If someone walked into your kitchen right now, how clean would it be on a scale of one to ten? As of this writing, my own kitchen is a six. A couple hours ago it was a four and before I go to bed I’ll try to get it to an eight. So it gets messy sometimes, but if you asked me about it I would be comfortable describing my kitchen generally as “clean” or even “really clean.”
I think the fluctuating cleanliness of my kitchen serves as an apt metaphor for the experience of visiting a far-away coffee shop. There are plenty of shops that are good, or even really good, on the balance that still can’t lay a claim to consistency. So, if you’re visiting a new shop (even one that is highly recommended by locals) there is a chance you’ll be less than impressed with your one-off visit. That’s why there is something special about Caffe Streets, which has given me an excellent experience every time I have been there. It takes a rare combination of enthusiasm and maturity to ensure that every guest will enjoy a well-made beverage while still offering challenging and exciting coffees.
Caffe Streets is found in Wicker Park, Chicago. It’s a 15 min drive from the Loop, but standing on the street outside the shop, it feels distinctly separate from the busy downtown. The sidewalk directly outside the shop is wide and accommodates some large wooden tables where folks sit with their dogs and drink coffee.
I don’t think I can find a word to adequately describe the shop’s unique interior. To the left of the entrance is a marble bar overhung by five large highway lights. The menu board would be appropriate for a baseball stadium concession stand.
To the right of the entrance is a seating area. The walls, ceiling and seats themselves are made with the same vibrantly grained wood. A steer skull, painted gold, overlooks the coffee drinkers. At the back, near the bathrooms, is a stained glass window.
Despite the fact that I can’t find a word for the motif, the decoration doesn’t feel random. On the contrary, it is uncommonly well-planned for a coffee shop. Even though it is small inside, space is used economically and the layout is intuitive. I’ve been to too many shops where I waited in line with my butt sticking in someone’s face because a table was stupidly placed right next to the counter. I wouldn’t say the shop is comfortable, really, but I don’t think that’s a flaw. Only, if you’re looking to spread out on a sofa, you might want to go elsewhere. However, I can strongly recommend Caffe Streets as a place to enjoy a delicious cup of coffee.
When I visited at the end of October, there were 4 brewed coffee options and 2 espresso options. I had a single origin espresso, a Chemex and a v60. Everything was great, but the Chemex, an Ethiopia Kochere from Metric (a sister company to Streets), was particularly memorable. As I carried it over to my table, the smell was floral and earthy at once and I became incredibly excited to taste it. My first sip revealed an expertly brewed coffee. Big, clear flavors came through a light body. I tasted lemon and lime at first which transitioned to a smooth hazelnut. As it cooled, I got a broader range of flavors: orange, jasmine, and a pleasant hay-like flavor in the finish. I would be pleased to drink this coffee every morning for a month. It is the best coffee I had in a shop in 2015.
The shop was busy, so it took ten minutes before my Chemex was ready. The staff was polite to everyone equally without being particularly chatty. I liked that. It conveyed professionalism and hospitality to me, as an outsider. In a weird way, talkative baristas can create an atmosphere of exclusivity instead of friendliness. It is simply not possible to talk to everyone for 5 minutes, so when you engage one customer in a long conversation, you’re limiting yourself from appropriately greeting the next person in line. The staff at Caffe Streets found a balance that made me feel very welcome and set a nice tone for the whole shop.
I honestly just love this place. It’s the top of my list anytime destination shops come up. If you’re in Chicago, make this your priority coffee visit.