The cat’s out of the bag: I have a coffee addiction. I’ve been an addict for almost a year now. My friends and family know about my problem, and if anything they fuel my addiction. For a graduation present, my grandma bought me a mini Keurig for my dorm room and gave me a refillable Starbucks gift card.
However, I want to experience more than k-cup coffee I have to keep in the fridge overnight before I can drink it iced. And with finals just around the corner, I need somewhere that’s made for studying; somewhere even non-coffee drinkers would enjoy. Chicago has just that to offer—a near endless amount of coffee shops, just waiting for me to try them.
I won’t pretend like I know everything about the intricacies of latte art, or whether coffee beans from Brazil or Colombia taste the best. But I do know what I like in my cafés.
I visited five local coffee shops around DePaul’s Lincoln Park and downtown campuses and ordered the same thing from each one: a 16 oz. iced coffee with almond milk and vanilla syrup. I’ve ranked them from least favorite to favorite based on my travel distance, comfort, price, and the most important category, the coffee.
5. Dark Matter Coffee
I walked less than half a mile to get to Dark Matter Coffee from the Belmont red line stop, so the location had this one off to a good start. I would probably call this the most unique café on my list. All the others had a more pastoral and simple look, like a traditional hipster coffee shop. Dark Matter, on the other hand, gives off more of a punk feel with vibrant murals, dim lighting, and rock music. It stands out in a good way. I prefer the style of white walls and exposed wood, but I appreciate the cool neon signs at Dark Matter.
There are many tables perfect for extended hours of doing homework, if only you could sit at one. Dark Matter was very crowded at 3 p.m. on the Wednesday I went. And according to Yelp, the busy hours never end. Because no available tables or bar seating existed, I was forced to sit outside. I will concede, the outside seating was awesome. There were plenty of picnic tables, each with a detailed hand painted design that added a lot to what would have been a drab outdoor space. I just would have been much happier indoors, actually experiencing the shop instead of being subject to classic Chicago wind.
Dark Matter Coffee (Osmium) down the street from the Belmont red line. Paige Overton, 14 East
So, if you go to Dark Matter, go once it gets warmer. Apparently only the elite few get indoor seating and Chicago weather outside of the summer months is too unbearable to risk it.
Dark Matter’s coffee had the lowest price of any shop with $3.50 for a 16 oz. iced latte. I saw why it costs so little once I tried it. I didn’t like it from the first sip. It tasted bitter even with syrup, and the almond milk didn’t mix no matter how hard I stirred. Each sip had a different level of pungency from the last, so I never got used to how bad it tasted.
Dark Matter received the position of least favorite partially because I can’t tolerate doing homework outside, but mostly because I disliked the coffee. I enjoyed everything else, but coffee is the most important criteria for a coffee shop, so I think I’m judging fairly.
4. Stone Creek Coffee
Next up, Stone Creek Coffee. This café is also very accessible, located right off the Belmont red line train stop, can’t miss it. The interior looked beautiful, and was my favorite part of this place. It has a minimalist yet well decorated look with white walls and dark furniture. There’s eclectic displays of knick knacks that make me want to step up my own decoration game.
The café is much larger than one would expect from the exterior. The comfortable seating area extends back so far that while there were many people, it didn’t feel crowded. However, I personally enjoy a more intimate vibe in my coffee shops and Stone Creek didn’t meet my standards in that aspect.
As another consequence of the stretched interior, there are only windows in the front where the baristas are, and not next to the seating area. There’s no outside view or natural lighting while you’re sitting, which equals a major check in the negative column for me.
The newly-opened Stone Creek Coffee off the Belmont red line. Paige Overton, 14 East
I paid $5.75 for a 16 oz. latte with almond milk and vanilla bean syrup. The almond milk and the syrup were each 75¢ extra. This price was a bit much compared to other 16 oz. lattes I’ve had— the same thing would be cheaper at any given Starbucks, but that’s not to say the coffee wasn’t good. I drank the whole thing and I definitely wouldn’t complain if I had it again. I just wouldn’t be willing to pay full-price for another coffee there.
All in all, I wouldn’t go to Stone Creek Coffee again. The shop just wasn’t comfortable enough to spend a long period of time in without a nice window view. I would only go there if I was in Boystown and needed a coffee immediately. Even then, it would be worth it to walk a bit to somewhere with a lower price with the same coffee quality.
