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Intelligentsia is considered one of the “big three” pioneers of third-wave specialty coffee. It prides itself on a curious and intellectual approach to the whole coffee process.
The company is local to Chicago, and was founded here in 1995 by Doug Zell and Emily Mange. They opened their original shop on Broadway in the Lakeview neighborhood, where they combined a coffee bar with a roasting facility in store.
In 2003, Intelligentsia was the first to begin using direct trade to hasten the coffee’s journey from bean to cup, to ensure quality and to make sure growers were being paid fairly. In 2008, Intelligentsia began importing its own beans, and has been working with growers to continually improve the cultivation, harvesting, and processing of coffee beans to produce the best quality coffee.
There are now six Intelligentsia coffee bars across Chicago, along with locations in New York and Los Angeles. They also have roasteries in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, plus training facilities in New York and Atlanta.
At Intelligentsia Roasting Works, visitors get a first-hand look at the specialty coffee origins, process, and evolution. Intelligentsia staff offer monthly tours that take visitors behind the scenes of the roastery.
On the tour, you’ll learn about the company’s history, and get a deep look into the entire coffee process - from coffee cherry to cup - learning about the growing, picking, processing, selection, roasting, and brewing processes that lead to the perfect cup of coffee.
You’ll be treated to as much free coffee as you can drink, a tour of the entire facility - from roasters to cupping room - a bag of single origin coffee to brew at home, and maybe even your own burlap coffee sack to take with you.
You may even get to meet some of the early employees of the company, like Geoff Watts, buyer and VP of coffee, who has been traveling the globe looking for the best growers and beans for the past decade.
Intelligentsia Roasting Works offers tours 1-2 times a month on Fridays at 2pm for $30.
The Intelligentsia Roasting Works tours can sell out, so check the dates and sign up in advance.
Plan in some extra time to stop by Goose Island's tasting room next door after the tour. See if you can find the award-winning Bourbon County Stout, brewed each year with a different Intelligentsia bean, each adding a unique flavor to the beer.