I love coffee shops. Not because I love coffee. I actually hate the taste of coffee (though mochas are growing on me). But the environment of a coffee shop draws me in – the combination of warm smells, new people, and a taste of the surrounding community’s vibe. One of my favorite ways to spend a Saturday – especially in the winter – is exploring new areas of Chicago and checking out niche coffee spots. Some of my best memories in college are of jumping on the “L” (Chicago’s public train) with my fellow coffee-shop-loving friends to immerse ourselves in another new neighborhood.

Sometimes our adventures are unplanned, like the day we hopped off the intercampus shuttle to check out Hoosier Mama. It’s now one of my favorite places to meet a friend or to get some work done when I want to be off campus (and have some yummy pie).  We found another gem, Osmium Coffee Bar in Lakeview, after grabbing dinner near the Belmont L stop. We passed a rather small storefront advertising “Dark Matter”, and – being my science-minded, intellectual self – I insisted we check it out. It turned out to be an eclectic, relaxed, and hipster-leaning coffee shop with lots of friendly locals and, yes, intellectuals. We realized later it’s a pretty well-known spot, but finding it spontaneously was a fun adventure nonetheless.

Other times, our trips focus on finding a place a friend (or a stranger) suggests. We discovered Bagel Art in south Evanston, which has Intelligentsia coffee (!) and is just far enough south to make you forget you’re near campus. We also sought out Z&H Market Café in Hyde Park, which has great mochas and a cool, old-school vibe.

We also use the good ole’ internet to search for coffee shops in neighborhoods we want to explore. In Wicker Park, we found Wormhole, the most amazing ‘80s themed coffee shop. I love  the ‘80s and firmly believe I was born in the wrong era, so this was literally one of the most exciting trips! We also visited Stan’s Donuts which, let me tell you, has the most amazing Nutella-filled donuts on the face of this planet. I became addicted to said Nutella donuts once I realized another Stan’s Donut’s opened just blocks from my internship at Northwestern’s  medical school this summer. It was one hundred percent worth it, extra gym time included.

I’ve never been good at picking favorites. Whenever I think I’ve found the best coffee shop in the city, I discover a new one just as amazing. Collectively, these places (and many more I couldn’t include for the sake of brevity) hold a special place in my heart – they have given me a different perspective of Chicago, been the basis of many wonderful memories, and the start to my coffee-drinking exploration. I can’t imagine my Northwestern career without the fun days spent exploring the city and chatting in random coffee shops. But don’t take my word for it, explore them yourself!

–Kaley Wendorf

photo source: yelp.

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