Saturday, October 30, 2010
3404 North Southport Avenue, Chicago, IL 60657
Seemingly everywhere I sample coffee around this city, I run into African beans—usually Ethiopian. Therefore, it seemed like a no-brainer for me to take my quest for coffee straight to its earliest roots. In search of a bit of a different vibe for this week’s coffeehouse, I decided to trek on down to Safari Cup. Known for buying all of their beans direct from African farms and roasting them in-house, Safari Cup offers a portal into coffee’s majestic and mythical history.
I knew that Safari Cup was going to be practically right underneath me when I got off the L at the Brown Line’s Southport stop, but even with that knowledge, I almost miss it completely. Directly across the street from the train station (and just an intersection away from another “coffee shop”) with only a small yellow sign to announce its presence, Safari Cup lies silently lurking in this concrete jungle.
When I first heard about Safari Cup, I was worried that they would try to offer a bunch of cheesy gimmicks to try to imitate an African personality. However, upon entering, I am delighted to see that they are completely authentic in offering a unique feel to their café. Both of the owners hail from Zimbabwe, and they have tastefully imbued Safari cup with an aura that feels surprisingly legitimate.
Cushy leather couches and pillows with ethnic patterns cohabitate with the tribal tapestries that are draped down the walls. Burlap sacks and bowls with aromatic beans are slumped among the countless artifacts and souvenirs that have surely been acquired through years of African traveling. All of these items seem perfectly at home in Safari Cup, a sign that the owners have succeeded in channeling the ethos of the African coffee culture. Even their bright yellow bean roaster seems comfortable in its place, as if it is just another casual customer enjoying the atmosphere as much as I am.
Bags offering the different kinds of coffee that Safari Cup roasts are arranged around the counter, making me excited to see which is offered today. It turns out that the daily roast is called Black Mamba, an Ethiopian harrar coffee. Since I’ve heard that harrar is one of the oldest coffee beans still produced, I’m extremely anxious to give it a whirl. I order a 16 ounce cup for a very manageable $2.05 and a cranberry orange muffin (what is it with me and muffins these days?). All of the pastries at Safari Cup are made fresh in house, and I also hear talk of sandwiches, quiche, and even stew.
The cranberry orange muffin is thankfully welcomed by my now-rumbling tummy. It is very fresh and moist, with flavors that are noticeably distinct but also playfully symbiotic. The coffee exceeds my lofty expectations. The first sip yields significant fruity notes to my taste buds, and the roast is silky smooth, with a gentle, yet sustainable after-taste. In addition, the more I drink, the more hints of chocolate I am able to detect. An interestingly complex coffee, the Ethiopian harrar leaves me wanting another taste for further evaluation.
Glancing around myself as I leave Safari Cup, I notice that my fellow patrons characterize the coffeehouse quite well. A woman near the front with a turtleneck and Birkenstocks reads one of Hemingway’s obscure collections. A bearded twenty-something plops himself down on a comfy chair along with his hiking backpack. Armed with glimmering eyes and a hefty portion of coffee, a middle-aged man sorts through Polaroids from a recent expedition, exhibiting the zeal of a child on Christmas morning. A home-base for the traveler in all of us, Safari Cup offers a welcoming waypoint to cure jetlag and refresh legs before we are led away to the next destination we have bookmarked in our atlases.