For lovers of coffee & the planet


Love for coffee runs deep.  For many, the treasured brew has seeped its way into an everyday part of life. Whether it’s a warm cup with the morning paper or a pick-me-up around 3, coffee keeps us going.  For many people coffee is more than a caffeine fix, it’s about the coffeehouse experience. Whether it’s to chat with friends, read the paper, people watch, study or clear your mind, coffeehouses exude a feeling of tranquility.  Many local coffeehouses are making efforts to be more environmentally friendly. As coffee drinkers, it’s up to us to learn more about sustainable coffee and support eco-minded establishments.


What is sustainable coffee?

Surprisingly, coffee is the second most traded commodity (value wise) after crude oil. Unfortunately, it has not always been produced in the most environmentally friendly and farmer fair way.   Luckily, meeting demand for quality coffee goes hand and hand with more sustainable production, and responsibly grown coffee has become much easier to access. However, all the various labels on coffee these days can be confusing.  Ethical Coffee offers a great explanation of some of these certification programs.  Here’s a quick review:


Bird Friendly The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (SMBC)’s certification demonstrates that coffee producers first meet organic certification requirements and then meet additional criteria to ensure they are maintaining the forest cover (shade) that provides critical habitat for birds and other wildlife.


Carbon Free   In effort to reduce their carbon footprint, some coffee businesses are partnering with to offset 100% of the global warming emissions associated with their coffee.  Third-party testing and certification is necessary to obtain the carbon neutral label.


Direct Trade   Using this method, coffee roasters and sellers deal directly with the farmers, instead of commodity brokers.  Through extensive communication and farm visits, buyers are more involved in the growing process and can set their own standards.   These direct relationships may improve fair trade and sustainability measures to ensure the highest quality of  beans.  This method has become popular with small batch artisan roasters.  However, without third party certification, consumers need to trust their coffee company.


Fair Trade Fair trade ensures that labor laws are in place to protect workers. This includes using sustainable agriculture practices, such as disposing of hazardous and organic wastes, maintaining buffer zones around bodies of water, minimizing water use and avoiding soil erosion while conserving the soil.  Requirements include minimum prices for coffee beans, minimum wages for workers, allowing workers to organize, and ensuring health and safety standards.


Rainforest Alliance    The Rainforest Alliance is dedicated to conserving biodiversity and promoting environmental sustainability.  For certification, coffee producers are required to meet criteria which include water conservation, sustainable farming methods, protection of forests and wildlife habitat, workers rights and community support.


Shade grown   When coffee is grown the traditional way, under a partial forest canopy (at least), it is considered to be “shade grown.”  The coffee beans take longer to mature but this can improve the richness in taste.  For more than 150 years, coffee was widely grown under the leafy canopy of native rain forest trees.  In the 1970s, millions of acres of trees were razed to plant cheaper and faster “sun” coffee beans (which rely on agrochemicals).  These monoculture farms produce more beans, but destroy wildlife habitat, accelerate soil erosion and pollute streams.  The loss of these shade trees has caused an estimated 20% decline in migratory bird populations.  To guarantee claims of shade grown coffee, look for SMBC Bird Friendly and Rainforest Alliance certification.


Swiss Water Decaf  Most decaffeination processes use chemical solvents to strip caffeine molecules from the green coffee bean.  Swiss Water Decaf uses only water and filters to remove 99.9% caffeine from the coffee beans, while maintaining the bean’s distinctive flavor characteristics. Look for this logo to be sure that no chemicals were used to decaffeinate your coffee.


USDA Organic Certified  Similar to organic food, coffee producers cannot use synthetic ingredients such as pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers while growing coffee.  Newer conventional coffee plantations tend to use a host of fertilizers and pesticides.  If coffee is labeled “organic,” at least 95% of the beans were grown under organic conditions. Not only is this better for our health, but it is better for our earth.


UTZ Certified Currently, nearly 50% of all certified sustainable coffee worldwide bares an UTZ label.   For certification, coffee farms and businesses must meet strict requirements on responsible agricultural practices and management, safe and healthy working conditions, no child labor and protection of the environment. UTZ can track and trace coffee from farm to store, so consumers can be sure that certified coffee was grown, harvested and processed sustainably.



More than the perfect cup

Planet take-out cups and lids are fully compostable within 90-120 days, shown here at Sweet Dreams Bakery in Glenview.

