My friend Jimmy McFarland (the former G.M. at Vie Restaurant) recently got in touch to let me know that he'd taken a new position with Sparrow Coffee Roastery on W. Lake Street. His casual tone suggested that I must already know of it but having been off caffeine for more than 5 years, I didn't. Jimmy explained a little bit about Sparrow and its founder, Chris Chacko, who, he said, was something of a visionary with a passionate obsession for roasting coffee -- and who had been honing his craft for nearly 3 decades. According to Jimmy, Chris Chacko takes a distinctive, chef-like approach to the roasting and blending of coffee. I'll admit that I was intrigued.
Currently, Sparrow Coffee Roastery is strictly foodservice (retail operations are part of future expansion plans). They specialize in working directly with chefs to develop customized roasts and blends for their restaurants. They also provide equipment, and service the equipment, as well. They currently sell to mostly white tablecloth eateries but will happily take on any business where the chef or owner views coffee as an important culinary component. They boast an impressive roster of nearly 90 restaurants (several listed at their website, which is linked below).
As we finished our phone call, Jimmy offered that if I ever wanted to come down for a visit, he'd be happy to show me around the operation. Flash forward a few weeks and I was heading over to Sparrow to check it out and maybe . . . even drink some coffee!
On this particular day, Nathan Sears and Adam Hebert, owners of D.A.S. and The Radler (with whom I am minor investor) were scheduled to come in and work with Chris Chacko to develop the coffees they will eventually use at their restaurant. Happily, they agreed to let me tag along.Sparrow Coffee RoasteryChris Chacko
The man behind Sparrow Coffee Roastery.Loring Smart Roast
This extremely sophisticated piece of coffee-roasting equipment is the engine that powers Sparrow. I think Chris told me that there are only three such machines in the Midwest.Loring Smart RoastAdam Hebert, Jimmy McFarland, Nathan Sears and Chris Chacko (left to right)
Chris explains a bit about what distinguishes both the Loring, and his process.Loring Smart Roast
Another view.Loring Smart Roast
From what I remember being told, the vortex-shaped chamber is where the heat source is housed.Loring Smart Roast
Chris explains that the uniquely designed Loring separates the chaff from the beans before they are fully roasted, which creates a much purer-tasting roast -- and allows a lot more control over the flavor of the roasted beans.Chaff
This is the chaff that is separated from the coffee beans during the roasting process.Control Panel
Here, Chris demonstrates how he configures a roast.Control Panel
Manual mode is just one of several the Loring performs.Raw Stock
Sparrow uses beans from a wide variety of origins.Raw Beans from El SalvadorRaw Beans from El SalvadorRoasted Beans
These beans were roasted before our arrival.Roasted Beans
According to Chris, the roasted beans reach their peak about 7-10 days after being roasted.The Cupping
We all sat down for the cupping (aka tasting), which started with several single-origin coffees roasted to a variety of different darknesses. We started by tasting each coffee black. Then we tried them with sugar, and finally, with cream and sugar. Chris emphasized the importance of trying them all these ways because it's important to taste the coffees in the same way that the eventual restaurant guests will be tasting them. In the end, though, I really preferred it black.Ben Prepares Coffee for the Cupping
There's a real art to preparing these coffees so that they are truly representative of the beans and the roasting method.Ben Prepares Coffee for the Cupping
A small amount of the hot water (160 F, iirc) is poured in first to make sure that all the grounds get wet. After that, the remainder of the water is poured in, until the correct weight is reached.Beading up
When the first coffee drips through the filter, it beads up and bounces a bit, which was visually stunning.Coffee, cupped
After we tasted about 6 different coffees, Nathan was able to identify the attributes of each of the coffees he liked. He and Chris chatted a bit and Chris then guided Ben on creating a few different blends, one after another. We tasted those blends in succession, with Nathan eventually honing in on one that met the exact flavor profile he was seeking. We all liked it quite a bit. Espresso
This an espresso that we all tried. I thought it was sensational but by now, after 5+ years without caffeine, I was, to put it mildly, fairly hopped up!
After this, we tried a decaf and a decaffeinated espresso. Both were very tasty, given the difficult parameters.Adam, Chris and Nathan
I'm pretty sure they were laughing at how ridiculously wired I was. Jimmy McFarland and Chris Chacko
=R=Sparrow Coffee Roastery
1201 W Lake Street
Chicago, IL 60607
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