When I first met Anne, she lived in an apartment in Roseland on Chicago’s far south side.
She made coffee in a Chemex. To keep it warm she poured a couple of inches of water in an old skillet that had no handle anymore. She turned the flame on low and placed the Chemex in the water. Low tech, but perfect.
Our coffees of choice were Bustello – Cuban and Puerto Rican style coffee in the yellow can – or Stewarts, which was pretty high-end in those days and was produced locally out of a factory near Cicero Avenue and Wrightwood.
When we moved to Logan Square in 1975, we bought our first electric drip machine.
It was a Braun.
We still have a version of that same coffee maker. It is simple. An on/off switch and a heating plate to keep it hot. The top has stained brown from years of use, but it makes perfect coffee and I hope it lasts forever.
Over the years we have accumulated other coffee makers: A stove top espresso maker, an electric version of a stove top espresso maker, a one cup french press, a simple plastic Melitta cone and a ceramic Sowden coffee pot that steeps coffee grounds as if they were tea leaves. But they all sit in closets or drawers somewhere and should be included in a yard sale if we ever have a yard sale.
Which we won’t ever have.
In Logan Square in 1975, if you wanted to get coffee away from home, there were basically two choices: Johnny’s Grill on the Square or a donut place on Fullerton.
We rarely chose either one.
Then came Logan Beach.
A sweet woman named Virginia took over an old store front next to Burt’s tobacco shop and opened up a coffee place. It had old mismatched chairs and tables. And a upright piano against the wall.
She made espresso and espresso drinks and regular coffee and tea. And a limited menu of pastries.
Burt started selling the Sunday New York Times and would drive east to grab a bundle of Chicago Readers, since they were not delivered in the area.
I always complained to Virginia that her lattes weren’t hot enough.
I was confusing lattes with the drink that Starbucks sells with milk that is near scalding. It was only when Anne and I went to Italy did I discover that Virginia had done it right all along.
Virginia gave up Logan Beach about a decade ago, It is now the main dining room for Lula.
We ran into Virginia at the Logan Square Farmers’ Market a summer or two ago. Her face was all tanned and wrinkled. She looked great. She had moved to New Mexico or Arizona or somewhere and was doing something or the other.
Lula has a coffee bar and makes pour-overs.
I have never had one there.
As the neighborhood has changed so has the coffee.
About five years ago New Wave opened on the Boulevard. A funky place with entrances on Milwaukee and Logan, it is filled all day with young hipsters. Their computers open and buds in their ears.
And there is now Gaslight, which roasts their own beans, on the corner of Fullerton and Milwaukee.
A few other coffee places have opened and closed.
But this week I experienced the third wave of Logan Square coffee.
Let me review: First there was Virginia’s Logan Beach. Then New Wave.
Now Intelligentsia Coffee Bar next to the Logan Theater.
I walked in the other morning and sat at the bar.
I was handed a clip board with the beans of the day. Two of them. They were listed with a description that read more like something you would find in a wine menu. Their terroir. Their bouquet. One had a hint of cheery. The other, chocolate.
Or was it the other way around?
I chose my blend.
I watched as the very skinny guy set down a white ceramic cup and a small clear glass pitcher in front of me. He poured an inch of hot water into each to warm them up.
The small clear glass pitcher was for the extra coffee that didn’t make it into the cup. Like when they left the extra milk shake in the metal mixing container in the old soda shops.
Or weren’t you around then?
Then he placed before me a smaller version of the very same Chemex that Anne owned back in Roseland in 1975.
He went back to grind my beans. Then he poured them into the paper folder in the upper section of the Chemex and added a spoonful of hot water from a stainless steel pitcher.
A minute later he poured more water.
“Four minutes,” he said.
I watched as the dark caramel colored liquid dripped into the bottom chamber of the Chemex.
I was not having coffee.
I was engaging in a ceremony.
The coffee was good.
Three bucks. No free refills.