What’s Brewing in Chicago?


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Say “hipster”—code for anyone with a taste for the cool—and most Chicagoans will immediately single out Logan Square. The North Side neighborhood is a jumble of bars, restaurants, and record shops on tree-lined residential streets. So, it’s no surprise a craft coffee scene catering to young professionals and artists has blossomed here in the Windy City as well.

These four cafés, all of which source and roast their own coffee, have carved out a niche for themselves in a part of Chi-Town that’s also home to indie chain Intelligentsia and several other coffee shops.

Passion House Cafe
2631 N. Kedzie Avenue
Open Monday–Friday, 7:30 a.m.–7 p.m.;
Saturday & Sunday, 8 a.m.–6 p.m.

Passion House Cafe is the customer-facing side of Passion House Coffee Roasters. The café opened in the heart of Logan Square last year, just steps away from the neighborhood’s Chicago Transit Authority stop and the Centennial Monument.

Owner Joshua Millman got his start in coffee at Starbucks. After college, he delved into the world of specialty coffee, working with several companies. Some questioned whether he had the passion required for a career in coffee, leading him to strike out on his own and open Passion House, which he named as testament to his commitment to coffee.

Michael Kearby (Kurtis), a former roasting department head for Intelligentsia, leads Passion House’s sourcing and roasting program. Passion House has relationships in countries including Papua New Guinea, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, and Ecuador, where Kurtis judged the Taza Dorada competition. Coffee from the Finca Lugmapta farm in Ecuador won the competition, and Passion House’s winning bid brought that coffee to Chicago this past April.

Passion House uses a 1957 German Probat cast-iron roaster that was refurbished in The Netherlands and shipped to Chicago. “That roaster is a workhorse. It is one of the things that sets us apart,” Millman says. “The drum’s seasoning, its thermal energy and heat transfer is unparalleled.”

Millman’s goal is to make coffee accessible to everyone and appealing to Logan Square’s diverse customer base. To make the Passion House brand easy to navigate, the café splits its brews into three genres: Ambient, Mainstream, and Experimental. Ambient offers mindless, easy drinking for casual coffee drinkers. Mainstream brings more variety and complex flavors in the form of seasonal and single-origin brews, while the serious caffeine hound will want to explore the Experimental collection’s micro-lots.

“Ultimately what we want to do is connect the world through this beautiful little seed: coffee,” Millman says.

2035 N. Western Avenue
Open Monday –Friday, 6 a.m.–6 p.m.;
Saturday & Sunday, 7 a.m.–6 p.m.

Ipsento started out in 2006 as a small, community-focused coffee shop. It closed then reopened under the stewardship of current owner Tim Taylor in 2009.

Previously, the company sourced its coffee from a roaster in Indiana. When Taylor took over, he shifted focus to high-quality, direct-trade coffee and took over the roasting process himself. Today, the Logan Square location is triple its original size, and Ipsento has a coffee lab just down the street, plus another location in nearby Bucktown.

Ipsento sources coffee from all over the world. Taylor takes four trips to growing regions each year, and he has cultivated relationships with growers in countries including Guatemala, Brazil, Ethiopia, and Rwanda.

“We work with growers who have similar core values. They treat coffee like it is a craft, not a commodity,” Taylor says. “How they treat their harvesters and the earth—that almost always translates into what is in the cup.”

Ipsento extends its ethical approach to coffee sourcing to all other ingredients. Milk comes from a local farm and the flour used to make doughnuts in-house is milled right in the basement of the café.

Caffè Umbria
2545 W. Armitage Avenue
Open Monday–Friday, 6:30 a.m.–6 p.m.;
Saturday & Sunday, 7:30 a.m.–5 p.m.

The Logan Square location is the latest outpost of Caffè Umbria, an Italian family business that started in Seattle, Washington, in 2002. The company has since grown to three locations in Seattle, two in Portland, Oregon, and two Chicago spots, one in River North, in addition to Logan Square.

The 9,000-square-foot space is split in two by a shipping container—a nod to the coffee trade. The back is reserved for storage and distribution to serve its Midwest customer base, while the front features a retail café and 30-kilo roaster made by a company in Bologna, Italy. The location also houses a training facility. Caffè Umbria sources its coffee from about 15 different countries. “We work with a lot of co-ops, which tend to be more stable and have ties to the community, especially in places like Costa Rica and Peru,” says co-founder and head roaster Emanuele Bizzarri.

Bizzarri is an advocate of blends. His primary goal is to create high-quality coffee with a consistent taste. “At the end of the day, that is what the customer wants. If you like the product, you want the same thing every morning,” he says.

Bizzarri believes Caffè Umbria fits into Logan Square because the coffee’s flavor and location’s setup give people something different to try. “We are giving people more choices, and the competition is great. It keeps people honest.”

Halfwit Coffee Roasters
3431 W. Fullerton Avenue
Open 8 a.m.–4 p.m. daily

Sister business to 1980s-themed coffee shop Wormhole in Wicker Park, Halfwit Coffee Roasters has been open in Logan Square for about six months.

“Approachable complexity” is how Amanda Spirito, director of coffee, describes Halfwit’s coffee style. Coffee is sourced from countries including Guatemala, Colombia, and El Salvador, with a goal of creating drinks everyone can enjoy without brewing anything boring – anything boring would hardly fit with Logan Square’s alternative ambience.

“With specialty coffee, it is important to create a welcoming environment,” Spirito says. “We work really hard to cultivate that type of experience for our customers.”

Read previous coverage on Chicago’s coffee scene.

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Carrie Pallardy

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