Muscling in on Chicago's coffee scene
Big Shoulders is striking while the coffee is hot
White hot: Tim Coonan, owner of Big Shoulders Coffee in West Town, empties freshly roasted beans from the shop's in-house roaster. (Joel Wintermantle/Photo for the Tribune)
Coonan arrives on the coffee scene as many other small shops are choosing to roast their own beans, but he has long known the benefit of this practice. He learned about coffee roasting more than 20 years ago from Stephen Quigley at Partridge and Quigley, which was then in Indianapolis and has since moved to Bloomington, Ind.
Describing Quigley as "ahead of his time," Coonan says he was doing what many small coffee shops are doing now: building relationships with farmers. Coonan traveled with Quigley to Central and South America and learned firsthand what went into a good cup of coffee.
"I traveled with him, learned about coffee, roasted coffee, drank a lot of coffee," Coonan says. "So my first experiences with coffee were coffee at a very high level."
The time he invests in preparing Big Shoulders' beans, as well as each cup of coffee, results in rich, complex flavors from the earthy first sip to the slightly sweet finish.
Given his culinary background — he has worked for chefs in France, New York and Chicago, owned and operated restaurants in Michigan, and taught at Washburne Culinary Institute and the French Pastry School — Coonan doesn't understand why a shop wouldn't roast its own beans. He likened it to a restaurant buying pre-made food. Not to mention he likes the challenge.
"Of all the culinary stuff I've done, coffee is probably the most evil mistress I've ever had," he says. "It's a real challenge. There's so many opportunities to screw up coffee. Whether it be poor sourcing or poor storage or poor roasting or poor harvesting."
The Big Shoulders menu is reasonably priced with a fast-drip coffee costing $2, French press $3 and a slow drip from the Clever Coffee Dripper (a type of pour-over device) costing $4. For those who want to sit and stay awhile, Big Shoulders offers a bottomless cup at $2. For the home brewer, premium offerings change frequently (current offering: Burundi Kirimiro, about $11 for an 8-ounce bag).
And for the coffee aficionado who thinks they've tried it all, maybe Big Shoulders can interest you in its iced white coffee. This $4 concoction is a lightly sweetened double-strength bottled coffee. With its citrus and spice flavors as well as its portability, iced white coffee is turning into a favorite of morning commuters.
As well as coffee, Big Shoulders offers pastries from Alliance Bakery. Big Shoulder's beans are available at several locations around the city (see the shop's website), both by the bag and by the cup.
1105 W. Chicago Ave.; 6 a.m.-7p.m. Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday-Sunday; 312-888-3042; bigshoulderscoffee.