A Metropolis Roaster’s-Eye View on Brazil

Metropolis Head Roaster, Ben Crowell, just returned from an origin trip to Brazil. Here are some of his reflections on his journey.

Last month, I was fortunate enough to spend some time traveling through Brazil, the world’s largest coffee producing nation.  We at Metropolis utilize coffees from Brazil as the base of our Redline espresso as well as bring you single origin offerings from several of the farms I visited, such as the Recreio Estate, Fazenda Rainha, and Sertaozinho, to name a few.  My group visited farms (ranging from small to large), labs, and processing facilities in three different regions; Espirito Santo, Pocos de Caldas, and Carmo de Minas. We cupped new crop coffees with our friends at Bourbon Specialty and Carmo Coffees, witnessed the harvest in action in different locations, and learned a lot about natural and pulp natural processing, seeing interesting variations on technique from location to location. Brazil is a tremendous country, filled with wonderful people, culture, food, and natural beauty, and will always be a very memorable first origin trip.

Please enjoy some of the photos from my journey!

A Caffeinated Proposal

Metropolis would like to introduce you to Lindsey and Luigi, two Café regulars who have a special story we’d like to share.

Lindsey and Luigi met while studying at Loyola University’s nursing program. For them, studying at Metropolis (just a few blocks south of Loyola’s Lakeshore Campus) was a little more comfortable than in the library, plus they both liked coffee. Thus, doing homework at the Café together became a pleasant habit.

That was four years ago. Today, despite Lindsay and Luigi having moved out of the neighborhood, Metropolis remains a favorite location to them because of its importance as one of the key spaces where their relationship developed.

Luigi recently proposed to Lindsey at the lakefront (she said “yes!”) and afterward they came to celebrate with a cup of coffee at the Café.  Because of the centrality of Metropolis Coffee as a backdrop for the development of their relationship, Lindsey and Luigi recently contacted us to provide coffee as a wedding favor for their guests (we said “yes!”).

Lindsey and Luigi are getting married this summer on August 31st, and, it seems, fittingly, Metropolis Coffee will be present at the ceremony.

Congratulations, Lindsey and Luigi! We’re so glad glad we can maybe take a little bit of credit for the happy and successful life you all will have together!

Book Signing with Viki Noe on Thursday (5/16)

Viki Noe has been coming to Metropolis since we opened our doors. Her daughter, a former student at Sacred Heart Academy, was the first of our “featured artists” at the Café. Needless to say, Viki is a friendly, familiar face to us – one of our “regulars,” who we look forward to seeing. We’re happy to announce that this Thursday, 5/16, Viki will be having a book signing at the Café. It’s an important series that she’s started writing while sipping tea at the coffeehouse.
In 2006, Viki and her friend Delle were relaxing at Metropolis after dropping their daughters off at Sacred Heart. Delle was in remission from ovarian cancer at the time. Over tea, Viki told Delle that she had an idea for a book, about people grieving the death of a friend. Viki had never written a book before, but Delle was very excited by the idea and encouraged Viki to pursue the writing project. Viki promised her friend that she’d work on the project.

Delle died that November. Viki knew she wanted to keep her promise to write, but, at first, she just couldn’t do it. Then, about 4 years ago, Viki literally woke up one morning with the book all there in her mind. She went to work.

The first book in the series of six, Friend Grief and Anger: When Your Friend Dies and No One Gives a Damn, was released this last March. It is dedicated to Delle. The second book, Friend Grief and AIDS: Thirty Years of Burying Our Friends, grew from an article Viki wrote for Windy City Times about her work in the AIDS community in the late 80s/early 90s and was just recently released.

Viki feels like she’s still keeping her promise to Delle. She is continuing to research and write the remaining four books in the series. She does a lot of her work at Metropolis, despite it being out of the way, now that her daughter has graduated from Sacred Heart. For Viki, Metropolis provides a supportive community, good tea, and “killer cupcakes” from Maddiebird Bakery, all conducive to her creative process. We’re proud to be a part of that process; for us, that’s what a coffeehouse is all about.

On Thursday, Viki will be at the Cafe signing the first two books in the series. Because of the connection of Viki’s work and Metropolis, she felt that “there was no other place more appropriate” to do the signing. Stop by at 6:30 Thursday, May 16, to meet our friend Viki and pick up one of these very special books.

Viki’s books are also available at Women and Children First Bookstore in Andersonville, on her own website, or Amazon.

Nitecap Coffee Bar Brings Metropolis to Pilsen

I recently had the pleasure of stopping into Nitecap Coffee Bar, a new spot in Pilsen serving Metropolis coffee just steps off of the 18th St. Pink Line.

Aaron Marsh, the owner, was able to take some time out from the kitchen to give me the low-down on this new community spot. Nitecap doesn’t just have great coffee in common with Metropolis; we share the values of providing a welcoming space for community building, offering quality food to compliment coffee, and a commitment to doing these things in a sustainable way.

