Sawada Coffee USA in the West Loop has the best latte in Chicago. The Military Latte is featured in Hiroshi Sawada’s first coffee shop outside Japan. It’s made with matcha, espresso, vanilla syrup, steamed milk and cocoa powder. We found the drink to be a gentle riot for the senses. The warm and earthy flavor of matcha contrasts with the rich roast from Metropolis Coffee. Peppered with cocoa, it’s a drink that made us smile.
Since winning the 2008 Free Pour Latte Art Championship, Hiroshi Sawada has been building the community around coffee and latte art worldwide. He opened his Streamer Coffee Company in Tokyo, partnered with Hario on coffee gear and Columbia Sportswear on shoes for baristas. He even published the books “Hiroshi’s Latte Art and Barista Style” and “Hiroshi Sawada’s Basic Barista Book: Basic Technique & 51 Recipes” to teach his techniques. Sawada is clearly invested in the coffee community.
The coffee shop came to Chicago as a direct result of Sawada’s investment in the community. Restaurateur Brendan Sodikoff visited his Streamer cafe in Tokyo and was impressed by the presentation and quality of the coffee. He invited Sawada to train his staff, which led to Sawada and Sodikoff collaborating to open his first cafe in the United States.
The shop itself is inconspicuous. We’d not have seen it, had we not been across the street at The Allis. Wheat paste signs and street art for Green Street Smoked Meats caught our eye. We approached cautiously, looking for the coffee shop but seeing only warehouses. Walking toward the restaurant we passed patrons eating lunch at rows of community tables. We didn’t know what to expect. Curious photos of the Military Latte on Yelp gave us an idea, but we anticipated little more than a cup of coffee. We were pleasantly surprised.
Nestled in the back of the cavernous warehouse of Green Street Smoked Meats, the cafe sits on a platform that used to be the storage area in the back of the restaurant. Loud music played across the dimly lit warehouse floor. Hundreds of individual lights lit the space. Walking from the front door to the cafe was like watching the stars flicker above a campfire while a band plays outdoors. The atmosphere was welcoming and intense.
We walked hesitantly through the restaurant. Signs clearly indicated how to order food, but gave few hints on how to find coffee. We made our way to the back of the restaurant and slowly left the loud music behind. Windows facing Green Street bathed us with afternoon light and we knew we’d found our place. Less than a half dozen people were in the cafe. The warm vibe and open space was a welcome relief from the crush of downtown Chicago.
Sawada Coffee USA is a small space on a nondescript block. The Green Street section of the West Loop with its warehouses converted to hotels, restaurants, and shops makes it feel like many post-industrial areas in the United States. Areas that have been struggling to redefine community and purpose for generations.
The coffee shop faces the street, but still sits in the back of the restaurant. As a result, it feels casual to be part of the restaurant, to be in the cafe, or look out onto the street. You can look out onto the warehouse floor, or have your own space by the window. We saw friends visit for a cup of coffee while others worked nearby. There was a vibrant energy of possibility and community on Green Street. It feels like the West Loop is going through a transformation from warehouses to a caring community.
You can feel this shift in cities across America. It’s a movement for our generation to make a place that we can call home. At Sawada Coffee USA, the ping-ping table with polished wood cover invites friends to visit. Industrial power cables hang from the ceiling and support those that want to work. The pinball machine, skateboards, custom coffee gear, and space — all that space — invites you to do and to be. It’s a place you’re welcome to call home.
Spend some time in the West Loop of Chicago to see how the city is changing and get a hint of how the world is changing too. Go to Sawada Coffee and try the coffee. Be a part of this community.
About the authors:
Louis Rawlins and Jenny Zhou live in San Francisco, California and seek to share the best in food, coffee and culture.
Sawada Coffee: Au Cheval’s Brendan Sodikoff opens coffee shop with Japanese latte artist
World Latte Art Champ Hiroshi Sawada Swirls Into Chicago
Hiroshi’s Latte Art and Barista Style
Hiroshi Sawada’s Basic Barista Book: Basic Technique & 51 Recipes