2020 Coffee Bar of the Year: Dark Matter Coffee, Chicago

Trainer Cory Anderson (left) and manager Josephina Opsenica at Electric Mud, one of Dark Matter’s Chicago cafés.

Starting with its first location in 2007 in Star Lounge, a seminotorious dive bar on the border of Chicago’s Ukrainian Village, Dark Matter Coffee has always presented itself a little differently. This wasn’t exactly by design, but rather by evolution. “It’s an evolution of culture and experience collected from our lives here in Chicago,” says founder Jesse Diaz. “It’s not one person, one idea, or one project that makes up Dark Matter Coffee—it’s the collective efforts of our contributors, supporters, and team members.”

For Dark Matter, that’s always meant collaborations with Chicago’s service industry, musicians and artists, breweries and nonprofit groups. It results in projects like locally illustrated coffee bags and café murals, coffee beans cask-conditioned with spirits or incorporated into beers, and even consulting on Sip of Hope, a café owned and operated by Chicago nonprofit Hope for the Day, which engages in suicide prevention and mental health education.

Now with seven locations across the city, Dark Matter continues to grow in new directions. Last spring saw the opening of their Chocolate City Coffee Palace & Bodega, a production facility for all their cold coffee products, with a bodega- inspired shop selling drip and draft coffee plus collaborative products from hot sauce to ice cream bars. Their newest shop, Caravanserai, opened at the end of 2019 serving Mexican drinking chocolate sourced from La Rifa, their chocolate supplier in Mexico City. “We do it for fun, and I don’t mean that lightly,” says Kyle Hodges, Dark Matter’s “minister of propaganda.” “We’re constantly challenging ourselves because that’s what keeps things fun and elevates us internally and drives us forward as a company.”

While Dark Matter entertains the idea of growing beyond the Windy City, for now their aim is to focus on their community in Chicago, a goal illustrated by their annual block party, which attracts thousands of people and last year raised more than $31,000 for Hope for the Day. “Coffee is our medium, but it’s so much more than that,” says Hodges. “The community is built all around it; coffee is just the thing that connects everyone together.”


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