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Intelligentsia – “Not a caffeine delivery service!”

August 3, 2009

When I read this bold assertion by Intelligentsia owners, it made me sit up and shout “Amen”!!! Here is a café that actually cares what they serve to their clientele.

Having read mixed reviews about Intelligentsia before arriving in Chicago, the need to try it for myself was growing almost to bursting point. There is a difference between a café that boasts good coffee and one that can actually make it. A lot of it comes down to the beans and equipment but a good portion of it relates to the passion and craft of the barista. For me it has become easier to see the difference between good and bad, by looking at two things — eyes and attitude. Any sign of life in the barista’s eyes shows that the person is working hard at their craft, and possesses a good level of grey matter. The opposite means utter boredom with a “get me out of here” manner. 

A serious attitude with an arrogant lilt in their speech is the second sign I look for. Pride in their art, a love for all things caffeine and refusing to join the lowly ranks of a caffeine delivery service means that cafés like Intelligentsia won’t give you a venti triple shot, non fat soy, no foam, caramel latte, with extra whip — in a paper cup at a drive thru.

by Cate

And they don’t do stealth café tactics either. Intelligentsia is proud of its products and service. Why would it want to cloak its cafe and logo under something else?

In New Zealand I used to drink an espresso blend — uncommon outside Oceania — called a flat white. It was my caffeine elixir, a coffee that kept me from going insane in a world of instants and powder blends. Being unable to successfully translate flat white into US coffee language did result in a good alternative, the spanish cortado. A short burst of espresso topped with steamed milk for a creamy smooth-tasting glass of bliss. A drink that gives you enough to keep going for the next few hours.

by Cate

Like a light sibling to the dark espresso without the bitterness, the cortado comes in a short glass finished off with a simple piece of latte art. There is no grande or tall, it isn’t served in a cup too big for its size, nor has it been left sitting on the bench long enough for the milk and coffee to seperate, it is a simple coffee that doesn’t require a long list of customised features. It just is.

Once you step inside Intellgentsia’s Millenium Park cafe, you’re greeted with fresh crisp green decor and bustle behind the counter: ground control. Simplistic and thoughtfully laid out, seating is located around the café walls, not bunched within the middle for people to maneuver around. And, the place is popular. Somewhere to head to for caffeine salvation. 

by Cate

I’m not holding a light up for Intelligentsia, and there are other cafés out there that do provide similar and better coffee. As much as I would like to spend all my time mulling about them, travelling to them and living in them, it is financially impossible to review them all — for now. Intelligentsia has taken the time and effort to produce good quality teas and coffees and credit is given where it’s due.

Intelligentsia cafés are mainly located in Chicago — but can also be found in LA as well as elsewhere: click here for more information.

Social responsibility: Intelligentsia direct trades with coffee growers from Latin America and Africa

Caffeinated Traveller

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5 Comments
  1. August 3, 2009 6:28 pm

    Sounds like a great place. You can almost smell the aroma of the coffee. Nicely written piece.

  2. August 4, 2009 1:53 am

    I keep reading about Intelligentsia coffee while researching cool cafes for an upcoming trip to NYC (yayyy!). It sounds great – love that it’s fairtrade and a real/serious coffee brand! Some of the cafes I like the sound of in NYC use Intelligentsia so I’ll be sure to try some…

    • August 4, 2009 9:24 am

      Liz – I never made it there, but I read there are some great cafes around Chelsea. One is called the Grumpy Cafe or something which is spose to be good and has its own beans. NY in autum will be a treat!

      Cafe Chistchurch – you’re a long way from home. Thanks for your comments.

  3. August 4, 2009 8:32 pm

    I think our favorite foods and drinks are our way of bringing just a little bit of “home” with us when we travel. Nicely written, Cate.

  4. Cate permalink
    August 6, 2009 2:23 pm

    Thanks Heather, we all need that little piece of familiarity. Thank goodness it’s not hamburgers and fries with me.

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