs is bright and open, filled with light and with a simple row of tables, plus a large, communal table.

August 2017: Buzz Killer has left its long-time home on Damen Avenue and is moving, in September, to new premises further up Milwaukee Avenue in Logan Square. I managed to pay a visit when I was back in Chicago in August 2018.

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Café Integral, Chicago

A cup of the Casablanca single-origin Nicaraguan by Cafe Integral, made with the Modbar pour-over module using a Chemex.Although I didn’t visit the city on this trip, to celebrate my return to the Chicago area, I present Monday’s Coffee Spot, Café Integral. I first came across Café Integral in New York City this time last year when I visited its original location, inside the American Two Shot clothing store. Naturally, I was keen to try out the Chicago branch, which is in the lobby of the Freehand Hotel in Chicago’s River North. This came highly recommended by none other than champion flat white inhaler, Runaway Kiwi. She’d checked it out earlier in the year, declaring it her favourite place in Chicago. You can’t get a better endorsement than that!

What makes Café Integral stand out from the crowd is its focus on Nicaraguan coffee. The Vega family, which owns Café Integral, has close ties with several farms in the country. There is a standalone coffee shop in New York as well as this one in Chicago, which makes it a national chain. Sort of. All the coffee is sourced in Nicaragua and roasted in Brooklyn. There’s usually one option on espresso, bulk-brew and pour-over, all backed up by a small, but interesting food menu and decent cake selection.

May 2018: Café Integral now has coffee shops in three Freehand Hotels: Chicago (this one), Miami and Los Angeles, as well as a standalone coffee shop in New York. Sadly the original coffee bar in American Two Shot has closed.

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Intelligentsia, Old Town

A shot of the Black Cat seasonal espresso at Intelligentsia's Old Town branch in Chicago.Intelligentsia has been part of my journey towards speciality coffee, long before the Coffee Spot came to be. In particular, I’ve been a semi-regular visitor to the Intelligentsia in the Monadnock Building, on Jackson Boulevard. Having written about it on my previous visit to Chicago last summer, I thought it was about time I visited another branch. Ideally, it would have been the original Intelligentsia in Lake View, but fate had other plans, so instead I found myself a few blocks away from the Old Town branch.

This is a relatively new addition to the Intelligentsia stable, having opened in 2013, the fifth of six Chicago branches. It was also the first Intelligentsia to share premises with another business, a model that was followed with the High Line Hotel in NYC. In the case of the Old Town branch, it shares with plum market, an upmarket grocery store which occupies the north end of the space, Intelligentsia tagged on at the southern end, a long, table-lined corridor connecting the two.  As well as the usual Intelligentsia offering of espresso-based drinks, bulk-brew and pour-over, you can get food from plum market and bring it over to eat with your coffee.

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Ipsento 606

The silhouette of a coffee cup with a splash of coffee above it with the wording "Ipsento * * 606 * *" below it.Ipsento 606 is the second branch of Chicago veteran, Ipsento, which has been serving great coffee for 10 years now from its home on Western Avenue. Ipsento 606, in contrast, opened this summer and while just a few blocks away on Milwaukee Avenue, it takes its name from The 606, the elevated walkway which is just a few steps away from its front door.

Ipsento 606 is something of a rarity in American: coffee shop by day, cocktail bar by night. While this model has found a great deal of traction in the UK (think of Notes, Fernandez & Wells, Grind and Beany Green in London and the likes of Filter + Fox, The Attic and the Artigiano chain around the UK), I can only think of a few US examples (Philadelphia’s Double Knot springs to mind as an obvious example).

I can only speak to the coffee shop part of the operation, but anywhere with not one, but two Slayer espresso machines, plus a single-group Modbar dedicated to single-origin espresso must be doing something right! There’s also the obligatory bulk-brew, plus a range of single-origins on pour-over, all roasted in a dedicated facility just up the road.

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La Colombe, Wicker Park

A pour-over from Myanmar, made at La Colombe in Wicker Park, Chicago, and served in one of La Colombe's much-loved cups, complete with matching saucer.I’ve always liked La Colombe, the Philadelphia-based chain, ever since visiting the amazing Dilworth Plaza branch near Philadelphia’s City Hall. I’ve now visited a number of branches, and, other than the coffee, they all have one thing in common: they occupy amazing physical spaces. This is something that La Colombe shares with the UK’s Boston Tea Party: taking iconic buildings and turning them into amazing coffee shops. Like the Boston Tea Party, La Colombe manages the trick of making each branch simultaneously its own place and yet obviously a La Colombe.

In this respect, the Wicker Park branch, one of four (soon to be five) in Chicago, is no different. Almost directly underneath the elevated Blue Line, which thunders above Milwaukee Avenue, La Colombe is opposite Damen station, occupying a large, rectangular building with a glass front, high ceilings and exposed brick walls. Add in windows at the back and it’s a wonderfully light and airy space.

There’s all the usual La Colombe goodness, with multiple choices on espresso, bulk-brew and pour-over. All the coffee is roasted in-house, in a facility a few blocks from the coffee shop which supplies all La Colombe’s Mid-west outlets. There’s also loose-leaf tea and a range of cakes/pastries.

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Wormhole Coffee

A model of the Millenium Falcon hanging in Wormhole Coffee in Chicago.Wormhole Coffee is something of a Chicago institution, certainly in the neighbourhood of Wicker Park which has been its home for six years, where it is joined by the likes of the (recently departed) Buzz Killer Espresso and relatively newcomer, La Colombe and Ipsento 606. Wormhole stands out because of its 1980s sci-fi décor, which includes plenty of Star Wars memorabilia (which I guess extends it back to the 1970s) as well as the pièce de résistance, a full-size “Back to the Future” DeLorean on a shelf at the back.

However, while some might be happy with this particular claim to fame, Wormhole does not rest on its laurels. Not just an iconic location, it also serves damn good coffee, roasted in-house by its roasting arm, Halfwit Coffee, which has been around for five years. There’s a pretty good range too, with a house-blend, single-origin and decaf on espresso, joined by a selection of single-origin filters. This includes bulk-brew, Aeropress, V60, and Chemex, plus a guest roaster, also available through the V60. The single-origins on offer change every few days, while the guest roaster changes every month or so. There’s also a range of teas, plus cake if you are hungry.

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