Closer Look

6 Best Cafes On The North Side

Erin Kelly// The Phoenix Latte at Big Shoulders.

We have something in common, but it’s not what you think.

If you take a look at the map of shops above, you will probably think I drink more coffee than the average student, and even more than you during that semester when you had mounds of homework and thought all your professors were plotting against you.

That’s not the right reason, though. I don’t drink coffee with any sort of regularity (I can’t tolerate a lot of caffeine for health reasons).

That something we have in common is that we both love coffee — albeit, probably for different reasons. Many people drink coffee for the caffeine, and maybe the taste, warmth or fond memories of watching a parent or guardian drink it every morning.

But the main reason most people drink it is that quick, easy burst of energy.

That isn’t the reason I love coffee, and I hope after I tell you how I came to love it, you’ll savor more than just your next cup of joe.


Passion isn’t just something you have for an idea, thing or person, it’s something you can give as well.

If I do have a passion for coffee, it was definitely given to me.

I started my coffee drinking days with Folgers, Starbucks and McDonalds — whatever was easiest.

But a new friend my freshman year of college didn’t allow that to last.

Brett is a meticulous individual who has joined many in turning coffee brewing into equal parts art and science. Learning to craft the perfect cup of coffee isn’t really a hobby, it’s more like a goal. One he doesn’t ever seem to feel as though he’s achieved because he’s constantly experimenting with new methods to improve the taste.

The guy would sooner throw away a less than satisfactory cup than allow even a stranger to drink it.

While I find the brewing process fascinating, that wasn’t really the gift he gave me. I know how a pour over — a process for brewing coffee — works, but I would never be so bold as to say I could do it. In fact, I’ve never even tried.

Brett passed along knowledge about coffee, but more than that, he passed along the ability to savor something. Maybe even the ability to savor any moment.

There are moments in life, I think, as you get older that you look back on and see how those big events or decisions shaped your life.

Something in me senses that one of those moments is happening. It has nothing to do with my impending graduation. It’s more a realization that if I don’t develop an off switch for work, I never will. And then I’ll lose out on a lot of moments.

I love my job and want to report stories that matter and help people for the rest of my life, but I have to type these words, I have to. Like many other hard working students, I have to accept that it’s OK to not always be on. One might even consider it prudent.

I know I’m not the only student in danger of living in a haze because you never relax, which is why it’s important to ground yourself in moments.

Drinking coffee doesn’t just have to be part of the everyday drudgery. It can be delicious. Join me in my attempt to turn off and actually notice what your next cup of coffee tastes like, especially if it’s going to be a good one. How bitter is the roast? Can you taste any toffee or fruit? If you’re partial to specialty drinks such as lattes like me, notice how the espresso and milk compliment each other.

Appreciate your drink. It’s a simple habit that might lead you to reconsider parts of your life that seem mundane but are really bursting with color.


Brett helped taste test each of these locations. We went to at least 15 cafes after I narrowed the prospects with research on Yelp, Foursquare and media reviews.

At each location, I ordered a latte — a type of coffee with espresso and hot steamed milk. Brett almost usually drank more of it than me, but I always ordered a latte to give us something consistent to review.

Why lattes? Because they’re delicious.

Perfectly brewed lattes have a difficult to achieve balance between milk and espresso, in other words, not too much milk or espresso.

While there are a few cafes on this list that don’t have a perfect balance, they are near perfect and 100 percent delicious. I happen to like lattes that are a little more creamy from milk than bitter from coffee, so those scored higher in my ratings. Brett prefers strong coffee, so he balanced me out and thoroughly enjoyed some of the cafes with particularly strong lattes. While some of these cafes might not serve conventionally perfect lattes, they’re most certainly not making espresso with a little bit of milk, or vise versa, both of which we often ran into.

Although Brett would order his own drink, I haven’t included more than just a latte review at any of the locations because I can’t provide a consistent review for the other drinks.

I’ve also included thoughts on each cafe’s atmosphere as well as other interesting tidbits.

These locations don’t just sell coffee; they craft it. I hope I’ve shared a little bit of Brett’s passion, and my own, with you. And if I failed, a visit to any of these cafes can help you taste that passion.


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