3. Heritage Bicycles
Heritage Bicycles is off the Wellington brown line stop. Getting there proved to be more of a trek than the other cafes on my list. The walk from the station alone is close to 15 minutes. While the distance from campus didn’t stop me from going, it’s going to prevent me from making this one my new go-to.
Heritage interested me because it’s both a coffee shop and bicycle repair store. This duality meant it had the same “secret” extra seating room situation as Stone Creek, only it worked much better with Heritage since there are windows wherever you sit.
Heritage Bicycles and coffeeshop off the Wellington brown line. Paige Overton, 14 East
The decor captivated me. The cute bicycle theme made the whole place feel cozy. Bikes covered the floor and walls, which served as beautiful accents to the overall rustic interior. Sitting in Heritage café just made me feel content. I could definitely spend hours there doing homework, studying or just hanging out.
Now for the major downside: I paid $6.62 for my iced latte. That’s nearly $7 for 16 ounces of coffee! They charged me an extra 50¢ for vanilla syrup and $1 for almond milk. In honesty, the coffee tasted amazing and came in an adorable glass mug, but as a college student, I cannot afford a drink that I could buy for half the price at Starbucks.
I strongly recommend trying out Heritage Bicycles, but as more of a special treat. As much as I would like to make this my regular hang out, it would annihilate my bank account.
2. Intelligentsia Coffee
Intelligentsia Coffee earned second place of the five coffee shops I went to. I got off at the Harold Washington Library brown line stop, near DePaul’s downtown campus, and only needed to walk a couple of blocks before arriving. Its location is a big reason why I liked it so much. It’s so easy to stop by if you’re in the Loop. Since it’s in the heart of downtown, the stool I sat at had a great view of the busy streets, local sculptures and the Willis Tower.
This café’s small, but in a charming way. The space felt relaxing. Intelligentsia’s interior looked adequate— not amazing, but definitely not ugly. I wish they had booths or bigger tables. You could do some comfortable reading at Intelligentsia or go on a nice date, but not so much full on note taking with a textbook and laptop.
Intelligentsia Coffee off the Harold Washington Library brown line. Paige Overton, 14 East
However, this shop hit it out of the park where it counts. My coffee was delicious and I was impressed. Intelligentsia’s coffee is the best on my list with an agreeable price of $4.75. They don’t offer almond milk, but I didn’t care because their soy milk added the perfect amount of sweetness needed to make the drink appetizing without completely getting rid of the coffee taste.
Definitely stop by Intelligentsia’s downtown location if you’re in the Loop and want to get some work done after class without feeling too guilty that you didn’t just make your own coffee at home.
1. The Bagelers Coffeehouse
The Bagelers Coffeehouse is my favorite for a few reasons. Out of the five shops I went to, it’s the closest to DePaul’s Lincoln Park campus. From the Fullerton red line station, it is less than a half a mile walking distance.
I loved the interior as soon as I walked in. Bagelers has a nice decór with dark wood and abstract paintings. The plentiful number of large tables and booths makes it perfect for extended hours of time in full study mode. The music is exactly my taste, so I didn’t even need to wear headphones while sitting down to work.
My drink cost me $5.10; the almond milk added 69 cents to the usual price. However, I didn’t notice the sign that said DePaul students get 10% off until after I paid. If I was paying attention, I would have paid $4.59, an okay price I’m willing to pay every once in a while. The latte itself tasted fine, but I would choose somewhere like Intelligentsia if I wanted to grab a coffee and go.
I would go to Bagelers Coffeehouse again if I needed to get out of my tiny dorm for some time. It’s also perfect for bringing friends to form a study group.
In conclusion, none of these coffee shops knocked my socks off so hard that they became my new all-time favorite. That being said, a few did impress and I would recommend them.
I started this noble coffee quest to find the best spot to de-stress for finals with an iced latte while remaining productive, and Bagelers Coffeehouse definitely meets that requirement. I will also be going back to Intelligentsia because I’ve been craving their coffee,and I love that it’s downtown.
In the future, I plan on taking some friends to Heritage as a semi-tourist event. But I might just get a free glass of water.
None of those trips will be for a while though. After going out so many times this month for coffee, the Keurig in my dorm room feels very lonely.
Header image by Paige Overton