Three Coffee Shops in Chicago Pushing the Boundaries

Chicago might be known as America’s Second City, but when it comes to coffee, it’s long been first in class. Industry giants like Intelligentsia may have set the standard in the 90s, but on a recent trip to the Windy City for SCA Expo we encountered a new wave of independent cafés that are continuing to raise the bar. These were three of our favorite coffee shops in Chicago. 

Four Letter Word

We first visited Four Letter Word’s coffee shop on Burgazada outside Istanbul in 2014, so visiting their Logan Square location was a priority on this trip (yes, it’s kind of weird to have a café in Chicago and an island off the coast of Istanbul— it’s one of the many quirks that make 4LW so wonderful.)

From the psychedelic coffee bags to the augmented reality art installations of local artist Kevin Heisner, the shop is a bold affront to the stark, Nordic minimalism that hijacked café design in the late 2010s. In other words, 4LW is making coffee shops cool again, and we are here for it. 

On the coffee side, espresso is hand-pulled on a Kees Van Der Westen lever machine. I’m not sure if it was an SCA special, but when we visited 4LW they were slinging shots of a juicy anaerobic Panama from Ruben Vega. Be sure to get here early though: 4LW closes at 2 pm. 

Drip Collective

A carefully curated multi-roaster menu, a spacious café, and all of the vibes: Drip Collective in Chicago’s West Loop has it all. In short, Drip is the sort of coffee shop your barista goes to on their day off. I sipped on too many shared coffees to mention but a natural process Tanzania from Iowa’s Daydrink stood out. Drip’s thoughtful selection of single-origin tea.  from Chicago’s own Spirit Tea deserves a mention as well. 

I talked to multiple coffee professionals whose first and last coffee in Chicago was brewed at Drip Collective and it’s easy to see why. 


Dayglow established a reputation in Los Angeles as a purveyor of rare and exclusive microlots from an international cast of roasters. Visitors to Dayglow’s Chicago outpost can expect nothing less. Denmark’s Coffee Collective and South Korea’s Fitz Coffee were just a few of the roasters on offer when we visited. Pour-overs are meticulously prepared on Kalita Wave 155s by an attentive and well-informed staff.

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