Anyone else whisper sweet nothings to their coffee? If not, just walk away from me now. No matter how you enjoy your coffee, we here in C-U are blessed to have some locally owned shops and home-grown baristas who are here to fulfill all your caffeinated needs.

I visted five local coffee shops and ordered my favorite drink: a large iced latte with skim milk and caramel. Yes, I’m one of those. I don’t care if we’re in the middle of a polar vortex, I’m drinking an iced latte. Considering we are in a pandemic, ordering coffee, picking it up, paying for it, and just generally doing anything takes a bit more planning and focus than it used to, but I will fight for coffee. COVID-19 shall not stop this girl from obtaining the sweet sweet nectar of the gods. I’m just going to do it as safely as I possibly can. Don’t hesitate to drop me some suggestions in the comments on your favorite places and your go-to order in the area.


Large iced caramel latte with skim milk and caramel from Pekara on Springfied sits on a middle console inside a vehicle next to hand sanitizer and a mask. Photo by Stephanie Wheatley.Photo by Stephanie Wheatley.

Pekara on Springfield

I checked in ahead of time via their social media site and discovered that Pekara does curbside delivery. I gave them approximately a five minute notice when I would be arriving, the description of my vehicle, and paid over the phone for my iced coffee ($5.58) and the hot chicken Parisienne ($7.29) — which, on a side note, is fire and should be enjoyed by all. Shortly after I arrived, an employee wearing a mask delivered the order to my vehicle.

Pekara's iced latte is nothing short of perfection. The ice to coffee ratio is great. The strength of the coffee is awesome for a middle of the day indulgence without keeping me up all night, and the creaminess is satisfying without being overwhelming. I recently spoke to an employee at this location who stated that they have no plans to return to indoor dining anytime soon, but there are a few outdoor tables if you wish to enjoy that option.

Pekara
811 W Springfield Ave
Champaign
Su-M 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The author holds a large iced caramel latte with skim milk and caramel from Art Mart in her vehicle. Photo by Stephanie Wheatley.Photo by Stephanie Wheatley.

Art Mart

I am a frequent patron of Art Mart. I love everything about it: from the deli to the wine to the retail. It’s just a fun place to get everything you need for a quick lunch, a nice dinner, or goods for entertaining friends. That being said, I’ve never indulged in their café offerings. The day I chose to visit for my iced latte ($5.32), the Illinois was still in Phase 3, so I put my mask on, went inside to order, and took it to go. I was incredibly impressed with the safety precautions. A fiberglass shield kept distance between myself and the masked barista, while a no touch card reader took my payment information.

The coffee itself isn’t quite as strong as I’d normally like, but it definitely has great flavor and the caramel is sweet and yummy without tasting “fake.” Art Mart is currently open for indoor dining since Illinois has moved to Phase 4.

Art Mart
1705 Prospect Ave
Champaign
M-Sa 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Su 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The author holds a large iced caramel latte with skim milk and caramel from Caffe Paradiso in her vehicle. Photo Stephanie Wheatley.Photo by Stephanie Wheatley.

Caffe Paradiso

I don’t go on campus very often which is ridiculous considering I spent four formidable years here as an undergraduate. Sadly, I’ve become one of those people who avoid Campustown because "it's too crowded and there's no parking" type of people, and I want to kick my own ass when I think about it. Caffe Paradiso has a metered parking lot next to the establishment which makes is super easy to get to, and you don’t have to act like an angry townie to procure delicious coffee.

I feel like a loser for not knowing this place existed. It’s so pretty, unique, and eclectic. My daughters, who are ten and eight years old, had not been inside a restaurant, retail store, or really any public place in four months. This was their first masked adventure out, and they loved the atmosphere. There is a table in front of the register which makes social distancing easy, and the barista was wearing a mask.

The iced latte ($5.02) is decent. Not as strong and smooth as I usually prefer, but the gorgeous ambience of the place made up for it. They are open for dine in as of Phase 4, masks required.

Caffe Paradiso
Urbana
801 S. Lincoln Ave
M-Sa 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Large iced caramel latte with skim milk and caramel from Espresso Royale sits on a wooden table indoors. Photo by Stephanie Wheatley.Photo by Stephanie Wheatley.

Espresso Royale

Espresso has been around since the dawn of time. It’s truly a staple and an institution in C-U. I was beyond impressed with the safety measures that are being taken by Espresso regarding the current pandemic. No one is allowed into the shop, even though we are currently in Phase 4. There are two tables outside. One for ordering and payment, and one for pick up. Payment is touch-free, and the employees wore and required masks from patrons. They also have an order ahead for pick up option at espressoroyalecu.com.

Espresso actually gave me a large iced latte ($7.63), definitely the biggest of all the previously mentioned establishments. Unfortunately, the amount of ice working against the amount of coffee made the drink a bit watered down. I wasn’t able to taste the caramel which leads me to believe it was all floating in the bottom of the cup. 

Espresso Royale
2401 Village Green Pl
Champaign
M-Sa 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Su 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Large iced caramel latte with skim milk and caramel from Aroma Cafe on a wooden table. Photo by Stephanie Wheatley.Photo by Stephanie Wheatley.

Aroma Café

The morning I chose to procure my coffee at Aroma, I was alerted by Smile Politely's splog that Aroma had moved into Cowboy Monkey. The last time I had been in that space was for a drunken night of salsa dancing. I headed to Downtown Champaign and noticed that there were blocked off streets to accommodate outdoor seating at various restaurants which made parking a bit more difficult than usual. I eventually found a metered spot on the street and walked to Aroma's new location at Cowboy Monkey.

Aroma occupies a very small space by the front window within Cowboy Monkey. The staff was incredibly friendly and upbeat, wore masks, and produced my iced latte ($5.02) within minutes. Of all the coffee shops I visited for this review, Aroma’s drink was my favorite. The ice to coffee ratio was outstanding. The caramel tasted real. The coffee flavor was strong — which personally I love — and satisfyingly creamy. 

Aroma Café
118 N. Neil St
Champaign
Su-M 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Next time you need a coffee fix, snub those big franchises, so you can explore the small, local coffee shops of Champaign-Urbana and all they have to offer.