Nitecap just soft-opened in March, offering coffee, espresso, in-house baked goods and sandwiches, and vegan options. They’ve welcomed community events from poetry slams to full-moon drum circles in the space. Being a gathering place for Pilsen residents is important to Aaron, who, himself, is a neighborhood guy.

He found himself often traveling up to Wicker Park and Bucktown search of good, locally-roasted coffee. When the opportunity to take over the 18th St. space and open a place in his own beloved neighborhood, he jumped on it, and so Nitecap Coffee Bar came into being.

The interior of the coffee bar is inviting, with ample seating, free wifi, and whimsical murals on the wall inspired by Maurice Sendak and the vintage comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland. Candies you’ll remember from childhood accompany the specialty drinks. Nitecap seeks to create an environment
evoking the whimsy of cartoons. They’ve definitely succeeded.

The pastry case is a sight to see. Delectable cupcakes are delivered from neighboring Skinnie Piggy (www.skinniepiggy.com), but almost everything else is made on-site, including the house chocolate and all the flavored syrups at the espresso bar. Vegans can rejoice that about a third of the sandwich menu and many of the sides are vegan-friendly!

Aaron’s got big plans for the future. He’d like to expand the food offerings to eventually include brunch. There are also plans to keep Nitecap open later hours and host more evening  events. There is already a monthly poetry night sponsored by a woman from the community; Aaron would like to see even more guest artists and an open night for music in the space (consequently, if you’re interested him being involved organizing the open mic night, get in touch with him!). Nitecap is working toward green certification due to a commitment to sustainability. They’re already using fully bio-degradable, plant-based cleaning solutions and energy efficient lighting. That’s good not just for the neighborhood, but the whole planet.

Nitecap Coffee Bar is planning its grand opening for sometime in the near future, or just stop by next time you’re in Pilsen– they’re about good things over there!

Origin Trip 2013 (Part 2 of 2) Trip Report


Sean’s trip last month to Guatemala and El Salvador led him to several farms. Here’s a short profile on each location and some videos of their processes!


Santa Ana de la Huerta

Pulping channels at Santa Ana

Country: Guatemala

City: El Progreso

Region: Sierra de Las Minas

Altitude: 1,370 to 1,820 metres above sea level

Variety: Bourbon, Caturra, Catimor

Processing: Fully washed and patio dried

Owner: Rony Asencio



Santa Paula

Santa Paula


  Country: Guatemala

  Region: Alto Verapaz, Coban

  City: San Pedro Carcha

  Altitude: 1,375 metres above sea level

  Variety: Caturra, Catuai, Catimor, San Francisco

  Processing: Fully washed

  Owner: Rony Asensio, Oscar and Christian Schaps


Finca Culpan

Finca Culpan

Country: Guatemala

City: Columba Quetzaltenango

Region: San Marcos

Altitude: 1,200-1,300 metres above sea level

Variety: Caturra, Catuai, Bourbon

Processing: Washed and sun-dried

Owner: Roberto Toledo


Pacas Family (various farms)


  Country: El Salvador

  Region: Canton Lomas de San Marcelino

  Town: Santa Ana

  Altitude: 1300-1600m above sea level

  Variety:  Red Bourbon, Pacas

  Processes: Washed, Semi Washed, Natural

  Owner: Pacas Family



Finca La Fany

Finca La Fany

Country: El Salvador

Region: Ahuachapán, Apaneca Ilamatepec Mountain Range

Altitude: 1,400-1,600 metres above sea level

Variety: Red Bourbon, Pacamara, Pacas

Processes: Washed, Semi-Washed, Natural

Owner: Luis,Rafael and Carmen Da Silva



El Carmen Estate

El Carmen Estate


  Country: El Salvador

  Region: Apaneca-Llamatepec

  City: Ataco

  Altitude: 1,300 metres above sea level

  Variety: 100% Bourbon

  Process: Fully Washed and dried on patio

  Owner: Alfaro Family




Origin Trip 2013 (Part 1 of 2): Sean Talks Roya


I really didn’t know what to expect when I first arrived in Guatemala a couple weeks back. Much of the attention of the producers is primarily focused on the growing epidemic of ‘coffee leaf rust’ or simply ‘Roya’. Roya is a fungus that develops at the bottom of the coffee tree leaves and transforms the color of the leaves.

Coffee leaf rust at the El Carmen Estate

The fungus attaches itself to the bottom of the leaf and enters the plant through the stomata, blocking the exchange of gases and causing the leaves of the coffee trees to fall off shortly afterward. We all remember from biology class that without leaves, photosynthesis does not occur, and no photosynthesis means no new production. Roya fungus is always present, but producers are now dealing with an unprecedented epidemic. The causes of this epidemic are large and complex … and this may only be the tip of the iceberg.


