Sunday, October 3, 2010
Asado Coffee Co.
1432 West Irving Park Road, Chicago, IL 60613
Whenever I hear that someone is “serious about coffee,” I take it with a grain of salt. This is because for me being serious about coffee is like being serious about prostate cancer—there is no other way.
So when I heard that this week’s coffeehouse, Asado Coffee Co., was infamous around the Chicago area for being “serious about coffee,” I was skeptical they could live up to my high expectations. Glancing out the windows of the L at the sullen behemoths of downtown, I ponder the ways in which Asado could have acquired such an exalted reputation. Was Asado going to be full of mocha-sipping wonks, pontificating about the philosophical implications of coffee? Or would there be teams of scientists, poking and prodding at different beans with beakers and litmus paper, coaxing dexterity from their coffee as if it were a prepubescent Chinese gymnast?
Consequently, I am pleasantly surprised, upon arriving at Asado, to see a banner touting them as the best coffee roasters in Chicago, as voted on by the Chicago Reader. Now that’s the kind of seriousness about coffee that I’ve been looking for.
Once I venture beyond Asado’s unassuming door, I am greeted with the earthy smell of freshly roasted beans and the churning noise of more beans being roasted in their heavy-duty aluminum roaster that very instant. Empty burlap sacks that once held recently imported beans lie akimbo in the corners and carefully measured tubs of just-roasted beans sit innocuously on the counter. I’m blown away, but at Asado, the absurdity of having beans that have been roasted so recently has lost its shock factor. I’m told they never serve coffee that has been roasted more than two days prior.
Their menu has something like only six drinks and one kind of regular coffee, making my selection easy. Their Ugandan Bigusu is described as having an "earthy base, heavy chocolate notes, and a hint of caramel."
The owner himself takes my order and prepares my coffee. An ex-Navy man, owner Kevin Ashtari is notorious for using a barbecue grill while overseas in hopes of producing a better brew. Ashtari’s dogmatic assiduousness permeates everything he does. He personally nurtures my cup of coffee from start to finish—about a five minute process that involves a Japanese Beehive drip system—watching the drops of coffee with the unrelenting gaze of a colonel, until my cup of coffee purity is complete.
A single sip of Asado’s coffee reveals to me the dividends that are paid for the careful attention that is bestowed upon each mug. It is immediately obvious that the beans are obnoxiously fresh—the intensity of the roast and its lack of acidity leave no question about that. The coffee is also really good while remaining relatively straightforward. Asado doesn’t dally around with multidimensional fruity or nutty flavors; rather, they stay true to coffee’s time honored traditions and seek to perfect it in its purest form.
Needless to say, I was very impressed with the coffee. However, the most rewarding part of this trip was to bear witness to Ashtari’s quest for flavor and to catch a glimpse of his unadulterated joy after each of his creations. It is simply refreshing to see the mindset about coffee that is ubiquitous at Asado. When Asado is described as being serious about coffee, it shouldn’t conjure up visions of gesticulating hipsters or sterilized laboratories. Instead, this level of seriousness is most akin to a Buddhist monk slowly and silently traveling along the continuum toward Nirvana.