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Chi Town Coffee: Hyde Park

December 7, 2010

I hope you’ll understand that while coffee seems to be taking over my life (FINALS), blogging has not. Please forgive the late post.

When it comes to Chicago coffee, Hyde Park definitely lags behind, considering the fact that it is a university campus– where are the quirky coffee shops with chocolate-covered espresso bean vending machines?

Compare two opposite extremes: first, we have the sleek, minimalist espresso bars that you might find in New York. On the other end of the spectrum, there are cafes that are clearly meant for lounging: couches, scrabble boards, and little lending libraries make the space cozy. Although cafes have started to ban laptops to stop people from loitering, I really don’t think homey coffee shops and good coffee are mutually exclusive.

Istria probably falls somewhere between these two, but for two years, it’s been my second home. Upon arriving back in Chicago for Thanksgiving, I dropped my bags off in the apartment, and before even opening the door to my room, walked the two blocks to Istria, which is connected to the Hyde Park Arts Center (it has another location under the 57th street Metra tracks).

Istria’s baristas may not always pour latte art (although I always keep my eyes out for the tattooed guy with gaged ears), but they brew some damn good Intelligentsia. They also make gelato in flavors like chili chocolate and nerds. I almost always order a 6 oz traditional cappuccino (believe me, this became a mantra during the college application process), but for every pound of beans you buy, you get a free Chemex.

Intelligentsia Black Cat espresso never fails to let me down: it’s rich and earthy, full of caramel notes and very low in acidity.

The Papua New Guinea, on the other hand, really blew my mind– so much that I bought a pound to take back to school. I find  that coffee descriptions can get pretty pretentious, but the blurb on the bag, which listed tobacco and pomegranate, couldn’t have been more accurate. The cup was a syrupy balance between more tea-like African coffees and dark roasted South American beans.











Oh, and if you order tea (I highly recommend the coconut green), it  comes in a quaint little pot like this:

Moving on to Z&H (Zaleski and Horvath market cafe). As you know, having worked here, I’m a wee bit biased. I would say that while Istria is more coffee-focused, Z&H prides itself on being a neighborhood “mom and pop” type shop.

They stock gourmet ingredients like curry peanut butter and vanilla bean paste (which will make any kind of yogurt taste like ice cream) and make sandwiches like this:

Although Z&H just opened a new location on 57th, they managed to buy a Clover before Starbucks bought them, allowing you to try any of their Metropolis beans (Although why are they using Intelligenstsia cups?). 

I’ve actually never tried the coffee at Backstory Cafe, which is part of Experimental Station on 61st– they make phenomenal soup and create-your-own sandwiches with baked tofu and beets, but apparently, their pourover (also Metropolis) is the thing.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that Hyde Park just needs some time. Repent! The Kingdom of Coffee is at hand.


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