Monday, October 11, 2010

Intelligentsia Chicago, IL

After spending 4 amazing days in Panama, we headed back up north to Chicago, where Intelligentsia Coffee has their HQ’s.

The 2010 World Champion Barista, the wonderful Michael Phillips who works at Intelligentsia, treated us with two amazing days filled with visits to the three different Intelli Coffee Shops around the city of Chicago as well as getting the big tour of the Roasting Works.

Day one started out with Peter and myself (AnneStine) biking up in beautiful sunshine to the Intelligentsia Shop on North Broadway, where the Original coffeeshop opened back in 1995. Back then the coffee shop also housed the Roastery, using a 12 kilo Probat roaster, which is the same brand and size we at the Coffee Collective currently are using.

Being the oldest bar out of the three shops, it has a very special atmosphere, where people from the neighborhood sit down with their laptops, and regulars pop in for their morning coffees.

Michael gave us a good tour of how the bar was set up, also with the change to a coffee menu that does not state the brewing method, Only presenting the selection of black brewed coffees of that day. This is to let the main focus stay on how a certain coffee is best tasting, rather then brewing method. 

Next stop was the Monadnock coffee shop downtown Chicago. This building creates a great frame for the style of this particular coffee shop, with 6 feet thick exterior brick walls and nice, clean lines through out the space.  

The look of the bar takes you back in time, thinking of old espresso bars in Italy, with marble tabletops, dark wood and tiled floors. Baristas in the bar also wore either vests and tie or suspenders, really underlining the atmosphere. 

This shop is so different from the Broadway shop, adapting to its neighborhood, made out of business buildings and a more fast- paced environment.

Third but not least, we visited the Millennium Park location. This shop has a more open, streamlined and contemporary feel to it with high ceilings and big windows, really picking up the area with Millennium Park (filled with new architecture and art installations) just around the corner. 

At Millennium Park You can either sit at the bar, getting a good chance to talk to the baristas working, or sit around the big wooden table, creating a space for people to interact more easily, an idea I personally really love. A great space indeed!

All three Locations really has its own thing going on, presenting how to make a coffee shop work in very different neighborhoods, without being over the top or a cliché. 

The Roasting Works was our location on day 2, located just outside the city center.

We started with a cupping set up by Jesse Crouse, sample roaster at Intelligentsia. We got to taste a selection of Tanzanian Sample roasts, which to me was very interesting, as I never have tasted coffees from Tanzania.

 We also did a cupping with a few of our own coffees; Kieni (Kenya), Gatina (Kenya) and Finca Vista Hermosa (Guatemala) on a table with some of their sample roasts, This time Doug Zell and Kyle Glanville joined in. Lets be honest guys- Sitting at a cupping with some of the biggest names in the industry… Well, it was intimidating.

Michael showed us the whole Roastery and training lab. The roastery itself stores 3 impressive roasters, varying in size up to 90 kg each. Great fun to see the same process from green beans to roasted beans, being produced in a mush bigger scale then what we are used to at the Coffee Collective. 

Walking around with Mr. Phillips, you sensed that the main focus at Intelligentsia these days are really optimizing their own staff to the fullest, by taking a step back and having a good look on what can be done to becoming even more solid. Part of this was the new Barista Training program that Michael and Stephen Morrissey are implementing in all Intelligentsia Coffee shops these days.

Made up of different levels, the barista in training are guided thru a specific course, with tests and follow-ups from the barista trainer at the end of each level. When passed, the barista move on to a different level and can be ended with a big final exam, becoming a Certified Barista.

The program is basically designed to educate and giving the barista the best tools possible to present a truly great coffee experience, in this ever-changing industry. Staying ahead of the game and always being with it.

With all the different aspects of the speciality coffee industry, it can be difficult for new baristas to even know where to start. 
To share that great cup of coffee, you as a barista need to have the knowledge understanding and of all the different aspects of the process- starting at the soil, to what ends up in the cup. A structured way of learning would absolutely be a great way of approaching all this information.

The Barista Program used at Intelligentsia is the closest thing I have seen resembling a so-called Barista Education to this extent, and I am really looking forward to follow its process.

As I am talking about becoming skilled baristas, I have to say, hands down- my impression of the baristas working at the Intelligentsia coffee shops, were excellent. Their knowledge and dedication of the craft really shined thru, all in their very own personal ways. Lovely!

Thank you, everyone at Intelligentsia, and an especially Thanks to Michael Phillips, you took more then good care of us. We hope to see you in Copenhagen sooner!

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