Every year, I go to a lot of different coffee shops. Every time I travel, I make it a point to see what the city’s coffee scene has to offer. Some of the most noteworthy trips this year include San Diego (12 shops in 4 days) and my 6 visits to Chicago (probably 20 some shops). This list is meant to give special recognition to some shops that impressed me for a variety of different reasons. This isn’t meant to be an objective or comprehensive list by any means. The general trend in these picks are shops with designs or locations that leave an impact. In the exploding world of craft coffee, we’re seeing a “starbucking” of the local coffee shop. These five shops serve great coffee and break the mold. If I had to pick five shops to recommend out of all the ones I went to this past year, it would be these five. Here they are in alphabetical order.
FLUID Coffeebar – Valparaiso, IN
FLUID Coffeebar caught me by surprise. There is nothing about the area that would indicate high quality coffee. If anything, the Midwestern small towns that surrounds this place almost pushed me away from taking the half hour drive to get here. I was blown away by this place though. Backed by Intelligentsia’s awesome wholesale and training program, FLUID brings craft coffee to the ‘burbs. FLUID features some of the most innovative signature lattes (lemons and cayenne anyone?) I’ve had which you can read all about here.
Lofty Coffee – San Diego
There is something different about California. It’s in the air, the sun, and the warmth. This bodega styled coffee hut embodies everything I loved about my San Diego trip. While there wasn’t anything particularly special about the menu or the coffee, it was the atmosphere that sold this place. With a line out the door and the patio packed with friends and families, it’s easy to forget the real world. Lofty is a place to go to get away from it all; a place to sit down with loved ones and enjoy existence
Mañana Coffee – Austin
In my many trips to Austin, I’ve been to twenty-ish coffee shops. It means a lot when I say Mañana is my favorite in the city. Set just off the craziness that is South Congress, Mañana is tucked away off a serene little courtyard. It feels like an island of quiet in the middle of the city. The staff were exceptionally pleasant and I spent probably 15 minutes talking the ins and outs of the Austin coffee industry with them. They were more than eager to give their opinions and show off their setup. It was clear the people here take pride in their work. The place is minimalistic with relatively sparse seating, lofty ceilings, and tall windows. Maybe its a commentary on how the coffee should speak for itself, but it makes the artistic accents they do have really pop. Bonus points for the coolest Strada I’ve ever seen (pictured above).
Sawada Coffee – Chicago
Opened this year, Sawada Coffee marked itself as one of the most elite shops in the city with its all star line up. A partnership between a Chicago restaurant icon and a barista legend, Sawada Coffee is in a league of its own. The work that went into building the grunge Japanese-American vibe is impressive. Sawada brings a Japanese influence to the space with a heavy focus on matcha tea which when paired with a shot of espresso forms the base of their signature Military Late. Featuring possibly the best the latte art I’ve ever seen, a Supreme punching bag, and a skateboard deck turned into a pour over bar, this place is my new spot for impressing people with how hip I am (/s).
Star Lounge – Chicago
Over the course of my many Chicago trips this year, I made it a point to get to all of the shops of the rapidly growing Dark Matter Coffee. Each shop has it’s own distinct vibe, but it was Star Lounge’s quite buzz shadowed by the smooth grooves of hip hop legends that left the biggest impact. The hardwood bar that runs the length of the shop makes the place feel like they should be serving cocktails rather than coffee bringing some weight to the “Coffee Bar” claim. The banter between baristas builds on this public house feel and creates a place that feels like home. While Sawada is the flashy kind of cool with the hustle and bustle of a hip West Loop spot, Star Lounge is the kind of place where you can setup shop for a day and get work done. I lived in Chicago Star Lounge would be my office.