I’m not sure about you, but one of the only things that has remained normal in my daily routine is getting my cup of morning coffee. We are one year into a pandemic, just now getting through the winter temps, and if you’re like me, nowhere to be! So why not make our days a little more special by starting it off with a coffee-to-go from a C-U coffee shop?

Someone once told me that you can tell a lot about a coffee shop from their classic hot mocha. To be honest, I still have no idea what that means. Regardless, I set out to try five mochas from five cafés in C-U. For those of us working from home, sometimes just leaving the house for coffee can be a thrilling experience. For those not working from home, convenience is key. Fortunately, when it comes to coffee, C-U has many places to choose from and tons of ordering options. 

A view of a to-go coffee cup in hand in front of the Caffe Paradiso storefront. There is snow on the ground. The cup has a red label that reads Caffe Paradiso. Photo by Rachel Thompson.Photo by Rachel Thompson.

Caffe Paradiso

The first stop on my mocha journey was Caffe Paradiso. I won't lie, I frequent this coffee shop probably a bit too much due to the location being convenient for me, along with the fact that I am obsessed with their croissants. In all of my lovely trips to Caffe Paradiso, I had never gotten their hot mocha. I always walk, but they do have a small parking lot in front of the shop as well as metered parking on Nevada Street. At this time, Caffe Paradiso does not have an order-ahead option, so I ordered at the counter and got mine to-go.

When you walk in, the smell of coffee and fresh baked goods hit me instantly. The atmosphere was calming with tons of unique plants throughout the whole restaurant and mismatched tables and chairs to top off those local cafe vibes. I walked up to the front counter where I put in my order a 16 ounce mocha for $4.50.

I enjoyed my drink as I walked home. It was pretty much everything you expect out of a hot mocha. It was not as strong as I usually prefer my coffee, but the chocolate flavor was definitely there. Overall, it was a great chocolatey, warm, drink to enjoy on my cold walk.

Caffe Paradiso
801 S Lincoln Ave
7 a.m. to 6 p.m., daily

Rachel is holding a white to-go coffee cup that has the words Photo by Rachel Thompson.

Café Kopi

I ended up having a few errands to run in Downtown Champaign, so Cafe Kopi’s order ahead option definitely came in clutch. I highly recommend ordering ahead from their website if you are in a hurry, as there is typically a good-sized line during peak hours. Ordering was super easy, and you can even choose to do curbside pick up and never leave your vehicle! I ordered the 16 ounce cafe mocha with dark chocolate. There is a choice between dark and white chocolate for mochas. It came to $4.25 before tax. I resisted the urge to get whipped cream and chocolate syrup in the spirit of a fair trial.

I parked at a metered spot right there on East Chester Street which was super convenient for a Cafe Kopi run. I walked inside and there was my mocha, sitting there looking beautiful just waiting for me on the table right in front of me.

The coffee taste was a little tangy, but I was here for it. It was not as chocolatey as some of the other mochas, but I did have an option of adding more chocolate flavor on the website. In all, I would say this is a classic mocha. It wasn’t too hot which I liked, and it had a good balance of both coffee and chocolate.

Café Kopi
109 N Walnut St
M-F 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sa+Su 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Rachel is holding a white to-go coffee cup with a cardboard sleeve that reads Photo by Rachel Thompson.

Flying Machine Avionics

I decided to venture out to Flying Machine Avionics. Avionics was still doing carryout only service, so I parked right out front and headed in to put in my order. They do have convenient parking on the north side of their building that is...wait for it... free! As soon as I walked in, I noticed the smell of bread which was just heavenly. They have all seating blocked off, but while you wait, they have amazing artwork by C-U artists hanging on the walls for your viewing pleasure while you wait.

I got a 16 ounce mocha which came out to $4.75. The coffee flavor was very strong which I prefer. There was not much chocolate flavor, but it was still there nonetheless. It was very basic with no whipped cream or toppings, but it was also very good. I look forward to trying their other drinks.

Flying Machine Avionics
202 S First St.
M-F 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Sa 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Rachel is holding a black and white striped to-go coffee cup with a red sleeve that reads Photo by Rachel Thompson.

Pekara Bakery and Bistro

Although Pekara does have delivery and pick up options through DoorDash and GrubHub, I decided to place my order there and get it for carryout. Pekara is one of my favorite lunch spots in C-U. I had never gotten a coffee or any breakfast item at Pekara before.

Pekara, once a Downtown Champaign favorite, has a newer location right on the corner of Springfield Avenue and Prospect Avenue. They also have a nice sized parking lot which is amazing for those mornings when you need to run in and out. What they do have is a beautiful case of baked goods just waiting to be eaten. I honestly think I could browse that case all day if I wanted to. I ordered my drink, and it was ready within a flash.

I ordered a hot mocha that came out to $3.65. Pekara uses the same coffee brand as Caffe Paradiso, so I was thinking they would taste similar, but I was wrong. My drink was very hot when I got it which I loved because it was cold outside. It had just enough chocolate and a strong coffee flavor. It was exactly what you’d expect. No complaints here. Overall, a good mocha.

Pekara Bakery and Bistro
811 W Springfield Ave.
T-Su 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

View of Rachel holding a white to-go coffee cup with a cardboard sleeve that has pictures of a kettle and a tea cup on it. The to-go is held in front of the pink and black Pandamonium doughnut truck. The truck as a picture of panda on the side with doughtnuts for eyes. Photo by Rachel Thompson.Photo by Rachel Thompson.

Pandamonium Doughnuts

As a University of Illinois alumni, the Pandamonium truck was my weakness any time I ventured into the Urbana side of campus. They were also my go-to breakfast at the Urbana Farmers Market on Saturdays for some time. Currently, though, the Pandamonium food truck is open and is parked at their storefront on Windsor Avenue. If you are ordering from the truck, no need to order ahead! 

I decided to do an online order for pick up from the storefront. If you do order ahead, you will need a minimum of four donuts. You will also need to get your order in before 9 p.m. the previous day. Pandamonium is located right off of Windsor Avenue, and they have a very convenient parking lot at their storefront. When I came to pick up, I walked through the door they have labeled as "Pick Ups." They asked for my name and handed me my box of doughnuts. I was instructed to wait outside while they made my drink.

I ordered a small hot mocha priced at $4.50. I opted out of the house-made whipped cream, again, in the spirit of keeping a fair playing field. The mocha was fine, not my favorite. It tasted a bit watered down, and the chocolate flavor was absent. The coffee was also not as strong as I would prefer. It wasn't until I finished the drink that I realized the chocolate had all sunk to the bottom! The more you know.

Pandamonium Doughnuts
1105 Windsor Rd.
W-Su 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Check out our other mocha round-up article.

Top image by Rachel Thompson.