What do you think helps Chi-Town stay so smart? Sure, there’s plenty of higher learning to be done in Chicagoland, home to some of the best colleges in the area, but there’s nothing like coffee to help prop those eyes open on late nights studying. Coffee’s not just fuel for education, however. It can also be the education itself, and there are plenty of opportunities on the regular around here to get your learning on about almost every aspect of coffee, from brewing to in-depth tasting to pairing it with your favorite foods.
“I’ve had the privilege of living in a few different cities—I’m from Chicago, but I’ve lived in L.A., San Francisco, and New York, which all have really great coffee cultures. I think the thing that distinguishes Chicago is the way that community happens,” says Amy Moore, director of public education and private events for Ipsento Coffee. “I think that people here value community in a way that allows them to be really engaged in whatever they’re doing. They are more willing to open up and connect, and education totally kind of goes hand in hand with that—it’s a way for our regular customers to connect with Ipsento in a more meaningful way.”
In addition to coffee people and already existing regular customers, Moore says she has seen Chicagoans in general becoming more and more interested in branching out and exploring new grounds (so to speak) with coffee education. “We get a real range of students, from people who have really no relationship with coffee and don’t even make it at home, to coffee professionals. There’s a lot of momentum building with people who have been really loyal to Starbucks and other second-wave coffee routines, and they’re ready to dig in a bit more.”
At Ipsento, classes are available for a spectrum of folks who are looking to “dig in,” whether they want a basics class (Coffee 101), something that breaks down coffee flavor (regular public cuppings, or coffee tastings), or even brewing fundamentals (Barista Basics: Pulling Espresso & Steaming Milk). Moore says the company’s classes are inspired by a combination of the staff’s interests and passion, as well as the kinds of questions the Ipsento baristas are asked after lessons or when they’re handing over lattes. “For people who drink coffee, it is an accessible part of their life than beer or wine, which is more difficult to make at home. That kind of do-it-yourself culture added to interest in coffee education,” she says is what brings eager learners in caffeinated droves.
Moore and her team at Ipsento are in the process of writing and developing new classes to add to their curriculum (stay tuned for a course designed for home roasters), but in the meantime, here are just a few of the opportunities that Chicagoans can take caffeinated advantage of around town.
Lest you think a coffee company teaching people how to brew better at home is giving the cow away for free, remember that there’s always something special about connecting the skills you learn with the people who taught you—and of course, you still need to buy beans! More and more coffee companies are offering hands-on brewing classes, both for home and professional use.
Intelligentsia Coffee, Chicago’s O.G. specialty roaster, hosts events and classes geared toward bringing consumers and coffee closer together, whether by meeting producers, shadowing baristas, or simply tasting delicious stuff for the heck of it. Anyone who wants to live like a professional coffee slinger for a day can sign up for a three-hour intensive espresso class at the company’s roasting headquarters, and the relatively accessible $200 fee will snag you a lifetime of lattes pulled and poured lusciously on your home equipment (or else a deeper appreciation of the person in the apron when you order the next one to-go).
Intelligentsia Coffee Roasting Works – 1850 West Fulton St., Chicago IL 60612;
Want to get really buzzed? Eataly Chicago—one of the country’s emporiums of classic, traditional, famous, and inventive Italian food and flavors—also hosts espresso making classes in its on-site Piemontese coffee bar, Caffé Vergnano. The hour-long hands-on class exposes wannabe baristas to the skills required to make and improve shots of espresso, as well as a bit of a history lesson about the beverage and the opportunity to taste different types of coffee. At $10, this might be the best cheap date-night option around.
Eataly Chicago – 43 East Ohio St., Chicago IL 60611;
“Cupping” is the term coffee professionals use to describe the methodical, mostly very serious, and largely objective way that they approach coffee tasting for specific purposes like analyzing quality and making purchasing decisions. The cupping process itself, however, can also be a very approachable and adaptable way to allow coffee consumers to taste several different types of coffee without having to fuss with a lot of different brewers or individual servings. The advantages of the side-by-side comparison have made coffee cuppings more and more popular in a more public-facing capacity, and the process also inspires other types of tasting presentations around town and around the country.
Every Friday morning at 10am, Counter Culture Coffee hosts a free and open-to-the-public Tasting at Ten event, which could feature anything from a cupping of several coffees to various brewing methods to even multiple espressos, always with an educational but fun leaning. While Counter Culture is a North Carolina–based roaster, its Chicago training center has been a staple of the growing coffee scene since it opened several years ago, and it’s a great place to learn and connect with other bean nerds in town.
Counter Culture Coffee Chicago – 177 N Ada St, Suite 106, Chicago IL 60607;
Tap into the cool, industrial vibe of coffee roasting with a tour and tasting at Metropolis Coffee Company. This scrappy and quality-obsessed local roaster is happy to open its roastery doors every first and third Friday of the month for small-group experiences of the whole roasting process, from history to loading to profiling to packaging—and, of course, tasting! Tours and tastings are free, but RSVP is required.
Metropolis Coffee Company – 3057 N. Rockwell St (rear), Chicago IL 60618
General Coffee Smarts
You know the crew at Ipsento Coffee is a class act because even the company’s name is brainy: It’s a word coined by the founders and combining the Latin for “self” (ipse) and “to discover” (sentio). If you’re looking for a class that’s more like the liberal arts curriculum of specialty coffee, look no further than Coffee 101, an evening session dedicated to shining light on everything from coffee’s seed-to-cup journey to the cultural implications of the beverage around the world to a little bit of hands-on brewing experience and, of course, tasting and palate development. That’s a lot to cram in to two hours, but of course the caffeine helps you move and think faster, so it works out. “The goal with all of our education is to make it accessible and break down the pretense that can come with specialty coffee,” says Public Education Director Amy Moore.” Sometimes it’s intimidating for someone to step into a specialty-coffee space, and my goal is to really break the information down into something accessible and exciting.” $80.
Ipsento Coffee – 2035 N Western St., Chicago IL 60647
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