Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Most Beautiful Latte in the World

We've had a revolution in cocktails. Respected modern mixology is marked by not only the taste and presentation of the drink but also the process: quality ingredients, bartender knowledge and masterful technique are all part of the "well-rounded cocktail." And, we in the world of spirited beverages are not alone...

Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea originated in that sometimes-under-the-radar hipster city whose friendly residents are also on the cutting edge of culinary and lifestyle trends. Yes, I know when we hear "coffee" our Pavlovian reaction brings "Seattle" to mind. However, in this case, I'm talking about Chicago.

Founded in 1995, Intelligentsia aims to pour environmentally- and socially- responsible coffee into our cups. Once the beans are sourced from respected importers (or sometimes the growers, themselves) they are roasted in "vintage German roasters," and infused with an abundance of focused attention to not only the outcome but the process.

Just as our mixologists and high-end bartenders seek out professional training courses and seminars (such as B.A.R. and Tales of the Cocktail), barristas looking to move into the sphere of craftsman rather than simply 'part time coffee slinger' can take part in Intelligentsia's Training Lab.

When I first came across Intelligentsia coffee shop at Sunset Junction in Silverlake, I was immediately struck by the ridiculously long line of people patiently waiting for their cuppa joe, and next by the seriousness with which the barristas executed the orders. It brought to mind the bartender / mixologist types who toil behind the bar in our most revered drinking establishments, the ones who are intent on exploiting every ounce of their knowledge and training for every drink they make. I was both surprised and delighted.

The Silverlake location is the only store outside Chicago (where they have three locations) and I feel quite lucky that we are the chosen city for Inteligentsia's expansion. I see it as less-than-ironic that it sits next to the Cheese Store of Silverlake (an emporium for world-class cheeses and small batch olive oils) and only a few doors down from our beloved Bar Keeper, a mind-boggling cocktailian fantasy land filled with vintage bar ware and the most extensive collection of bitters-for-sale on our coast.

We've come to understand that quality ain't cheap, so coffee for two can set you back almost 8-bucks. But, when we're willing to fork over $15 for a muddled, hand-shaken cocktail, does it seem so strange to pony up for a cup of coffee made with the same level of attention? In our economic crunch, we may eat and drink out less often, but when we do, it should be worth the effort and price. It should be special and it should be good quality. Aren't those the pillar principles of the beautiful revolution at hand?


40licious said...

As a transplanted Seattleite (and professional travel writer), I was thrilled to discover Intelligensia, but crestfallen to see how long it took to get a coffee, and once there, how snotty the help was. I will never go back, and instead, take my business down the street to the always accessible and delicious Casbah! said...

Hello luscious 40-licious,

I totally hear you on the attitude. The first time I went to Intelligentsia, I was also put off by the 'tude. That happens in high-end mixology bars, too, and I refuse to accept it and patronize snotty bartenders. So, I get where you're coming from. However, my lat visit to intelligentsia was very pleasant and the barristas were quite friendly.

Casbah is great, too. I love the atmoshpere in there.

H. C. said...

I had a pretty pleasant experience at Intelligentsia too -- though that was a very chill afternoon (unlike the usual mob of a line that's right outside the shop.)

And I totally hear you on quality coffee -- I am not one to down $4 a day at Starbucks, but will happily indulge once a week on a well-invested and tasty cup. And when the stars align, sometimes I get it on the house ;).