"Veni, vidi, venti."

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea

Intelligentsia: 3123 N. Broadway St, Chicago, IL 60657

Shortly after I decided to start sampling coffee around Chicago, the hushed whispers of the name Intelligentsia have been unavoidable. Each time Intelligentsia is mentioned to me, it is accompanied with palpable excitement and grandiloquent promises, as if it was the coffee equivalent of the fountain of youth. When I decided to venture to their North Broadway location this morning, only a few blocks from the CTA’s Belmont stop, I was afraid my lofty expectations would be disappointed. However, I was pleasantly surprised to have them unambiguously smashed.

With modestly stained wood panels and a small outside seating area, this coffeehouse looks surprisingly unassuming from the outside. Upon entering, my first impression is of spaciousness. Intelligentsia is not concerned with cramming as many people as possible into a small space; rather, they present a comfortable environment to enjoy a soothing brew without being bombarded with your neighbor’s irksome conversation. Music from some unknown indie rock band flows gently from the speakers and the walls are pleasantly bedecked with colorful avant-garde canvases. The furniture is an interesting mix of rustic and industrial—several unique roughed-up coffee tables are handsomely paired with straight-backed chairs and stainless steel countertops.

I join a long, yet surprisingly fast moving, line and peruse my pastry and coffee options. The baked good inventory is humble in size but delicious looking. I see muffins, croissants, cookies and Danishes beckoning me with their saccharine smiles. I decide to go with a lemon poppy seed muffin, the top of which would make any overweight person’s lovehandles pale in comparison.

To drink, Intelligentsia again has a small selection, but this lack in quantity is more than made up for by its quality. I choose a medium mug of their pick of the day, a brew known as Flecha Roja, for only $2.35. This Costa Rican coffee is described as follows:
“Peanut brittle, sweet walnut and citrus fruit provide enticing aromatics. A popping acidity cools into a mellow marmalade. Sustaining notes of maple, crème brulee and cherry bring about a counterbalance, lending depth and composure. The finish is resolute but leaves hints of nut toffee.”
My mug, filled to the very brim, is swiftly distributed to me and I gingerly transport it to a table, careful not to spill a single, precious drop.

Even after my first sip, I am simply astounded by this coffee's depth. At first, the multifaceted complexity of its flavor is not easy to untangle. The more I drink, the more I taste the hints of cherry and walnut that are advertised. Additionally, never before have I been so happy to notice the acidity of a coffee. This coffee’s flavor doesn’t sharpen into bitterness as it cools; instead, the wonderfully unique flavor swirls perfectly with the citrus of my muffin and lingers long after I swallow the last drop.

Intelligentsia also offers a grand selection of bulk coffee beans and coffee apparatuses. Their spring selection of beans includes a wide range of choices—light roast, dark roast, decaf and espresso. Ranging from $14 to $22 per half pound, these exceptional coffees are the perfect gift for the coffee lover on your list.

Whether you are looking for a cup on the go or staying for an extended visit, Intelligentsia’s freshly ground coffee is truly delightful. Admittedly, they do have very few options in their food and drink choices. However, Intelligentsia shows that, when you know exactly what you want, variation would only get in the way.
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