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Caffeination Destination: Intelligentsia

January 27, 2011

You knew it was coming. The place where you wait fifteen minutes for an espresso, where tourists and hipsters intersect, smack dab in the center of the Magnificent Mile… The one, the only, INTELLIGENTSIA.

True, there are three Intelligentsia branches in Chicago, but the Randolph location is the most well-known. Going to Intelligentsia is always a somewhat intimidating experience. Will you be judged for ordering a soy latte? Decaf (this is purely hypothetical!). If you ask for a cortado, you will be corrected.

“Just so you know, it’s a Gibraltar,” the barista will say. “We serve it in a Gibraltar glass.”

This might seem obnoxious, but Intelligentsia gets away with it. I have never had a single drink there that was less than perfect: their cappuccinos are a gift from God, they have a rotating section of coffees that can be made as pourovers or on the siphon, and the latte art is amazingly varied. Their baristas seem normal enough, but I sometimes wonder if Intelligentsia is training a secret robot army disguised as School of the Art Institute students.

All corners, angles, and stainless steel, this place is hardly the cosiest, which is fortunate, considering tables are seldom available. On the other hand, getting coffee to-go here is borderline heresy. I’m going to crouch in the corner with my ceramic mug amongst the masses. During the painfully long coffee wait, I peruse the selection of coffee geekery (where I bought my Toddy): hand-grinders, $150 dollar tamps, Hario kettles, and of course, those beautiful tapered white mugs with the signature red star.

For my birthday, I received a set of cappuccino mugs. Every now and then, I’ll bring one to the student-run cafe and ask for a cappuccino, complete with latte art, shut my eyes, and pretend I’m sitting at that uncomfortably high bar.

Pretentious or not, I dare you to order a bad drink at Intelligentsia.

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