There’s something incredibly calming about working in coffee shops. Whenever I have endless work to do, I find that I work best in an environment that’s different from my house. Something about coffee shops clam me, allow me to focus, and give me the perseverance I need to be productive. I’m not an avid coffee drinker, but I do, of course, enjoy grabbing a cappuccino and a scone before proceeding to crank out my work.
I love finding the small, local “gems” that are cozy, authentic, and happy. Although there’s a Starbucks close by, I much prefer finding new shops, ones that seem cool or have been recommended to me. Coffee shops can be chaotic, and thus their appreciation does not hold true to everyone. They can often be described as noisy, distracting, busy, and, of course, bustling with people, as baristas struggle to get in countless orders to grumpy & hurried customers.
It quite honestly seems paradoxical to me that this environment would suit me best, as a prepared, ordered person myself. Perhaps there lies a sense of community, here, as it’s easy to see manifold people working hard. Background noise helps as well; for some, it aids in concentration. There’s also accountability apparent in traveling to a public place to get your work done—you lead yourself to a certain place to achieve a specific purpose. Another factor is the anonymity of being somewhere you aren’t known, which [I must say] is surprisingly soothing.
Something is fascinating about designating various locations for different “sections” of your life. My home is associated with relaxation, leisure, unwinding. School is for learning; car is for driving; restaurants are for eating & talking. Perhaps I need a different atmosphere for my own productivity. All of this is vastly different from the technology we’re accustomed to today.
To illustrate, my iPhone is equivalent to my camera, alarm clock, calculator, weather radar, calendar, music, contacts, map, GPS, and countless more utilities used on a daily basis. Not to mention it’s also where I call, text, email, order an Uber, Shazam a song, and request a book from the library. Our phones do not separate the different “branches” of our lives, nor do our laptops or iPads. I’m not arguing this is a bad thing—I’m well aware of the incredible convenience this brings to my life! It is pretty darn miraculous that all those utilities are available in a three-by-five inch space.
Lastly, it doesn’t seem efficient for me to drive however long to a location just to get my work done, work that could be done at home. I do understand this, but I guess it depends on how we define efficient; it isn’t always about what requires the least amount of time. For example, the dictionary is “achieving the maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort and expense,” and if this location brings me the maximum focus and productivity, then perhaps it is what is most efficient.
I’m rambling now, yes, so let’s move on! Below are my favorite coffee shops, all north of Chicago. There are countless more shops I have yet to experience, but here are a few of my “staples” around the area.
Best Coffee Shops North of Chicago
Backlot Coffee (Old Irving Park and Evanston)
Backlot is undoubtedly a favorite. It offers & provides a vibrant and dedicated community. I associate their shallow yet wide cappuccino mugs with comfort, and I cannot even begin to count the amount of times I order their delicious “vegan breakfast scone,” no matter the time of day. Tag’s Bakery is next door if they’re out of bakery items, which tends to happen toward the end of the day and/or week. Backlot is also the only place I have seen that offers oat milk (as well as soy and almond), if you are looking for a non-dairy milk. The Evanston locations hours are 6:30AM-6PM (opening 7AM on Saturdays & Sundays) and Chicago location hours are 6AM-5PM (opening 7AM on weekends and closing at 6PM in the summer).
Sol Cafe (Roger’s Park)
Sol Cafe is the mix of a coffee shop and a cafe, as they offer pasties, warm drinks, and healthy & delicious meals. I love their “Apple Bottom Jeans” seasonal drink, Cinnamon Crunch old-fashioned doughnut, and Rice ’N Beans bowl. All of these can be served to-go, if you’re in a hurry. Sol is warm and welcoming. Similar to Backlot, parking is street-parking (and free on Sundays). Hours are 7AM-7PM (closing at 6PM on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays).
Dollop Coffee (Evanston)
Dollop is the coffee counterpart of the Hoosier Mama Pie Company, which offers delicious & unique pies that are baked right there in-store. You honestly cannot go wrong with what flavor pie you choose! Dollop also offers lunch items, just like Sol Cafe, and my favorite is their “Beatnik” sandwich. Again, street-parking is available, as well as a parking lot down the street. Their hours are 6:30AM-9PM on weekdays, closing at 10PM on Fridays & Saturdays, and opening at 7AM and 8AM on Saturday & Sunday respectively.
Cupitol (River East and Evanston)
Cupitol describes itself as an “All Day Lounge,” serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They are bustling with people and offer coffee, tea, juices, and bakery items, as well as savory plates. Don’t be shy to stay here to enjoy a meal or grab some coffee to crank out desk work. In the fall, be sure to order their pumpkin spice scone (with a chai latte, of course). Parking is street-parking, and Cupitol is open 7AM-9PM (10PM on Fridays & Saturdays).
“I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.”
—T. S. Eliot
Other Places I Like:
- Three Tarts (Northfield)
- Peet’s (Winnetka)
- Coffee Speaks (Highland Park)
- Reprise Coffee Roasters (Winnetka)