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The ultimate guide to the chai of the North Loop

Cute succulents at Corner Coffee; bright lights at Fairgrounds

Cute succulents at Corner Coffee; bright lights at Fairgrounds Alison Spencer

As a New York City transplant who moved to Minneapolis’ North Loop in April, a lot seemed to be missing.

The restaurants. The theater. The stores. The... people.

But one thing that wasn’t in short supply? Coffee shops. After a few neighborhood strolls, I counted at least five—some freshly opened, others well-established. Newly unemployed at 32, I envisioned myself spending hours in each: building my resume, conducting informational interviews, researching leads.

But which one? And more importantly: What to drink?

I don’t like coffee, and I’m not the biggest fan of tea. For a large part of my life, my go-to order was hot chocolate, but as I aged, I started to feel somewhat childish ordering one in public. Enter the chai tea latte, a beverage that serves as my sole source of caffeine and satisfies my eternal sweet tooth.

In an attempt to find the best chai in the ’hood (and a job), I’ve spent ample time in North Loop coffee shops, visiting at various times and in all kinds of weather. I’ve tried their iced and hot options, ordered them to go or to stay. And taking into account everything from ambiance to flavor to the mugs, I’d like to provide you with this guide to North Loop chais.

Fairgrounds
This new-ish addition to the North Loop infuses a cozy feeling of home (leather couches, fireplace) with hipster flair (wine decanters as light fixtures). Boasting an extensive food menu along with craft coffee and tea, Fairgrounds offers plenty that’s both tasty and healthy. Their chai tea latte is delicious and remains one of my favorites in the neighborhood. Get it to go, and it’s served in a fun, teal cup. Order to stay, and you’ll get a mason jar. Either way, if you order it iced, be sure to grab a stirring stick—the chai and milk are separated in your cup. 

If you’re looking for some peace and quiet, Fairgrounds might not be your jam, as it tends to be crowded regardless of the hour (and is particularly packed weekend mornings; expect a constant line of about 20). But the reliable WiFi and comfortable chairs make it easy to spend hours here, working away—particularly if you nab a coveted spot near an outlet. 120 Third Ave. N., Minneapolis; 612-333-9165; fairgrounds.cafe. 12 oz for $3.79 and 16 oz for $3.99

Spyhouse

Spyhouse Alison Spencer

Moose and Sadie’s
Moose and Sadie’s has been a North Loop business meeting staple for years. It's just a block from Fairgrounds, but with an entirely different ambiance—tiled floors and a communal table made of pipe create a more industrial vibe—and the colorful chalkboard menu and painted wall behind the counter add the warmth you want during a mid-winter visit. Moose & Sadie’s feels quieter than its neighbor, but on Saturdays and Sundays the cafe is packed with brunch-goers.

When it comes to chai, customers have two options. The Gray Duck Chai leans toward the spicy side; the Oregon Chai is considerably sweeter. I enjoy both and alternate between the two, but—despite my love of sugar and general aversion to spicy food—I gravitate toward the Gray Duck. 212 N. Third Ave. #107, Minneapolis; 612-371-0464; mooseandsadies.com. Oregon Chai 10 oz for $3.75, 16 oz for $4.25; Gray Duck Chai 10 oz for $4.25, 16 oz for $4.75

Corner Coffee
Sporting multiple chalkboards and comfy seating, Corner Coffee feels the most traditional. Behind the counter you’ll find an elaborate mural depicting snapshots of life in the West, which adds a burst of color to the overall quaintness of the space. If I’m looking for a seriously quiet spot, one that’s more neighborhood-y than a social scene, Corner is the go-to. With reliable internet and outlets, along with cute succulents on the tables, it's a place I can spend hours working, undistracted (and in sweatpants).

Their chai is lovely, both hot and iced. It’s sweet, but not overly so, and the cold version comes served in a fun mason jar. Just know that on Sunday mornings Corner Coffee transforms into a church, offering three services throughout the morning, so, don’t drop in here if Sunday a.m.’s the time you’ve set aside to work. 514 N. Third St., Minneapolis; 612-338-2002; corner.coffee. 8 oz for $4.50, 12 oz for $5, 16 oz for $5.50

Spyhouse Coffee
Usually busy, Spyhouse’s beautiful space is often also filled with beautiful people. It’s certainly a good place to see and be seen, and with outdoor seating that isn’t streetside, it's a particularly great spot on a nice day. Inside, there are only a handful of small tables, but a large community table plus countertop seating along the window mean there’s likely a spot for you.

I know Spyhouse coffee is some of the best—hence its proliferation throughout the Twin Cities—but when it comes to chai, theirs isn’t my favorite. I’ve ordered it a few times, and it can be hit or miss... more often than not, I’m pretty underwhelmed. It isn’t sweet. It isn’t spicy. It comes across somewhat bitter, which isn’t my preference. I do, however, love the mug in which it’s served: very Central Perk in size and color. 907 N. Washington Ave., Minneapolis; 612-208-1051; spyhousecoffee.com. One size (16 oz) for $4.75

In the Loop

In the Loop Alison Spencer

Bachelor Farmer Cafe
The Bachelor Farmer chai is exactly what you’d expect from the lauded cafe (a recent CP Best Of winner). It’s sweet, but not saccharine, and served in a jar. I particularly love the foam on the top, most notably on the iced chai. It makes me feel as though I’m drinking a far more sophisticated latte or mocha, which—as a non-coffee drinker—I appreciate.

Expect a bit of a wait, particularly mid-morning. And while Bachelor Farmer doesn’t play music, there’ll be a certain amount of noise due to the constant traffic flowing in and out of the cafe. In the summer, a shaded outdoor seating area provides a somewhat quieter alternative and the opportunity to enjoy a balmy day without sitting directly in the hot sun. 200 N. First St., Minneapolis; 612-206-3920; thebachelorfarmer.com/cafe. 12 oz for $4.50, 16 oz for $5.25

In the Loop Coffee
Sitting somewhat hidden inside a large apartment building, with just a small easel sign out front, In the Loop could be missed by passersby entirely, which would be a travesty. With only six tables, it’s certainly the smallest of the coffee shops mentioned here, but it has a distinct personality. An exceptionally dog-friendly establishment, it has one entire wall covered with photos of neighborhood hounds, and the servers are quick to offer treats to those who venture inside. Herbal teas are on display for customers to smell prior to ordering. (One has the distinct scent of root beer.)

The chai is delicious and, whether ordered to stay or go, comes in a paper cup. While you might want a more environmentally friendly container, their cups offer a subtle form of entertainment: On each, they’ve printed a red or black mustache. Be warned, the lids are a bit dicey, particularly if you hop directly into a car, so take a few sips before leaving to minimize potential spills. 708 N. First St., Minneapolis; 612-479-9300; intheloopcoffee.com. 12 oz for $3.85, 16 oz for $4, 20 oz for $4.30