We’re back with a hot fresh new edition of Sprudge Maps Spotlight, our roving global report on coffee bars supported by La Marzocco and Pacific Barista Series, and informing our ongoing work with Apple Maps. Today we’re visiting one of the great architecture and design cities in the world—Chicago, of course!—for a visit to The Coffee Studio, located in the Andersonville neighborhood. Let’s take a look!
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As told to Sprudge by Lee Corrina Cano.
Introduce yourself to our readers—tell us about your cafe!
The Coffee Studio is an award-winning, quality-focused independent coffee shop in the Andersonville neighborhood of Chicago. With a minimalist, but warm-modern feel, the shop reflects the design background of owners Miguel and Lee Corrina Cano, who both have a background in product design and sustainability. An early player in Chicago’s specialty coffee scene, The Coffee Studio has been hand-crafting great coffees and teas for over 14 years, with a focus on making everyone feel welcome in a warm and genuine environment. We have always aimed to find the “middle way” in what we do and how we share our love for great coffee with our customers. We’re not the most dogmatic of third wave shops out there, but we do care immensely about the quality of everything we serve, including making our own sauces and syrups in-house. We try to accommodate variations in folk’s coffee “experiences” and find them a drink that, ultimately, will make them happy and keep them coming back for more.
What equipment do you use in your shop?
For espresso and espresso-based drinks, we’ve been Team Synesso since day one. We currently work on an MVP Hydra, and we love it for the same reasons we loved our old Cyncra… pressure stability, temperature stability and control, plus it’s simplicity. And it’s beautiful, of course, in an understated way… which suits us. Our primary espresso grinder is a Mazzer Robur-E, perfect for its speed and grind uniformity, and we use Super Jolly’s for decaf, alternative espressos, and/or backup. For “ready-to-go” brewed coffee, we rely on our FETCO Extractor series for batch-brewing during the mornings and afternoons. We also offer a choice of pour-overs of four or five single origins (and a decaf). We’ve offered brewed coffee by the cup since we opened in 2007… brewing with Eva Solo Café Solos back in the day, and now with Hario v60s. We also offer year-round cold brew, still and nitro, and we sell our cold-brew concentrate by the returnable liter bottle.
Which roaster or roasters do you serve?
We’ve exclusively worked with Intelligentsia since we opened, over 14 years ago. I sometimes tell people that we initially chose to work with Intelligentsia despite their being here in Chicago with us… not because of it. Before we opened, we thought people might think we were just using Intelligentsia coffees by default, as the biggest quality roaster here in Chicago, but as anyone who knows us personally can tell you… we don’t do anything by default (we usually overthink everything). I guess we thought we should do something more “unique”, to set ourselves apart… but I’m glad we eventually came to our senses and let the coffees speak for themselves. Plus, as folks with backgrounds in sustainability issues, we have always been huge advocates for the Direct Trade model.
What is the neighborhood like where you’re located? What’s some other cool stuff nearby?
Andersonville, our neighborhood on the north side of Chicago, is really a unique community. With a strong Swedish heritage, a diverse demographic including a thriving LGBTQ+ community, and a recognized appreciation for locally-owned, independent businesses (including quite a few design-oriented lifestyle and home stores), this is just a perfect, walkable neighborhood for a shop that welcomes and caters to both coffee aficionados and quality-loving novices alike. We’re also less than a mile from Lake Michigan and the lakefront parks and paths, which is such a great amenity that you wouldn’t expect to find in a big city like Chicago. We do suffer through the winters here sometimes, but everyone enjoys the lakefront in the summer!
Did you close during a mandated Coronavirus shutdown, and if so, for how long?
We were actually able to pivot fairly quickly in March 2020 to a “pick-up at the door” model. The year before, we had invested in developing our own ordering app so we were already live with it, and we quickly added browser-based ordering, too. We had to significantly reduce hours by a lot due to staffing issues, and it was a hectic scramble, for sure, on both the front of house and back-end processes. We stayed with that model until mid-2021, when we expanded hours and started permitting masked customers back into the store.
How has Coronavirus impacted daily work at your cafe?
Everything still feels in-flux all the time, frankly. As of the start of this month, Chicago has mandated that we check for proof of vaccination for customers who wish to sit down and stay. But, we’ve also reduced our menu significantly since pre-COVID times. We used to have some savory food items that we are not offering right now, as well as house-made ice creams and popsicles, We have also paused our Beer, Wine, and Cocktail program. We still are not serving in ceramic cups and glasses again (and so we are not dealing with “dishes”). And, of course, supply chain issues have just been an absolute nightmare. There’s just new stuff to deal with everyday, and we have to be light on our feet.
What’s something cool or unique about your cafe you want folks to know?
We think that making consistently great coffee is not really that hard if your fundamentals are in place. At The Coffee Studio, one of the things we focus on is mindfulness… frankly, just making sure to pay attention to getting those fundamentals right each and every day. Just like in “real life,” staying present and mindful is actually pretty hard because there are so many distractions… so many things to do, so many needs tugging on us. So we work pretty hard on just making sure that as baristas we’re really paying attention. We have a saying here… “when on bar… be on bar,” which is basically our little zen way of saying to be present. Of course, you can multitask or chat while you’re making a drink, but what we’re trying to do here is craft something amazing, and that means paying attention to all the feedback that there is, whether it’s how the espresso grounds are clumping or how the streaming espresso is flowing, or blonding, or changing… it’s all useful information there for us, if we’re open to it. Of course, we also try to taste our coffees or shots a lot, because as baristas we need to be able to taste, articulate and make constant adjustments to the variables that are in our control. We also try to taste a lot together, so we can calibrate our palates and learn how to articulate our experiences in useful ways. In terms of maintaining quality, we also generally place a huge emphasis on drink and process consistency, meaning we really want everyone’s drinks to not just be delicious, but to be similarly delicious!
Is there a community organization or charity you’d like to shout-out as part of this feature?
I’d love people to find out more about an unusual but extraordinary organization called Life After Hate. They are a Chicago-based non-profit dedicated to helping individuals disengage from violent far-right hate groups and hateful online spaces. They help individuals to exit hate groups, and they support those who have already left. Their work is aimed to interrupt violence committed in the name of ideological or religious beliefs, through education, interventions, academic research, and outreach, and I hope Sprudge readers will check them out and support their efforts, if they can.
Photos by The Coffee Studio, used with permission