Location: Chicago, Ill.
Founded: 1995
Where to get it: Intelligentsia coffee bars in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York; coffee shops nationwide including Ch’ava in Chicago, Volta in Gainesville, Fla., and 21st Street Coffee in Pittsburgh, Penn.; online at intelligentsiacoffee.com
Roaster recommends: Ethiopia Yirgacheffe. “This is a fantastic year for Ethiopian coffees, generally, and washed Yirgacheffe coffees are amongst the best at exhibiting native terroir,” says roaster Chris Kornman, describing it as having “delicate and complex floral flavors, balanced citrus, tons of stone fruits [and a] creamy body.” It's best brewed as a Chemex or Kalita pour over or as espresso.

Intelligentsia is kind of like coffee’s Harvard, with extensive internal training programs for baristas, roasters, quality control staff and green coffee buyers that include everything from regular cuppings and espresso tastings to one recent class led by a Northwestern University neurobiology professor on the genetics of olfaction. The company’s baristas routinely place high in national and world competitions, and many of its alums have gone on to other exciting jobs in the industry.

As one of the first companies to source coffee via Direct Trade and one of the largest specialty coffee companies operating today, Intelligentsia has been incredibly influential. It also continues to put out great coffees, both by building close relationships with producers and by relentlessly testing and refining blends such as its Black Cat espresso, an undertaking so important that it has the official, covert-sounding name of the Black Cat Project.

“We strive to maintain a high level of education and creativity; to do what we do with knowledge and purpose and ingenuity,” says Kornman. Whether with its innovative coffee bars or thorough coffee research, Intelligentsia is accomplishing all of those goals and setting the pace for roasters everywhere.