When Kris Christian worked a grueling job on Wall Street out of college, she drank coffee—usually the bitter, unappealing kind you find in an office break room or weak brews made hastily at home—as a utilitarian necessity to power through long shifts. It did the trick, she says, but something was lacking.
“I didn’t enjoy my coffee for half my life,” Christian says. “I was making it with the wrong coffee-to-water ratios. I never knew how much water to pour in. And to me, it was intimidating.”
Years later, in 2017, this persistent feeling led Christian to launch Chicago French Press, a coffee company aimed at helping people tackle the occasionally intimidating world of home brewing. Originally an online-only retailer, Chicago French Press is now available for coffee novices and longtime brewers alike to sample at a new pop-up at the Roosevelt Collection in the South Loop.
Easing people into making coffee at home is a multi-step process, Christian said. First comes taste: Chicago French Press’s coffee blends—like coconut creme, maple pecan and chocolate blueberry—are derived from natural flavors, such as whole fruits and nuts, which reduces the need for sugary creamers and other additives. For convenience, the roasts are available pre-ground for the customer’s preferred method of brewing.
Perhaps most importantly, though, the company also offers how-to guides, social media videos and recipes to peel back the complicated layers of the home brewing process.
“The idea is, let’s educate people who are like me, who want to make really good coffee at home,” Christian says. “We’re trying to bridge that gap and give people some basic knowledge to do it themselves.”
Though Christian has done in-person promotion at co-working spaces, Chicago French Press has traditionally done most of its business online, where customers can get coffee delivered straight to their homes. The company’s online model has proved to be an unlikely boon during the COVID-19 pandemic’s surge in e-commerce—sales have jumped 393 percent compared to the period before the pandemic. Christian says she also saw a boost in sales after being included on national lists of Black-owned retailers, an experience she calls “exciting but bittersweet.”
“I really hope that it’s not just a moment, that it’s not just a blink in time,” she says. “I hope people continue to support Black businesses, because it’s the right thing to do.”
To that end, Christian said she wants Chicago French Press to promote social justice and equity. There's heft to that goal: Five percent of coffee bag sales from the pop-up will go to community nonprofits like the anti-violence org #TheTakeBack. She also plans to use the pop-up as a community space for organizations to their own events.
You can visit the Roosevelt Collection now through the end of the year, which will offer the company’s signature blends along with specialty items like a lavender-coconut latte. Customers can either take the coffee to go or enjoy it in a small courtyard seating area. Eventually—ideally in 2021—Christian wants to open a flagship brick-and-mortar location in Chicago, with the goal of eventually taking the brand national.
“We’re going to start here and see how it goes,” she says.
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