At first glance, Pickwick Coffee Roasting Co. seems unreal. Tucked away on East Jackson Boulevard (22 E. Jackson Blvd.), the humble coffee house stands amid rumbling traffic and passing cars blaring their horns. Sandwiched between two towering buildings, a pathway nine feet wide leads to Pickwick. The shop is so deeply burrowed into the alleyway that it takes a watchful eye to even notice it.
Upon entry, I was surprised by the cafe’s delightful ambiance. The diminutive room is washed in warm lighting and features exposed brick walls. This minimalist setup reflects the building’s humble origins. Pickwick Place remained standing after the Great Chicago Fire and is known as one of the Loop’s oldest structures. The building is a breath of nostalgia and historical significance in a jungle of towering, modern skyscrapers dating back to as early as 1857.
Pickwick’s amenities consist of a counter and standing space for only three to four people, with just enough room for roasting machines and take-away service. The two workers behind the counter have mastered the craft of genuine service with efficient customer turnover, perfecting the grab-and-go coffee experience. While preparing the creations, the two baristas chatted with customers, discussing their favorite drinks and methods for achieving the best taste. After listening to the employees, it seemed that Pickwick’s initiative in the coffee world is well-defined. The company sticks to small-batch coffee roasting. By limiting batches to a quantity that lasts only two days, Pickwick’s method ensures a consistently fresh taste.
Although the shop offers a variety of fascinating flavors such as “Himalayan Matcha,” “Golden Spice Chai,” “Citrus Flower Latte” and “Coconut Milk Mocha,” I decided to go with a simple Cold Brew ($4). Ultimately, I was happy with my choice because I had the chance to truly experience the flavors of a stripped-down Pickwick coffee. My beverage was strong but not bitter. It had a round, earthy sweetness and was superior to any cold brew I have tasted before.
In addition to impressive beverages, Pickwick sells organic snacks, including oatmeal and quiche. I ordered a slice of pumpkin bread ($3.50), sealed in ready-to-go plastic packaging. The bread was excellent comfort food, and its sweet flavors complimented my strong cold brew.
Generally speaking, spending $4 on a small cup of coffee feels a bit wasteful to me. But the quality of my food and drink, the admirable customer service and the efficient preparation that went into it all made it a worthwhile purchase.
Before leaving Pickwick’s calm environment, I took a moment to sit in the coffee shop’s quiet outdoor seating. Just steps into the alleyway, I felt removed from the bustle of the city due to the pathway’s muffled acoustics. Pickwick provides an enclosed oasis from which to admire the city from. Full and caffeinated, I left thinking about when I could come back.
In a competitive city such as Chicago, which has a lively coffee scene, it’s a struggle for companies to stay afloat, let alone set themselves apart. Although Pickwick isn’t ideal for groups or studying, that’s precisely what’s so unique about it. The entire experience, from the hole-in-the-wall facade to the detailed inner-workings, is centered around the quality of the coffee. It’s safe to say that Pickwick’s understated themes of simplicity highlight a passion for thoughtfully cultivated coffee as an art.