I visited BrewLab Coffee with my boyfriend on a Saturday afternoon right when the students were moving back in. Luckily, campus wasn't too busy yet and we were able to find a close enough parking spot. We don't visit campus that often, but I decided that we needed to make the trip to check out the new restaurants and stores that have been added in the last year. One of my friends mentioned a new coffee shop called BrewLab Coffee that she visited when she was in town. She said that it was unlike any of the other coffee shops that she had seen before, especially for Champaign-Urbana. She is a huge coffee fan, so I knew to trust her judgment and see it for myself as soon as I had the opportunity.
As we turned the corner from Green Street to Fifth Street, I saw a chalkboard sign that said "Come Get Ya Dang Coffee." I knew we had showed up to the right place. When we opened the door, I knew right away that BrewLab Coffee was different. The first thing I noticed was how bright and light the whole interior of the building was. The big windows in the front of the building provide a lot of light and most of the interior is white and modern, which felt calming to me. One of the first things that I noticed is that the walls of BrewLab are actually white boards that you can draw on with dry erase markers. When we arrived, most of the walls were already drawn on with many drawings and quotes to look at while you wait for your coffee. In front of the counter, there was a sign that says "Welcome to BrewLab. Get a drink. Make shit happen." There many seats available with plenty of outlets to use for laptops and phones, which I am sure is great for the students that are on campus and will likely be the most frequent customers. The menu boards are actual letter boards that include their available drinks to order.
My boyfriend and I decided to go with individual drinks that we knew that we would both enjoy and to share something new that we have never tried before. I am more of a coffee drinker so I decided to try a classic espresso with milk ($3.25). My boyfriend is more of a tea drinker so he was happy that BrewLab also had a wide variety of teas that were available to drink. He decided to try the Sunstone which was a red loose leaf tea ($3). More chain coffee shops tend to just have basic black or green teas, so he was happy when he saw that BrewLab had more variety in the tea flavors and had loose leaf teas as an option.
I noticed on the menu that their brewing special was pour over coffee, so we decided to go with that for our new drink of the day. The baristas behind the counter were both very knowledgeable about their coffee and what it tasted like. The pour over coffee had three different types of coffee available from three different roasters. We decided to try the Tanzania from Halfwit Coffee because Merry told us that it was a good coffee to try if you are not used to or do not like drinking your coffee black. I am still trying to get used to drinking black coffee, so I knew that this would be a good option for me. They told us that the other two pour over coffees were the Sumatra from Columbia Street Roastery that had more of an earthy taste and the Colombia from Counter Culture Coffee that had a chocolate and nutty flavor. All of the pour over coffees are $4 and enough for about three to four glasses.
As our drinks were being prepared, I couldn't help but notice all of the beautiful glasses and serving materials that were being used to make our beverages. Each drink seemed to be served in its own specific glass, which isn't what I am used to seeing in a coffee shop. I also noticed the big retail wall that was filled with different goods, including Homer sodas. There were a variety of sodas available to choose from and even the option to make your own six pack.
We were very pleased when we received our beverages. My espresso with milk was creamy, frothy and delicious. My boyfriend thoroughly enjoyed his Sunstone tea. He said that it had a mellow taste but was very calming and tasted good, which is the kind of tea that he likes best. The Tanzania pour over coffee from Halfwit Coffee was also a delicious surprise for both of us. It had a sweet and silky taste to it. Even though it was black coffee, it did not have the normal, bitter coffee taste that we thought it might. It was sweet enough that we didn't need to add anything to it in order to enjoy it. It was a great introduction into pour over coffee and we both liked that we could get multiple cups of coffee out of it.
Our first experience at BrewLab Coffee was an excellent one. The atmosphere and charm of the shop itself was worth going back to, in my opinion. I loved that the walls had all kinds of drawings and quotes from previous visitors and with each visit, you are sure to see something different. The menu is also different than other coffee shops that I have been to. The staff is knowledgeable and friendly and I can tell that they will be trying new and different ways to serve coffee, tea and more. I don't visit campus very often, but I will know be making more trips, even if it is just to go back to BrewLab for more coffee.
BrewLab Coffee is located at 630 South 5th Street, Champaign and open daily, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
All photos by Brittany Busboom.