the quest for the perfect latte in chicago


Given my being partial to lattes, a large part of every journey or adventure I embark upon is the never-ending quest for the perfect latte. There are times when a city surprises me, for example, in Kampala, Uganda when the African tea swept me off of my feet. Normally, however, lattes rule the day.

Chicago is a fantastic mid-western city that, while a major and populous U.S. city, given its layout feels much more open and expansive than lets say Philadelphia or New York. Further, even though it may be true, given the transportation system it does not feel like a collection of disjointed suburbs along the highway like LA.

As I watch flight specials like a hawk, months ago I found that American Airlines was having a quick special, and I managed to book a round trip [or return trip] from New York for US$100. That was all the incentive I needed to plan a quick weekend of latte research. If you haven’t done so yet, you should sign up for email alerts from all of the major airlines that service whatever airport is closest to you – it is a good way to facilitate some spontaneous and fun travel.

One thing of note for coffee lovers is that Chicago is, like many other cities, full of Starbucks. I consider Starbucks the “last chance Texaco” in terms of coffee. If I’m on a desert island [or let’s say the airport in Amman, Jordan] its OK, but otherwise, I prefer to frequent smaller chains or local espresso bars.

After having tried many a latte location, I can in fact recommend two. Ajé Café on North Clark and Intelligentsia on North Broadway. Ajé is a local coffee bar that was perfect on a rainy and gloomy Saturday. The owner was quite friendly and attentive, and the locals seemed to really enjoy the hospitality – and the coffee. It also had plenty of outlets and free wifi – a big plus.

Intelligentsia is a chain, but as coffee chains go, one of the very best. Yes, sometimes their presentation is a bit dramatic [the guy next to me got water in a huge glass chemistry flask that made him look like a mad scientist] but the lattes are a hit. And, unlike when you visit the Intelligentsia in LA, in Chicago I didn’t hear the expression “as soon as my screen play is finished” once. That lack of pretension made an already good latte taste even better.