Wicker Park and Bucktown arguably have the best neighborhood selection of coffee places in Chicago. Options abound from the ubiquitous Dunkin’ Donuts/Starbucks (they don’t deserve a spot in this review because plenty has been written about both of these places) to one of the only outposts in the midwest (Bagel on Damen) that has the much revered Stumptown coffee.
Here is a rundown of what’s out there and what each brings to the table for today’s discerning coffee drinker and/or anyone that’s ready to break away from the bigger names in coffee. This tour is necessary because those unfamiliar with the neighborhood may not be aware that the place with the best drip coffee (for me, Bagel on Damen) doesn’t have any kind of cappucino to offer. The ins and outs of the local establishments are, for lack of a better word, kind of complex.
Today’s entry: Ipsento
My first experience at Ipsento was a total mixed bag. Upon entering, I was greeted by a camera crew filming someone pouring coffee beans into a jar (weird). After getting around the film crew to the line to order, I stood there for a couple minutes without any help from the baristas. Eventually, someone that the baristas knew walked in and they decided to immediately help him without talking to me. Very annoying. When they did finally get around to me, they were very nice and the coffee is excellent. The regular drip coffee was so good that one of the other people I was there with did a double-take when he tried it (and I’ve never seen him comment on the quality of coffee before after dozens of times getting coffee).
On my second visit, the service was quite nice and informative. It’s apparent that a lot of the people working at Ipsento are really into coffee. They did a pour-over (slowly pouring hot water over the ground beans through a filter one cup at a time) that was really interesting. It tasted a little bit like A-1 steak sauce. I don’t often describe coffee like that. Their signature drink is the Ipsento, which is an espresso drink made with milk (or soy milk), coconut milk, honey and cayenne. It is fairly sweet, but the cayenne helps keep it from being cloying. I would think that most people who are into sweeter coffee drinks would dig this preparation.
So, in a sense this place is better than The Wormhole on a lot of fronts. The service is a bit spotty, but at least they are friendly when they get around to it and the coffee is amazing. Plus, they do a lot of roasting in-house, which is pretty ambitious. One downfall here is the setup for “coffee house” activities like studying, writing and pretending to do work. It’s not the easiest place for that. A lot of the writing areas are situated un-ergonomically and there is not very much space to begin with. Overall, though, it’s one of the best places in Chicago to go for those who are into small, independent coffee and interesting roasts.