Whether headed to the office or coming into town for a day of sightseeing, most Chicagoans get by with a cup, or five, of coffee. With temperatures this summer regularly reaching 90 degrees, it’s definitely iced coffee season. However, if you’re in the River North area, your options are pretty limited to the usual chains serving overpriced, watered-down brown liquid.
Fortunately, you don’t have to jump in the river to stay cool this summer. Caffè Umbria at 346 N. Clark St. has unveiled a full line of cold summer beverages to help you beat the heat.
From Italy to Seattle to Chicago
Caffè Umbria’s founder Emanuele Bizzarri is a third generation Italian roaster; his grandfather first opened a roastery in Perugia, Italy in the 1940s. When the family migrated to Seattle, Bizzarri introduced classic Italian espresso and coffee to the West Coast with Caffè Umbria. They now have three locations on the West Coast, sell their own coffee blends throughout North American, and most recently opened their first Midwest location in Chicago in late 2015.
Formerly a Crumbs Bake Shop, Caffè Umbria is a small coffee shop that’s filled with natural light. Décor is minimal and unpretentious, but classic and sophisticated, which adequately matches their drinks. At Caffè Umbria it’s about the preparation, presentation, and the flavor of the beans, not pumping in a bunch of squirts of mystery juice to boost the flavor.
Though small, they’re well staffed to handle the morning rush or big groups quite quickly. You also find that in comparison to the neighborhood coffee shop you’re afraid to go into because the barista might yell at you, the staff is friendly and welcoming. Some of the drink names may be unfamiliar, but don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Cold Brew Coffee
An iced coffee is coffee that’s brewed hot and then cooled down with a bunch of ice. That process makes it more acidic and bitter, which some people prefer, but also means it’s going to be more watered down and less caffeinated. In contrast, the cold brew coffee at Caffè Umbria is never heated and made using a Yama Tower—a mad scientist-looking device where ice water slowly drips through coffee grounds.
Compared to an iced coffee, what you’re going to drink at Caffè Umbria is sweeter and a little easier on the stomach. The body is incredibly smooth and almost like drinking a fine scotch. There’s none of that graininess that comes with iced coffee and it’s not bitter at all.
While popular in Italy, an espresso shakerato is virtually unknown in the United States. A very minimal drink, espresso is poured over ice cubes and simple syrup and shaken until cold and a little frothy. The end result is this very flavorful, rich, and refreshing beverage meant for sipping, but I enjoyed it so much that it was gone almost instantly. With the cold temperature, the frothy head, and the thicker body, it almost tastes like drinking a stout.
Just as good as the drink is the presentation. The shakerato is served in a shaker glass with a ring of sugar around the brim. I almost didn’t want to touch it, the shakerato was so attractive.
Even prettier is the cappuccino freddo: cold cappuccino topped with a large layer of milky foam. Tasting like a rich chocolate hazelnut cloud, this Nutella-like beverage is quite decadent, but the creamy lightness of the foam helps to balance it out. This is more like a dessert drink and best paired with a pastry (more on that later).
Espresso and Grapefruit Granitas
For those days where you really need to cool off, try a granita. These are semi-frozen, sugary, and sweet drinks with a coarser texture that’s icier than an Italian ice, but not as crunchy as a flavored shaved ice. The espresso granita is sweet and strong, while the tartness of the grapefruit granita helps temper the sweetness (the latter is your best bet here if you’re not a coffee fan). Both of which are extremely refreshing drinks and perfect for walking around and exploring Chicago.
Pastries from Floriole Bakery
At coffee shops, the pastries and baked goods available are an afterthought; however, for many people, their breakfast is that scone or croissant they buy. Fortunately, Caffè Umbria has found a great partner in Chicago’s Floriole Bakery (1220 W. Webster Ave.).
On the day of my visit, there were typical coffee shop pastries like an almond croissant, along with some more unusual items. There was buckwheat scone made of fine wheat grains topped with jelly, a hot pepper scone, and unique twist on a ham and cheese croissant where a thin layer of ham surrounded by cheese was baked into a croissant topped with sesame seeds. Whether you have a sweet tooth or want a savory breakfast, there should be a pastry for you at Caffè Umbria.
For downtown workers, Caffè Umbria is a wonderful alternative to the all of the Starbucks and other coffee chains. It’s easily accessible, they have great drinks, tasty pastries, and there’s a rewards card, too. For anyone visiting our city from out of town or from the suburbs, Caffè Umbria’s location in the heart of the downtown makes it easy to stay cool and alert as you explore the city or casually stroll the Riverwalk. No matter who you are, though, Caffè Umbria is the place to stay cool this summer.
N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: (312) 877-5166
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