Beyond free wi-fi, a skilled barista, sublime pastries or a cozy nook, seek out coffee shops that…

  • serve sustainable coffee
  • roast beans on site or locally
  • incorporate organic, sustainably farmed food items
  • feature locally produced baked goods and menu items
  • provide reusable mugs and servingware, including water dispensers to replace plastic water bottles
  • use recycled/recyclable/compostable to-go cups, sleeves, sleeves and packaging
  • offer a discount if you bring in your own traveling mug
  • include recycling options on-site
  • include composting options on-site
  • located in eco-friendly space, ideally LEED certified
  • practice energy efficient and water saving practices


A lovely reuasable, organic dairy and recycling station at Ipsento in Bucktown.



Favorite local eco-minded coffee stops

From quirky to high brow, have fun discovering some of these local independent places for coffee. While we don’t rate the brew or service, we will spotlight a few sustainable efforts. Some are greener than others, and surely several great spots have been overlooked.


North Shore

Yes, you can get good coffee in the suburbs!  Some beans are even roasted on site.  Here are a few more eco-minded spots. **Check out cool pictures and green details at wren’s Pinterest page Green Coffee: North Shore.




Alchemy Coffee House (416 Linden Ave, Wilmette)  847-251-4334  This quaint coffeehouse is often packed. They roast their coffee beans on-site for ultimate freshness.  Bakery items are made on premises as well.




Blind Faith Cafe (525 Dempster St, Evanston)  This favorite breakfast and coffee spot happens to be guaranteed green by the Green Chicago Restaurant Coalition.  They brew Chicago roasted Passion House coffee, focused on organic and fair trade beans. Their bakery offers a wide selection of sugar free, vegan and gluten free breads, cakes and pastries.  The delicious vegetarian cuisine  also contributes to a more sustainable environment.



Brothers K (1549 Sherman Ave, Evanston)   The coffeehouse serves Chicago roasted Metropolis coffee.  Savory and sweet items are available from Evanston shops including Bennisons, Sugar & Spice, Blind Faith and Lucky Platter.  Bring in your own mug for a discount.  Also, they’ll give you leftover coffee grinds to perk up your compost or garden soil.


Cafe Fleurette (Elm St. Train Station, Winnetka) Enjoy a cup of locally roasted, direct trade Intelligentsia coffee at this authentic French boulangerie.  The amazing French pastries and bread made from eco-conscious, Chicago based La Fournette – cafe owner Rachel Beaudry from Glencoe warns they go fast!  Soon a counter and stools will be added to this tiny train station treasure.

Pour over coffee dripping into a beaker at the Coffee Lab.





Coffee Lab (922 Noyes Street, Evanston) Each cup of sustainably sourced, locally roasted Intelligentsia coffee is freshly ground and hand-poured for a single cup, slow drip. Organic loose leaf teas and chai are also available.  You can also grab a bite to eat sourced locally from Great Harvest in Evanston.  A sunny lounge full of laptops adjoins the sleek coffee bar area.  Notice the to-go coffee cups are made out of biodegradable corn, although recycling behind the counter may be out of sight.




Curt’s Cafe is a great place to dine with a purpose. Image thanks to Tracy Egan.

Curt’s Cafe (2922 Central Street, Evanston) Located in the former home of Casteel Coffee, enjoy a cup of fair trade Uncommon Grounds coffee, roasted in Saugatuck, Michigan.  Pastries, sandwiches, soups, and salads are made from scratch, with an emphasis on  using local products and vendors.  The adjoining large and cozy Living Room works great for community meetings, books clubs, knitting groups, etc and is available free of charge.  Beyond delicious treats and a comfortable space, Evanston owner Susan Trischman has incorporated a food service and life skills training program at the cafe for at-risk youth in Evanston.



Glencoe Roast (700 Vernon Ave, Glencoe)  Enjoy an artful latte by the fire in this comfy coffeehouse.  Owner Yolanda Kowalski focuses on supporting high quality, local businesses.  They serve Chicago-roasted Intelligentsia coffee and organic loose leaf teas.  All baked foodstuffs are sourced through local purveyors including Hotcakes  in Northbrook and Three Tarts in Northfield.  And although you may not see recycling bins, they recycle behind the scenes.




