On a lazy Tuesday morning in Chicago, shortly after leaving a Mcdonald’s parking lot on foot, I wandered past a mechanic jacking my car up for repairs. I stood on the sidewalk sipping my Styrofoam-cupped coffee and watched as the mechanic sauntered around his shop for tools. It seemed my struts were broken. Driving too quickly on the interstate was a bad decision. Buying McDonald’s coffee was, conveniently, also a bad decision.
For a short time, I was worried. I felt puzzled and confused. I wasn’t sure what could be done with my car, where I was exactly in Chicago (road-trips with no destination will do that to you,) or where I would find breakfast. But further along the sidewalk, there it was: a bar/coffeehouse sign, wide-legged on the sidewalk. On its display area, someone drew in a massive, chalky question mark. It seemed to highlight my morning perfectly so I stepped inside.
What a place! It turns out I had wandered into Ipsento coffee, a diamond in the rough for the area of Chicago I was waiting in for my car. One of the baristas greeted me politely as I glanced at my surroundings. A small table sat to my right, couches with (readable) magazines to the left, and an in-house roaster (!) set to the side of the room. Along the left wall, the work of local artists and photographers hung alongside each other.
I surely felt like a jerk walking in with a McDonald’s coffee cup. Nonetheless, the staff was friendly and helpful in suggesting what I should have to eat. I was in love with their special menu of breakfast and lunch sandwiches: all named after well-known authors. I personally snacked on the Thoreau (egg, mushroom, onion, bell pepper, and goat cheese on a croissant,) but the other selections were just as great. There’s the Jane Austen (apple, cream cheese, and honey on a croissant,) the Hemingway (salmon, egg, cream cheese, and capers on a croissant,) and others just as wonderful. Their options for vegan/vegetarians was staggering. It seems they also offer free coffee on Friday mornings!
After paying, I sat down at my table and admired the shop. I charged my phone in one of their power outlets, perused their magazine selection, and read an advertisement on the wall that let me in on one of the most important aspects of Ipsento coffee. Ipsento is a socially-conscious coffee shop. They (or their partners) work personally with the farmers that grow the coffee beans they use. There are photographs of the farmers, a mission statement, and information about where the coffee is grown, who grows it, and what their relationship with Ipsento is.
I was further impressed while listening to a staff member discuss with a customer the finer intricacies of roasting, brewing, and general coffee-knowledge. I have to admit, I don’t even know what was going on. This man was an artist. If Darwin was still around, he’d be jealous of this guy’s encyclopedic knowledge of the bean. He knew more about coffee than I know about… anything.
All in all, I walked away from Ipsento with a seriously great sandwich, a new respect for coffee-making and coffee houses, and a fixed car waiting for me at the mechanic. And yes, I did go back later for the coffee. I grabbed an iced and wandered around in the sun. I decided something that morning: The sandwiches, the staff, and their mission are worth the trip alone but – there is no coffee but Ipsento’s.
By: Jon Boulier