Metric Coffee Co., one of the latest additions to the Chicago coffee roaster scene, was born—like many great ideas—from conversations over tacos and beer at Big Star. And like many great ideas, it started as almost something else entirely. Despite that, the company—a partnership between Xavier Alexander, former senior roaster and quality control specialist for Intelligentsia Coffee, and Darko Arandjelovic, owner of famed Wicker Park shop Caffe Streets—has already yielded a Good Food Award, in only its first year.
On the industrial Near West Side of Chicago—home to businesses as diverse as the United Center, Goose Island Brewery, Chicago Mastering Service and Intelligentsia’s roasting facility—you'll find Metric right off the corner of Damen Avenue and Fulton Street. The roasting space is housed within the Industrial Council of Nearwest Chicago (ICNC), a small business incubator geared toward manufacturing companies (which also includes Passion House Coffee Roasters).
Walking into the ICNC, one enters a hallway and rounds a corner until coming upon a dead end with two makerly doors across from each other. One, the entrance to Metric, and the other, a shirt screenprinter. Entering Metric’s space one's greeted with the high ceilings of an open, slightly rectangular space with roasting on the left, a training area to the right, and the back split up for packaging and storage.
Each part of the open area has its own distinct look and design suited to its purpose. The training area is marked by light wood planks lining the wall with Metric's logo, a dual-group La Marzocco GB/5, and a couple of Mazzer grinders scattered about. The packaging area is two rows of steel-top counters with bins underneath filled with custom Metric bags and the latest beans ready to be packed. The real star of the space, though, is the roasting area.
Sectioned off by two small tables built off a support beam is Metric's cast iron 1960s Probat UG15. Antique German roasters are popular at the top end of specialty coffee roasting, but Metric went the extra step to restore and customize theirs over the course of a year. They credit the process as allowing them to learn about their roaster inside and out, and in having certain parts newly machined, it allowed the rebuild to feel truly custom and one of a kind.
For now Metric is just a roaster, albeit a new, exciting, and lauded one, but the company hopes to add a retail component to its roasting space soon. Despite the multitude of exciting projects in this part of Chicago, there's not much great coffee actually being served; the addition of Metric's own dedicated coffee bar would be a huge step forward. Watch the Near West Side for more as Metric, and the neighborhood, develops.