Smile Politely

C-U coffee sips and sweets

National Coffee Day is September 29th, and International Coffee Day is just two days later on October 1st. Celebrating caffiene’s greatest bean should be on your calendar. So many people need coffee to survive, and while I do not myself, I do like the taste of coffee.

Where can we find a good cup of coffee in Champaign-Urbana? So many places. To name a few: Cafe Kopi + Espresso Royale, Aroma Cafe, Art Mart, Cafeteria & CompanyCaffe ParadisoCommon Ground Co-op, NitroCup, and even a coffee shop with a robot barista. Check out our lists for C-U mochas and nitro coffee, too.

For the upcoming coffee holidays, I am sharing five fantastic expressions of coffee that you can enjoy in C-U. 

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Page Roasting Company Coffee | Avionics 

If I want a chill spot for a coffee, I go to Avionics in Midtown. Flying Machine Avionics has coffee, specialty lattes, breakfast bites, and tea. The morning I was there, the drip coffee ($2.50) was the Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee with a medium to light roast. Served hot, it had a wonderful aroma. The cup of joe was super smooth with a bold coffee taste and subtle chocolate flavor. I loved just how good it was without any additions. Avionics brews coffee by Page Roasting Company, a small-batch coffee company. The roast available for drip coffee orders rotates depending on what’s freshest, and each one that I’ve tried has been solid.

Page Roasting Company’s expert coffee roaster Erin Erdman manually roasts the coffee inside of Flying Machine Avionics. You can buy the Ethiopian coffee (and others by Page Roasting Company) by the bag at Avionics (and a few other places in town) or enjoy Page Roasting Company’s coffee brewed by the relaxed coffee shop on First Street.

202 S First St
M-F 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Sa 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Maple Miner | BrewLab

This maple miner latte ($5.60) is my favorite drink at BrewLab, and it tastes as wild as it looks. It’s not on the menu board — which feels cool to order. Different than any coffee I’ve had before, BrewLab’s maple miner latte is made with maple-ginger simple syrup, honey drizzle, activated charcoal, and oat milk. Sweet like brunch, the drink had a warm maple flavor with a little ginger dance on the tongue and a honey sweetness at the end. The charcoal added something unique in terms of appearance but also a little gritty texture, too. The charcoal settled at the bottom of the drink like sediment in wine or kombucha, so skip the last sips unless you like that sort of thing.

I’ve ordered this latte three different ways: hot to go, hot to stay, and cold to go — and each iteration was perfection. I’m not sure if it’s the novelty of having charcoal in my coffee, ordering an off-menu drink, or the wildy addictive taste, but I just cannot get enough of this latte. Plus, the shop’s signature latte art always brightens my day. It’s pretty sweet for a coffee, but I like a sweet latte on occasion. If you do, too, check out BrewLab on Fifth Street in Campustown. 

630 S Fifth St
8 a.m. to 5 p.m., daily

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Columbia Street Coffee Stout | Blind Pig Brewery

If you want boozy coffee, Blind Pig’s Columbia Street Coffee Stout ($5 for 16 ounce draft) is it. Not super heavy like a Guinness, Blind Pig’s Columbia Street Coffee Stout is a smooth dark beer with a huge coffee flavor. The brewery’s website says, “Wake up and have a pint! Or have a pint and wake up!” The bitter roasted coffee complemented the bitterness of the stout beer. The bold coffee taste comes from cold brew Black Velvet and Sumatra coffee by Columbia Street Roastery, a Champaign small-batch coffee roaster just down the street from the brewery. Opened in 1951, the three-generational family coffee business sells their coffee blends online, including one called Crane Alley.

This great coffee stout is a double dose of Champaign tastes: Blind Pig Brewery and Columbia Street Roastery. Blind Pig’s beer garden is just lovely, so I recommend getting a draft pour of this coffee stout from the bar in Downtown Champaign. You can also find Columbia Street Coffee Stout in a four-pack of cans at stores around town.

Blind Pig
120 N Neil St
M-Sa 3 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Su 3 to 11:30 p.m.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Affogato al Caffe | Pekara Bakery & Bistro

At Pekara’s bistro on Springfield Avenue, I ordered the affogato al caffe ($4.95), a shot of espresso poured over two scoops of ice cream and a drizzle of caramel syrup. Served in a cup on a saucer with a spoon, the affogato began with three distinct components, each with its own distinct flavor: strong espresso, cold vanilla ice cream, and super sweet caramel. Over time, the affogato combined to create one sweetened coffee drink that tasted like a melting espresso milkshake. The espresso was very bitter, and I needed the ice cream’s sweetness of ice cream to balance the strong coffee. I liked how the temperatures played together: the hot espresso cooled by the ice cream. The ice cream didn’t fully melt; it just slowly seeped into the espresso. If you have ever wanted to eat coffee with a spoon, this is the way.

Pekara is a cute, casual coffee shop serving coffee, tea, pastries, crêpe, sandwiches, and more in addition to carrying products of several C-U businesses like Prairie Fruits Farm, RegCakes, Cloud Mountain Kombucha, Kilgus Farmstead, and more. Pekara Bakery & Bistro has tables inside, barstool seating along the windows, and a few tables on the front patio.

Pekara Bakery & Bistro
811 W Springfield Ave
W-Sa 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Su 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Tiramisu | Rick’s Bakery

Rick’s Bakery tiramisu is probably one of the best coffee desserts in town. I’ve written about it here and here because it is so dang delicious. Rick’s Bakery’s tiramisu cake comes in a few sizes: large, medium, or miniature. This mini tiramisu ($4) is everything. Perfectly portioned for one lucky person, this layered coffee cake was sold cold and ready to eat, though it could be saved for later. The pretty crumb exterior encased a sweet, creamy cake with a bottom layer soaked in espresso. There was no mistaking the big coffee taste in this little cake. The cake’s bold coffee flavor was satisfyingly tempered by the dessert’s sweetness. This miniature tiramisu cake was absolutely delicious, and I only regret not buying one of the bigger sizes.

Everyday, there are several kinds of cakes available at Rick’s Bakery with no pre-order necessary. Simply walk in and see what looks good to you, or check out Carl’s recent review of the bakery here.

Rick’s Bakery
124 W Main St
T-Sa 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Top image by Alyssa Buckley.

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