CHICAGO (WLS) --Coffee is much more than just a bean. There's one coffee roaster in Chicago putting as much emphasis on the roasting process, as it does on sourcing great beans. And the only place to find it is in some of Chicago's better restaurants.
Inside their West Loop neighborhood warehouse, the guys at Sparrow Coffee are getting ready to roast.
"Coffee is the most complex beverage known to humanity. It has 850 flavor-related components; twice as much as red wine," said Sparrow Owner Chris Chacko. "So when you're looking at a coffee bean, only 100 of what is actually in a green coffee bean is being unchanged. The other 750 are created in the roasting process. How that's developed, is really up to the roaster."
After about 10 minutes, with Chacko constantly checking the progress of the beans, it's time to cool them off. The coffee is then analyzed or "cupped" by pouring hot water over and into it, letting it steep for four minutes.
"We created a crust; all of the aromatics are kind of hidden underneath this layer of crust, and Steve you're going to be breaking the crust," he told me.
After a deep sniff and precisely three stirs, the aromatics reveal themselves.
"One of the reasons we do this now, not only to see what potential the coffee has at a light roast, but also to see if a coffee has some inherent defects," said Chacko, who then removes the crust, for some serious tasting.
The key is to inhale quickly, aerating the coffee.
"The idea is, how much consistency is there, is there sweetness, is there any variation," said Chacko.
Sparrow only sells to restaurants, and typically, only ones they choose, based on the chef's commitment to quality. Boeufhaus, in Ukrainian Village, is one example. Here, Sparrow runs the entire coffee program, and even though the restaurant is primarily a steakhouse, their desserts require a special pairing at the end of the meal.
"We always try to make sure that anything we're serving for dessert will pair well with either an espresso or coffee or a latte or whatever the guest will want," said Boeufhaus co-owner Brian Ahern.
One of the things I learned after a day of cupping and tasting is that you've got high quality beans and expert roasting, and there is so much flavor in this coffee that...cream and sugar? That's for somebody else.
1012 N. Western Ave., Chicago
EXTRA COURSE: Behind the counter at Sparrow and the "pour over" coffee method