Hoosier Mama


Hoosier Mama Pie/Dollop (749 Chicago Ave, Evanston)  Amazing artisanal pie and Metropolis coffee now at Dollop Coffee Co. and Hoosier Mama Pie Co..







Link’s on-site coffee roaster. Image from





Link’s Sweet Bean (1141 Greenleaf Ave, Wilmette)   More than just a coffee bar, this is a woman-owned, micro-roastery of specialty coffee.  Owner Lourdes Link roasts small batches on-site, some beans are certified Fair Trade and Organic.  Her award winning coffee is also sold to specialty shops and restaurants.  The delicious baked goods are prepared daily on the premises by her sister Cory.    









Linz & Vail (2012 Central, Evanston  475-1381)  This cafe features Intelligentisa coffee, tea & chai.  Make It Better voted them as having one of the North Shore’s best baristas – Daniel.   They also serve soup, sandwiches, pastries from Bennisons in Evanston, bagels from New York Bagel and Bialys in Skokie and gelato made in house.  Recycling bins have been set up for customers and behind the counter, and they also provide used coffee grinds to customers for worm feed, compost or gardens.


Image from

Madame Zuzu’s Tea House

(582 Roger Williams Avenue, Ravinia/Highland Park) This brand new Chinese-style tea house is a hip addition to the North Shore.  Owners Billy Corgan, from the Smashing Pumpkins, and Sharon Norberg, owner of the organic wine shop across the street, hope the salon will become a community gathering place featuring local musicians, artists and speakers.  Enjoy an incredible selection of loose leaf tea (some organic) or a cup of pour-over Intelligentsia coffee. Pastries are supplied by the Bent Fork in Highwood. The eco-inspired, refurbished post office is filled with vintage art deco lighting and furnishings, a 1930s bar, and a Better Than Tin ceiling made from recycled water bottles (to improve acoustics for live music).




Newport Coffee House (1121 Half Day Road, Bannockburn)  This shop custom roasts small batches of beans on-site, offering a variety of organic and fair trade coffees. Pastries come from local businesses in Deerfield and Evanston.  Ask for a ceramic mug if you plan to stay for a while.



Image from



Perks Cafe  (601 Lake Cook Road, Deerfield)  This little coffee shop in the Metra station features locally roasted coffee from the Coffee & Tea Exchange.  They also try to source local foodstuff as much as possible – their pastries, granola, brownies all come from local purveyors, such as Little Miss Muffin in Chicago.



Sweet Dreams in Glenview


Sweet Dreams Organic Bakery (1107 Waukegan Rd., Glenview)  Not only are all of the bakery’s products made with organic ingredients (with many gluten free options), they also serve fair trade and organic Just Coffee, roasted in Madison Wisconsin. The fireplace offers a warm atmosphere for sipping latte. To-go cups are served in compostable cups and lids. They also recycle and compost on-site.


Unicorn Cafe (1723 Sherman Ave, Evanston) This eco-conscious coffeehouse is a favorite of Northwestern students and locals alike.  They feature sustainably sourced Alterra coffee, roasted in Milwaukee, which may be Rainforest Alliance, Fair Trade or Organic certified.  Baked goods, paninis or vegan soups are either homemade or locally sourced, including Evanston-based Sugar & Spice muffins.  Since 2011, they have been composting their coffee grounds, veggie scraps and newspapers with Collective Resource.  They also stopped selling plastic water bottles over two years, and now offer biodegradable corn cups and takeaway containers.




Chicago has been a hotspot for independent coffeehouses and small artisan roasters.  Here’s a list of some noted favorites (*many have been voted as best coffee shops by TimeOut Chicago and Imbibe).  **Check out cool pictures and some eco-details at wren’s Pinterest page Green Coffee: Chicago.


Roaster Coffee Shops (buy a bag of their coffee too!):

Asado Coffee Company*  (773) 661-6530 (1432 W Irving Park Rd, Lakeview)

Beverly Bakery and Roasters(10528 S Western Ave., Beverly) organic options

Big Shoulders Coffee  (1105 W Chicago, River West) organic options

Bow Truss Coffee Roasters  (2934 N Broadway, Lakeview) organic options

Bridgeport Coffee*  (3101 S Morgan Street, Bridgeport) organic options

Buzz: Killer Espresso  (1644 N Damen Avenue, Wicker Park) organic options

Coffee & Tea Exchange (4880 W Grand Ave, Lakeview) organic options

Gaslight Coffee Roasters (2385 North Milwaukee Ave, Logan Square)

