Chicago: Kopi Cafe

Kopi was a Chicago must-see I almost forgot about. Every once in a while I would remember there was a traveler’s cafe I wanted to visit, but couldn’t remember the name, and then it would slip my mind again into the ether of adulthood.

Then, a few Saturdays back, I was having an uneventful night. One of my roommates was on a date and the other had just gotten home. I asked her if she had any plans. She said she was going to a cafe to write and asked if I wanted to join. It sounded like a fantastic way to spend a relaxed Saturday, so I asked what cafe she had in mind.

That was when the stars aligned and she said Kopi. The name clicked and I agreed to join her. We arrived around 7:30 PM and it was cozily busy. There were tables available around us, but I could tell this place was a favorite of many.

Outside of a typical cafe menu, Kopi also has a drink menu that enticed both myself and my roommate. While flipping through the drinks, I stumbled upon their “We Might Recommend…” section. They had fun spin-offs of classics like the Mayan Jig– a twist on an Irish coffee made with Mexican Hot Chocolate instead of its caffeinated cousin.


Then I saw it. Tea and Whiskey. It was so simply unassuming. So easy to overlook. In my gut, I feel like most people would flit right past it. But there’s a line from blues artist Tom Waits that has stuck with me for most of my life that made me realize I needed to order this drink right now.

In Waits’s song, Black Market Baby he says the line, “she’s whiskey in a teacup.” I’ve always found that so relatable. On the outside I feel like I come off as a fairly put-together, quiet, and often self-deprecating person. Once I open up more I find that my fire and drive become more noticeable, like whiskey in a teacup.

This was every inch and essence of me put on a drink menu.

You have your choice of a smokey Oolong or a Jasmine loose leaf (I tried the smokey Oolong), served with a shot of bourbon on the side. And God, is it presented in the best way possible. You get your own personal teapot that holds about two cups of tea and the bourbon is served in a steel syrup server, like the ones you find at classic American diners when you order a plate of pancakes. An empty teacup awaits for you to mix your tea and whiskey however you choose.

I tasted the tea on its own first to get an idea of the flavor profile. Honestly, I was shocked by the amount of smoke in the tea’s flavor. It was very similar to the smokiness found in scotch, so I had a feeling the sweetness of the bourbon would mellow out the flavor and create a perfect blend. Luckily, I was right.

My roommate went with a craft of white wine, her beverage doppelgänger. As we enjoyed our drinks and wrote, I took in Kopi’s ascetic. We were surrounded by an army of memories hidden away in trinkets any traveler might collect on an adventure to the Middle East, Africa, or Asia. The walls were painted a mustard gold with the top forth a rustier red.

There was a globe that was transformed into a light fixture. The music as eclectic as the decor, jumped from the Beatles to Italian street music. Our table was right next to a wall with five clocks on it. The times were set for Moscow, Goa, Yogyakarta, Rotorua, and Kyoto. The wall was also home to bookshelves filled with travel books. A majority of them were Lonely Planet books which made them ten times harder not to touch.

The back corner of the shop was a small boutique filled with quirky gifts you could get any eccentric traveler. The many baked goods in their bakery case ranged from gluten-free vegan decadencies to a chocolate-dipped macaroon I forced myself not to buy.

Part of me thinks I have found my personal Central Perk; a cafe I can call home with my regular order of tea and whiskey, sitting and writing my next poem or blog post, either by myself or with a friend. This feels like a place meant for retelling or recording stories. A safe haven for the inner or actual travel in all of us.

I love this place.







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