The late Chicago Espresso was a gem--directly across the street from the Kedzie Brown Line station and spitting distance from some of the best middle eastern groceries and restaurants in the city. It brewed Intelligentsia beans and was the only place in the neighborhood to get a decent cup of joe. Despite that, it was a sleepy little place and the fact that it opened one block north of a Starbucks made me worry. When it died in the middle of the Kedzie station renovation it seemed to validate all the fears independent business owners had about both the CTA revamp and Big Coffee.
It would take some guts to open a new coffeehouse in the same space but that's what husband and wife Abbatt Story and Gloria Chae did just a few days after the Kedzie station reopened in September. Cups Coffee & Tea was originally called Sips, but they changed it when Sips Coffeehouse on Grand Avenue complained.
Aside from the primo location Story was convinced he could operate under the long shadow of Starbucks. "It did concern me," he says. "There's just no way the little guys can compete with a place like Starbucks so I just tried to make it my own. I'm just trying to be part of the community instead of opening a shop to make money off the community."
The couple, who live in the neighborhood, have local artists' work on the walls, free wi-fi, about a dozen loose leaf teas, and some pastries baked by Story himself. But where they really excel is the selection of organic and fair trade coffees, some from more rigorous programs like the Cafe Feminino Foundation, which routes money directly to plantations owned and operated by women.
At home I'm working my way through the selection, at the moment enjoying some organic Peaberry beans from Tanzania, which are tiny and oily and have a smooth, easy flavor for a dark roast. Story thinks a lot about terroir and can tell you the flavor profiles, origin and the circumstances in which the beans are grown and sold. His favorites right now are dark roast organic beans from the Boyo region of Western Cameroon, which are grown in old volcanic soil similar to Jamaican and Hawaiian beans, but which recently came on the global market at a much nicer price.
Cups Coffee and Tea is at 4645 N. Kedzie (773-539-2917); it's open Monday through Thursday, 6 AM to 9 PM; Friday from 6 AM to 10 PM; Saturday from 8 AM to 10 PM; and closed on Sunday.