Intelligentsia, at first glance, seemed much like any other coffee house. The first few seconds of my experience is similar to my local shop: smell of roasted beans, hip indie music, chatting friends, and many glowing white apple logos. However, the similarities stop there. I was lucky enough to be staying a few blocks from the Chicago shop of Intelligentsia last weekend. I stopped by on both Saturday and Sunday, and the story was the same on both visits: not a single seat is empty, there are at least 6 people in line waiting to order always, and there are at least 4 people waiting to pick up their custom brewed coffee. The people behind Intelligentsia have perfected the 3rd place formula.
The big innovation is the brewing process is celebrated like theater. The machines, both the Clover and the espresso, are situated on the bar so that the patron can watch the barista pull their shot or monitor the Clover. The performance is amplified by the fact that every latte receives a perfect foam decoration. The theater doesn’t stop with the coffee. There are a number of different types of seating: coffee bar, window bar, couches, communal tables, arm chairs, cafe tables, and more. This variety supports any activity a patron could possibly partake in while spending time in the shop. It is both office, living room, dean and private study rolled very well into one.
The furniture, colors, flooring, lighting and even the packaging of the take home beans have a harmony that enhances the drinks. Yet, all this design, marketing and graphics would not mean anything if it weren’t for the fact that the coffee was perfect. The folks behind Intelligentsia are into producing the best coffee. This commitment to quality is what makes this place different then others. One of the keys to creating an authentic place is having a passion and letting that single thing shape the whole experience. At Intelligentsia the coffee is the passion and everything else is there to support the perfect pour of coffee or pull of espresso.
Here is a link to some photos of the shop.