Filter (1375 N Milwaukee Ave, Wicker Park)

Half Wit/Wormhole*/ (1462 N Milwaukee Ave, Wicker Park)

Intelligentsia* (3123 North Broadway + other locations)  organic options

Ipsento(2035 N Western Ave., Bucktown) organic options

La Colombe Coffee (955 W Randolph, West Loop) organic options

Metropolis Coffee Cafe * (1039 W Granville Ave, Edgewater) organic options

Passion House  (2021 W Fulton St, Near West Side)

Star Lounge*/Dark Matter (2521 W Chicago Ave, Humboldt Park) organic options



Coffee Shops:

Bourgeois Pig (738 W Fullerton Ave, Linclon Park)

Café 57*  (1520 E 57th St., Hyde Park)

Cafe Streets* (1750 W Division, Wicker Park)

Ch’ava Cafe(4656 N Clark, Ravenswood/Uptown)

City Grounds* (507 W Dickens, Lincoln Park)

The Coffee Studio* (5628 N Clark St, Andersonville)

Common Cup  (1501 Morse, Rogers Park)

Dolce Casa Cafe (4947 N Damen Avenue, Ravenswood)

Dollop   (4181 N Clarendon, Uptown)

Floriole Cafe & Bakery (1220 W. Webster)

Istria(5030 S Cornell Ave, Hyde Park)

Kickstand* (824 W Belmont Ave, Lakeview)

King Cafe Gourmet & Go  (900 N Michigan, Gold Coast)

Kopi Travelers (5317 Clark, Andersonville)

Kristoffers Cafe (1733 S Halsted St., Pilsen)

Robust(6300 S Woodlawn, Woodlawn)

Sip(1223 W Grand Ave, West Loop)

Swim Cafe (1357 Chicago Ave, West Loop)

Uncommon Ground (1401 Devon Ave, Lakeview)


Nothing beats drinking from a real mug, shown here at La Columbe in the West Loop.


For more info on Chicago’s coffee culture, check out Caffentures (they organize coffee tasting crawls and scavenger hunts), Chicago Coffee Scene, Chicago Coffee Shops & Tour de Cafe



National Coffeeshops

Wondering what the bigger coffee chains are up to? Here’s a review of their sustainability efforts.


Caribou Coffee, the second largest coffee chain, has developed a “Do Good” plan for the environment, community, and their products. In 2011, Caribou was recognized as the first major U.S. coffeehouse to source 100% of its beans from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms.  All of their beans are roasted at a central facility in Minneapolis. A major goal for this coffee company is to have 100% of their stores recycling. They are at 75% right now.  To learn more, check out their Do Good Report.


Peet’s is committed to quality and sustainability from source to cup. They have a long term, direct relationships with their coffee growers and offer Fair Trade, Organic, and Rainforest Alliance certified coffees.  They roast 100% of their coffee at the first  LEED Gold Certified roasting facility in Alameda, California.  This facility uses recycled materials, water-efficient landscaping and plumbing, low-energy lighting and heating, and green electrical power.  Their focused philanthropy is also dedicated to bettering the lives of people in coffee farming communities.  To find out more, check out Sustainably Peet’s.  Also see how they compare to Starbucks.


Starbucks, the worldwide coffee giant with over 17,000 locations, has been improving their sustainable efforts. For example, regarding green building, 75% of new locations were built to the LEED standard in 2011.  Knowing most of their customers get to-go cups, Starbucks has both front-of-store and back-of-store recycling bins. Starbucks has been purchasing fair trade coffee since 2011 and they also serve a few organic coffee blends. Starbucks has moved toward a direct trade model and follows Coffee and Farmer Equity guidelines to help customers, farmers, and the planet. These standards include safe and humane working conditions, minimum wage guarantee, waste management, protection and conservation of water, and reduced agrochemical use.  Starbucks beans are roasted in facilities located in Washington, Nevada, Pennsylvania and South Carolina (a LEED Silver certified facility).  To learn more about are the environmental goals Starbucks plans to reach in 2015, visit their website.



Also, for a listing of favorite sustainable restaurants in the area, check out the wren post Good, Green Eats.


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Written by Alena Morrissey and Amanda Hanley, with contributions from Lindsey Theiss.