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Caffeination Destination: The Wormhole

January 12, 2011

Wicker Park is the last place that needs another hipster coffee shop. The entire neighborhood is a giant ploy to spend money: thank god it’s far enough away from me that I can’t get up there too often, otherwise I would be blowing my budget on coffee, thrift store purchases and food.

I found out about The Wormhole not through Yelp, but just by wandering down Milwaukee Ave and noticing a new storefront. “Who would name a cafe ‘Wormhole?'” I wondered, peering into the dark, somewhat creepy space, which was decked out in 80’s decor.

Somehow, just somehow, even after observing the Furbies, Teenage Mutant Ninga Turtle lunch boxes, and Nintendo in the corner, I missed the Delorean in the window. To be fair, I haven’t seen Back From the Future. I just thought it was a cool futuristic car. Still, you have to hand it to the owners: they know what’s up. They know how to distinguish themselves from other cafes serving Metropolis.

Besides the 80’s theme, which manages to be both repulsive and endearing in its gaudiness, its offerings are completely original. Sure, they have coffee for purists like me: single-origin pourovers, perfectly poured espresso drinks, and cold brew coffee, but they also have everything-but-the-sink “coffee drinks” like Starbucks on steroids.

They’re so hipster, they almost make fun of themselves: one time they were featuring a drink called “the Flannel,” some kind of obscene mixture of apple cider-spiced espresso with whipped cream. Their vanilla lattes are homemade, not with syrup, and better yet, you can get a bowl of cereal like “Mocha Puffs” (Coco Puffs with espresso pulled into the milk) and “Chaireos,” which are exactly what they sounds like.

On the rare occasions where coffee doesn’t seem to be in the cards, I venture into their tea selection. Yes, they have black, green, oolong, herbal, and white teas, but they also have cascara (ultra-caffeinated “crack tea” made from coffee cherry husks) and better yet, MATCHA SHOTS!

Cascara, in case you’re wondering, tastes nothing like coffee or tea– it’s tangy and smoky at the same time, like hibiscus meets yerba mate. As for matcha, I’ve had the tea itself before, but never in this form. I watched in fascination as the barista used a thermometer to test the water temperature, then proceeded to mix in the matcha using a special miniature whisk, clearly using a very specific set of motions. The resulting shot actually had very similar properties to espresso: potent and bitter, with frothy crema on top. But I’ll say this: it was more intense than espresso, if possible. It took me a good 15 minutes just to finish one shot. I’ll admit it: I almost wimped out and added some sugar, but decided to wait and see if I could get used to the bitterness (I did).

Only one problem with Wormhole: the lighting. Maybe that’s part of it’s charm, but it feels like you’re in your stoner brother’s room, especially when they play Radiohead. This isn’t a place to do work, although the desks are always filled with laptop users. It’s a place to go for the coffee.

And the Delorean, of course.

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