Since the mid-80s in Guatemala, much of the coffee production has shifted from the large producer to a diversity of more small producers.  The statistics I was given were that 20 years ago, 20% of the coffee producers produced roughly 80% of the coffee in Guatemala.  Since then, there has been inverse shift to 80% of the coffee coming from smaller producers.  I just want to go on the record saying that I do not have any concrete data for those figures, but these were numbers I got from two different exporters.  So what does this mean?  Much of the small producers simply do not have the resources to fight against Roya.  There are copper-based fungicides and other chemicals (‘alta-diez’ and ‘alta-cien’) which help fight the rust problem; often too costly for smaller producers.  I speculate that governments in Central America will start subsidizing fungicides for smaller producers.

So what’s going to happen now?

Producers simply have two choices: 1. They can take a hit from this year’s harvest (and presumably next harvest, too) and formulate a crop diversification plan. Or 2.  They can plant sub-par varieties (such as Castillo, Sachimor, Catimor, etc.) and drive down the cup quality, while maintaining production numbers.  With the market fluctuating like it has been, this can be a very difficult decision. I spoke with a number of our producers that have decided against planting lower quality producing coffee trees. Larger producers will (and should) start diversifying their crops. Better yielding plants, such as rubber, macadamia nuts, and sugar cane will eventually start replacing lower grown coffee. These crops can help fight against the devastation of coffee leaf rust and stabilize the ever-changing commodity market.

How does this affect our customers?

Coffee production is going to drop significantly. That is an undeniable fact. What we will end up seeing is higher prices in the form of price differentials, not so much from the commodity market. However, I don’t think we will see a significant drop in cup quality. The producers that we work with are all committed to their products; as is Metropolis. Despite the destruction caused by Roya, I’m confident that it will be an excellent season for Central American coffees!

For More Information:

For further exploration into Roya, Emma Bladyka (Science Manager of the SCAA) has written a great little piece about the history and science of the fungus.




“Gallery Life” Exhibition at Cafe … NOW!


Gallery Life

Photography by Tom Callahan and Rene Marban

Metropolis Cafe, March 10 – April 15, 2013


Gallery Life Exhibition Video


Come see this exciting photography exhibition at the Cafe, now through April 15th.  Want to see more? Photoblog

To contact the artists:

ReneMarban@yahoo and/or



Coffee and Roller Derby Haiku Contest

Thanks to all our Facebook friends who participated in our little impromptu haiku contest in honor of T.S. Helliot, Metropolis’ own Windy City Roller!

We loved all the submissions we received, so narrowing it down to a top three was a tough job.

Here’s what our resident poets came up with:

Colin –

Roller derby is:

Brown liquid filled with caffeine.

Oh wait, that’s coffee

Liesl –

Hot stuff Helliot

Rolling wonder — smash, boom, bash!

Goes great with caffeine!

Lucius –

Matchless pulchritude:

Bewaye Yirgacheffe

incites transcendence

You all are awesome!

Cafe Music Schedule March 2013 – May 2013


Hey Metropolites! Here is our music schedule for the next few months. Easy rule of thumb: 2nd and 4th Wednesdays, there will be a performance! We hope you’ll come a join us support these local musicians!

March 2013:

Mark B. Owen

March 13, 6pm – 7pm



Sandy Andina

March 27, 6pm – 7pm




April 2013


April 10, 6pm – 7pm



Open Mic Night

April 24, 6pm – 7pm

Look for details and sign up information near the end of March!



 May 2013

Eric Quigley

May 8, 6pm – 7pm



Brady Wells

May 22, 6pm – 7pm

Return Performance!!!

Barista Art at Metropolis in February!

This week we asked Metropolis Cafe Art Director, Chelsea, to share some thoughts on the Cafe art program and to give us a sneak-peek on the barista art show coming to the walls of Metropolis next month!

Upon receiving the position of Art Director of the cafe, I was unsure that I was the woman for the job. Would I do the previous art director justice? Would I have the right “eye” for creating the atmosphere that our customers have grown to love? I soon realized that the work would fall into place, considering I was surrounded by some serious talent — not only in the Edgewater community, but within our very own cafe!

I knew right away that I wanted to put together a show consisting of my fellow co-workers’ various disciplines. Metropolis Cafe is home to not only talented latte artists, but also photographers, illustrators, writers, musicians, and one collage artist. I am excited to share with our customers the Cafe staff’s backgrounds in art, language, and music through this exhibition!

The Edgewater community is so diverse and special, and I consider Metropolis to be the hub that keeps us moving, growing, and continually inspired. So come see what makes your beloved baristas tick, and therefore, what makes this Cafe so unique!

The Metropolis Employee Showcase will be up from February 6th to March 10th. There will also be a night of music and readings provided by our musicians and writers, as an extension of our showcase. Be on the lookout for a date, to be announced soon!





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