Skip to main content

Oro Chocolate & Coffee is a Gold Mine of Flavor In Chicago

Oro Chocolate and Coffee Chicago bar

Inside the new Oro Chocolate & Coffee cafe in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood. All images courtesy of Oro.

The owner of a Nicaraguan farm and ecotourism business has carved a sweet path back into his home city of Chicago with the opening of Oro Chocolate & Coffee.

Production of bean-to-bar chocolate exists alongside a coffee roasting operation inside a nearly 5,000-square-foot facility in Wicker Park that boasts a retail cafe, ample storage space and a bakery. 

Guests entering the shop pass by the Oro Chocolate factory, where machines for melting tempering and dosing help push out high-quality chocolate bars, bonbons, batons and other treats. 

Oro Chocolate and Coffee Chicago bonbons

“This room is where the magic happens,” Oro Chocolate and Coffee Founder Muffadal Saylawala told Daily Coffee News. “Both our chocolate factory and roastery live behind glass, a decision used to not only show our customers how the products are made but also as a representation of our commitment to transparency.”

Guests next reach the cafe, where chocolate and coffee beverages are served alongside house baked goods.

Signature spiced mochas bring the company’s two worlds together. The Oro, for example, combines “Golden Milk Mocha” sauce (milk chocolate spiced with turmeric, ginger, cardamom, black pepper and cinnamon) with an extra hit of house cinnamon syrup, espresso and milk. The Aphrodisiac mixes dark chocolate with cayenne and maca before the addition of espresso and milk.

Oro Chocolate and Coffee Chicago lattes

“We are excited to continue experimenting with unique combinations,” Saylawala said. “Coffee and chocolate together make for an incredible canvas.”

Baristas weigh each shot to monitor yield and extraction time, while self-leveling tampers, a Puqpress auto-tamper and various distribution tools are put to use at the bar. A custom gold plated La Marzocco KB90 espresso machine and other brewers draw water from an reverse-osmosis system.

Oro Chocolate and Coffee Chicago espresso

A Ground Control batch brewer generates batches of hot coffee, as well as flash-chilled coffee, while Marco SP9 automated pourover modules deliver water to Hario V60 brewers for single cups that Saylawala said “celebrate the brightness and florality of our Nicaraguan coffee.”

Beyond the bar, customers may wander one room over into the “Rabbit Hole,”  which features banquet seating and a long communal table made from sustainably harvested Nicaraguan teak wood. A decorative flow continues into the “Nicaragua Room,” where handmade Nicaraguan rocking chairs and other pieces of lounge furniture offer a comforting vibe. 

At the end of the space is the roastery, which features an Ashe AirPro 22 fluid-bed roaster.

Oro Chocolate and Coffee Chicago brewer

“We don’t really believe in the idea of a ‘head roaster,'” Oro Chocolate and Coffee Manager Syed Hashmi told DCN, adding that he and Saylawala handle much of the roasting load, while other staff members are also welcome to participate. “Collaboration and curiosity are not only values of Oro as a company, but core values of the team behind the cafe.”

Saylawala, the owner, grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, eventually becoming a consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers before dramatically changing career paths and founding the Casa Oro Group, a Nicaragua-focused hospitality business. Saylawala designed the business to help create positive social and environmental change after he volunteered on a permaculture farm on Ometepe Island, a volcanic island in Lake Nicaragua. 

Oro Chocolate and Coffee Chicago bakery

“I was curious about nature’s systems and how they work, how they might be used to solve problems,” Saylawala told Daily Coffee News. “This experience really changed the way I saw the world and what I thought was possible.”

Casa Oro Group began in 2014, after Saylawala bought a hostel called Casa Oro and a farm property outside the Southern Pacific coastal town of San Juan del Sur. Featuring sustainable construction and an emphasis on regenerative farming, the farm has become a community resource and ecotourist attraction.

Further investments and projects in Casa Oro Group included boutique hotels and guest houses, a retreat center and a community arts and culture center, all in Nicaragua.

Oro Chocolate and Coffee Chicago grinders

“We take organic waste from all of the properties to the farm, where it is then composted and used as organic fertilizer for our crops,” Saylawala said. “These years were foundational in understanding the nuances of creating businesses that are both profitable and regenerative.”

Casa Oro originally launched a chocolate factory at one of its properties, Hotel Pacifico, in 2018. All Oro Chocolate is made entirely from cacao sourced through a processor that works with approximately 1,000 small-scale cacao farmers operating along the edge of Nicaragua’s Bosawás Biosphere rainforest reserve.

Said Saylawala, “By selling more chocolate, we are directly creating demand for cacao agroforestry that is regenerating the rainforest.”

Oro Coffee is sourced directly from producers in one particular community with the aim of incentivizing a shift away from monoculture farming towards more regenerative techniques.

Oro Chocolate and Coffee Chicago cafe bar

“All the farmers we worked with are at different stages of their evolution of transitioning towards agroforestry models,” said Saylawala. “Since we started working with these farmers, we have observed a noticeable change in how they are growing and farming and we are very hopeful to continue providing opportunities and to help change the economics and ultimately the behavior.”

Oro Chocolate & Coffee is located at 1553 N Milwaukee Ave. in Chicago. Tell DCN’s editors about your new coffee shop or roastery here