Chris Chacko thinks about coffee differently from the rest of us. He sees it as others see wine: something rarefied and complex, an elixir to be tasted and savored and understood for the way it interacts with the elements of a meal. He is Chicago’s high priest of coffee, and he counts among his acolytes the best and most innovative restaurateurs in town, from Paul Kahan at the Publican to the doughnut wizards at Glazed and Infused. His espresso is served at Monteverde; his coffee spikes a dessert at 42 Grams. Four of Chicago’s 10 best new restaurants, including top spot Oriole, use Sparrow coffee. Chacko told me that when Michael Muser of Grace—speaking of three Michelin stars—did the same tasting I did, he laughed in disbelief and then asked for a contract then and there.
“Coffee’s the most complex beverage known to humanity. It has twice as many flavor-producing ingredients as red wine.”
But not just anyone can serve Chacko’s coffee. He has turned down roughly half the restaurateurs who have approached him—not because his eight-employee company can’t handle the volume but because Chacko doesn’t think highly enough of the food at those establishments. For those who make the cut, Chacko goes to great lengths to please. Every one of the roughly 250 restaurants that Sparrow does business with (almost all of which are in and around Chicago, with a few out in California) gets its own unique coffee, custom-roasted by Chacko and calibrated to pair harmoniously with the restaurant’s culinary approach.