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Word to Intelligentsia

(Photo: Black cat of coffee goodness. Credit: Intelligentsia.)

Dear Head Honcho of the Millennium Park Intelligentsia Coffee Bar:

I love your coffee – but please sell it to me faster in the morning.

I live and work within blocks of the Millennium Park store and since you’ve opened have frequented it 7 days a week. I chose your store over the Starbucks on Madison, my former neighborhood coffee haunt, since you have better coffee and frankly better service. But your pace is glacial in the morning! Admiral Bird glacial. Titanic glacial. Mt. Rainier glacial.

I usually arrive before 9 a.m. in the upstairs store and generally wait 10 minutes or more between walking in sleepy and walking out caffeinated. At Starbucks, even with a long line, I’ve never had to wait more than five minutes for my fix (one thing to be said for corporate empires, they know how to crank).

Yet at your shop, this morning I waited ten minutes on a line of two people, me being one of them. I watched with envy as two other coffee prospects entered, waited, wilted, and bolted for the door sleepy but still on time for their morning appointments. Too black-gold addicted to leave, I waited dutifully and inwardly recited a small prayer to Kali, goddess of time, in hopes that she would annihilate some of the wait, or at least the person in front of me.

Now, I know you still have to work all the kinks out. But my time is precious in the morning, and even though I would, maybe a little bit, consider crowning you the king of all coffees over Peets (after all, you have three local stores to their lonely little one), I can’t wait 10 minutes in the morning for my traditional cappuccino. Much less my spinach and feta croissant, although thank you for the meat filled croissant you secretly offered me on Wedensday — the early-morning walk back to the store to trade it in for my real order was pleasant and refreshing.

I have also noticed that many people seem to quiz your cashiers about what your products are, slowing things down considerably, and I wonder whether your menu signs are just not obvious enough or in large enough type. I dig the curvy, artsy font. I don’t dig having to stand on a chair to be able to read it. Though it was a pretty mod chair.

And those eager, earnest, erstwhilers you have running your register in the morning. The veritable personification of friendliness and befuddlement. Their pleasant smiles go a long way to soothe my anger at being asked for the third time what milk I want with my au lait as they remain nonresponsive to any evidence that a line of restless natives, cell phones in place of spears, is mounting back towards the doors.

At Starbucks on Madison, I’ve regularly had to sit through the parade of the homeless men who need to pee, the bawdy revelry of CTA bus drivers telling all within earshot about their nonexistent sex lives, and the dance of the chairs and tables from day to day as no one who works there bothers ever to put anything back in its normal place. But I may have to go back to dealing with all of that in order to get to work on time.

Don’t you know, if you want my business in the morning you’re supposed to fit into my schedule, not the other way around? So, please, please, in the name of all that is holy and roastable and with all due irony, please try to be a little more awake in the morning. I recommend a double-shot black cat espresso with panna just before you unlock the revolving doors each morning.

And little labels on the veggie croissants.

Categories: Food and Drink LIFE

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Michael Thaddeus Doyle

I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.

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4 replies

  1. Glad to hear it, can’t wait to see the new post. It was good to meet you in person yesterday, too. Blogging has its advantages, but there’s nothing like airing grievances or just talking coffee face to face.

  2. Chris, I’ve got plans to follow up this post in the next week or so. Things have gotten better (though they really were a bit gnarly when I wrote it or I wouldn’t have). I don’t expect fast-food coffee at Intelligentsia, that would be Starbucks. Just remembering to call the coffees when they’re made and keeping the line moving, all I really ask. Well, and world domination, but that will come in time. As it is, I keep dragging people in to your store, who all seem overjoyed to discover it.

    Speaking of Starbucks, the gist of the follow up post will be how your store differs from my former haunt, the Starbucks on Madison. It’s an easy comparison. You’re professional and have a super interior and great coffee. They’re a dark, dank bathroom waiting area for CTA workers and the homeless and THAT coffee speaks for itself.

    As for coming into the store at other times, been there, done that, keep doing it. I live near the store, I already get cranky if I’m not there a couple times a day seven days a week. Well, crankier than usual.

  3. I’m not sure who you are, but you’ve doubtless seen me in the mornings at Intelligentsia. Chances are I’ve made your drink at least once.

    I appreciate the fact that you like our coffee. I think it’s about the best I’ve had in Chicago.

    That being said, it takes a little time to make specialty coffee drinks. Or at least to make them well. You may notice that our grinders and portafilters for the La Marzoco espresso machines are manual (as opposed to the fully automated peices of crap they use at Starbucks).

    I think our morning crew does a pretty fine job of pumping out consistantly high quality drinks that are guaranteed to taste, smell, and look better than anything the competition can turn out. Each of them, even the “eager, earnest erstwhilers” you refer to has been through some of the most rigorous training in the industry and knows and performs their job well. Customers are encouraged to ask questions and make requests. We’re making specialty drinks, not caffine injections. You might not be aware, but 3 of the top 5 baristas in the country are from Intelligentsia, and Matt Riddle, our top barista, recently placed 3rd in the world.

    I notice that your post is dated the 19th of May, which was barely two weeks after the store opened. It’s not exactly an easy task training an entirely new crew of coffee-makers to work at a high volume store in the middle of downtown. Our goal is to produce your drink in 3 minutes or less, even during a heavy rush period. And recently, our speed has improved. It’s not that we’re not awake. It’s just that good things come to those who wait, and a coffee drink of superior quality may take more than a few seconds to prepare. If you honestly just don’t have the time, try coming in during an afternoon and sitting on our patio furniture to enjoy the beautiful weather we’ve been having recently. You’ll find things a little more low-key and you’ll be able to specify any peculiarities to your drink preference with ease to the barista on duty.

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