Greetings coffee aficionados, and welcome to my table here in the corner of Caffé Streets, in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood. Feel free to pull up a chair.
Caffé Streets is one of Wicker Park’s newest coffee shops, having been around for only about a year, but has been garnering all sorts of praise from various Chicago publications, critics, and coffee lovers since it opened. Time Out Chicago, Imbibe Magazine, Serious Drinks, PopSugar and more have all raved about Caffé Streets, all agreeing that Streets, although young, is already rising to the forefront of the Chicago coffee scene. Even 2010 World Barista Champion and Chicago native Michael Phillips is a big fan of Caffé Streets.
I have to agree with these praises.
Let me, for a brief moment, be totally transparent with you, coffee friends. When I first happened upon Caffe Streets, not long after it opened, I wasn’t all that impressed. The coffee was amazing and, of course, that’s the most important aspect of any coffee shop; but there were a lot of things going on that made me feel, I don’t know – out of place. Like I wasn’t hip enough to even be standing in the cafe, let alone with the people running the cafe.
It’s a very swanky and chic place, after all.
I will say that the store is quite architecturally and aesthetically pleasing. The store is completely bedecked, from floor to ceiling, with bamboo wood paneling—the floors, the walls, the ceiling, the tables, the stools; everything bamboo paneling. It really is quite an architectural wonder, from the multi-layered carving on the bamboo ceiling, to the industrial look of the espresso bar (which even features four street lamp replicas canopying over the baristas’ heads), Caffé Streets is a really neat-looking place. However, all of this makes the place look much less like a coffee shop, and much more like swanky night club; or the set of a fashion show.
I don’t think the picture to the right helped my conception of Streets, when I saw it in TimeOut Chicago‘s write-up. This image, a Space Age babe decked out in her galaxy’s finest sequin jumpsuit, was the first press I saw for Streets when they opened and I had a really hard time taking the business seriously because of it. It’s marketing like this that initially makes me wonder how dedicated to coffee coffee shops are; this photo, for instance, seems to indicate the owners were much more concerned about image than content. Either that, or they were really trying hit a very specific demographic with their promotions – futuristic models from outer space, glam rockers, and David Bowie cover bands. Whatever the motive, because of this photo and the decor, I must admit, I had a bit of a stigma towards Streets.
However, over the past year, I’ve become a believer. All of the above criticisms aside, Caffé Streets does serve great coffee. Really great coffee. Their mission, after all, is to engage in the endless pursuit of the perfect cup of coffee, and they refuse to rest until they’ve had a part in creating it. The owners, before opening Streets, traveled all over the world, visiting coffee shops in cities like London, New York City, Tokyo, and Istanbul, to see how they were doing coffee. To see how close they had come to making the perfect cup. They then came back to Chicago, implemented all of the ideas they came across, all of the practices they encountered, and set themselves up as what they call “the last link in an incredible chain” of coffee production, from coffee farmer to coffee consumer.
Much like Istria Cafe and The Wormhole—two other Chicago cafes—, Streets routinely features guest roasters in addition to their regular stock of Intelligentsia. Last week, for instance, I got to enjoy a really awesome Kenya AA Nyeri Gatina, from JB Kaffee, which is located just outside Munich, Germany – a coffee I would have probably never gotten the opportunity to try if it weren’t for Caffe Streets. The owners and staff are endlessly committed to finding really great coffee companies, just like JB, and bringing them into Chicago, which I have to applaud them for. Furthermore, Streets is (as far as I know) the only coffee house in the city that’s preparing coffees in numerous really unique ways —with an espresso machine, a pour-over bar, a chemex, an eva solo, and a syphon vacuum pot (you can see videos of some of these brewing methods in my Coffee 101 section).
From my numerous interactions with the owner, Darko, and some of the other baristas, I can tell you that the people here are committed to serving great coffee. Furthermore, they’re committed to the customer’s overall Caffe Streets experience. Whether they’re brewing it especially for you or offering classes and seminars to teach you how to brew like a pro at home, their dedication to the perfect cup of coffee is obvious. It’s an experience that they are actively pursuing, and constantly sharing with the rest of us.