When Harry Met Stephanie: A 2021 love story made up in my head by me. Produced and directed by me. The saga begins with coffee, one of my favorite vices. My first encounter with Harry Alexander Krigel was when I visited Whisk Coffee and Wine Bar where he was general manager (GM) at the time. I loved his energy immediately, and it was apparent that Harry really knew his coffee.

Fast forward a few weeks, and Harry requested I join him for a “cupping.” Sounds scary, right? Nope! Coffee cupping, or tasting, is observing the tastes and aromas of coffee. I was intrigued when I received the invite and couldn’t wait to make my first visit to Brew Lab on campus where Harry is the new GM as well as the GM of the soon to be opened Brew Lab near Carle hospital.


Inside the campus location of Brew Lab, there is a long, skinny table in front of a window with many white coffee mugs on it, ready for the author's coffee cupping experience. Photo by Stephanie Wheatley.Photo by Stephanie Wheatley.

I arrived with four friends to a beautiful interactive setup looking out an expansive window onto Fifth and Green Street. The space was filled with plant life, the yummy smells of baked goods, and freshly ground beans. Inviting, bright, and cozy, my friends and I felt welcomed immediately and ready to taste some unique coffee.

Harry first introduced us to the owner, Tim Chao and the brand-new Bake Lab’s five star pastry chef and owner, Stacy Shi. I have to say, I don’t know if I have ever met three people more passionate and excited about the product they serve and the overall experience of their patrons. Brew Lab’s second location, along with Bake Lab, will carry the same brand of coffee, Counter Culture, as well as Stacy’s ridiculously outrageous and delicious desserts.

The process of cupping is so interesting and like nothing I have experienced before. With our cups full of freshly ground beans, we shook them, knocked them around a bit and showed them who’s boss. Once Harry poured steaming hot water on the grounds, we took in the aromas through our nose first, mouth slightly open to where you could almost taste exactly what was about to be consumed. We all watched Harry’s every move while he demonstrated how to properly taste the coffee. Face hovering just above the cup, small scoop on the spoon, then slurp the hell out of it like a nice hot soup.

Harry smells some freshly made coffee in Brew Lab on campus. Photo by Tim Chao.Photo by Tim Chao.

Harry introduced us to three very different but delicious flavors of Counter Culture coffee (available to buy at both locations). Our first taste, the Idido from Ethiopia, was a bit flowery with a hint of citrus. This would be excellent for the everyday coffee drinker who needs a nice little kick in the ass first thing in the morning but doesn’t want to be able to see the rings around Saturn because they are so caffed up. It would also be an great beverage for someone who also enjoys a good cup of tea.

On a wooden counter, there are many white coffee mugs filled with coffee grounds and hot water. The foreground shows the details of the first set of three white mugs and a folded cloth napkin with a large spoon atop it. Photo by Stephanie Wheatley.Photo by Stephanie Wheatley.

The second, Cinco de Junio from Nicaragua, was my personal favorite. The bold and intense coffee flavor was backed up with vanilla and dark chocolate. Granted, I almost crashed my vehicle on the way home because I had the energy of a superhero, but that’s neither here nor there. Harry told us about some wonderful women he met while traveling in Nicaragua, studying various coffee beans and visiting female owned farms. There are some major baddies there, and I wish I could meet every single one and tell them what great role models they are for young women all over their country and around the world.

Four white women stand beside the wooden counter inside Brew Lab listening to the staff's instructions. Photo by Tim Chao.Photo by Tim Chao.

Okay, before I start crying let’s move on to coffee number three, the Finca el Puente from Honduras. The best way I can describe this is “pretty.” I felt like I was drinking a nice, hot cup of warm apple pie. Almond, baked apple, and brown sugar round out this beautiful bean. The Finca el Puente seemed to be a favorite amongst my friend group, and we were all blessed to walk away with a bag of our favorite coffee.

 
Stacy Shi stands in the kitchen holding two metal trays of baked goods from the sister operation Bake Lab at the Brew Lab. Photo by Harry Alexander Krigel.Photo by Harry Alexander Krigel.

I’m 99% sure I have stated in several of my articles that sweets aren’t really my thing. That is, until I tried Stacy Shi’s beautiful pastries. Not one item I consumed was overly decadent or heavy. They were truly some of the lightest and most delicious desserts I’ve ever had: croissants, crème brûlée, and tiny cakes filled with fluffy custard. Honestly, all of our minds were blown by Stacy’s talent. I am so excited to see how far she will take Bake Lab in the future. Stacy is also available for special orders. Hit her up for your next event, you won’t be sorry.

Photo by Stephanie Wheatley.

If you’re ever looking for a fun experience with friends, coworkers, or a team building event, please contact Brew Lab to set up a time for a personalized cupping. Harry and his team will provide you with an educated look into the culture of coffee while also making you feel at home in both of their unique settings.

Brew Lab
630 S 5th St
Champaign
8 a.m. to 6 p.m., daily

Top image by Stephanie Wheatley.