Over Labor Day weekend I traveled to Southern California. Everyday I went to the beach, and followed up my sandy relaxation time with a cup of nitro coffee. Nitro coffee is cold brewed coffee that is passed through nitrogen to achieve a smooth texture and frothy head. I wasn’t a stranger to that type of brewing, but I was perplexed that it was served with ice there. Although I attempted to find appreciation in the way the locals served it, instead was myself sitting in a cafe in Southern California, and missing Champaign-Urbana. Once I returned to Central Illinois, I decided to walk my tastebuds through an adventure of mindfully consuming, and appreciating nitro coffee in C-U.
For this experiment I found three establishments that serve it: Art Mart, Espresso Royale, and Nitro Cup. I decided on making sure it was the first cup of coffee I’d have that day. One thing I love about coffee is that it’s based on preference of taste. Whichever way strikes your fancy, just know that Champaign-Urbana has you covered.
The cafe at Art Mart was buzzing with patrons. Finding a table outside was not as difficult as refusing the baked goods in the pastry case. I was surprised to see that this cup was the most expensive at $5 for a small, as well as fewer ounces, too. My first sip was a bit of a shock due to the large amounts of flavor that included hints of cherries, citrus fruits, and chocolate. It reminded me of a cocktail that would have been mixed with iced coffee, port wine, and chocolate milk. The temperature it was served was ideal for me, as it was the least cold on the list. The brew was thick, with limited foam, and I was full after a few tastes. This cup had the most flavor, and I imagine would have been delicious with cream.
1705 S Prospect Ave
M-Sat 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Su 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The first establishment I went to was Espresso Royale on the corner of Goodwin and Oregon. I ordered a small, received it in plastic cup, and sat outside on the patio. The light sprinkled through the leaves that hung over the table where I sat. I first noticed the condensation that wrapped around the cup. This was the coldest cup of nitro I tasted. There was some foam, and it looked like a fountain drink of Dr. Pepper with no ice. With each sip I took I noted the undertones of flavor. Although I had no idea what types of beans were used to create this good cup of coffee, words like “citrus, chocolate, and butterscotch” were scribbled in my notebook. The lightness of texture reminded me the most of traditional iced coffee. Overall it was a good cup of nitro, and cost $4.70.
1117 W Oregon St
7 a.m. to midnight daily
A visit to Nitro Cup required a little more planning, as the Nitro Cup bike was at Urbana's Market at the Square. Part of the charm with Nitro Cup was being served from the coffee cart. I took my plastic cup, and found a slab of concrete to sit down. While sitting there I noticed the large amount of foam, and thick consistency. I could have easily mistaken it for the cups of Guinness I saw at while visiting Dublin, Ireland's farmers' market last year. This brew was the smoothest one of the bunch. It reminded me of a mocha malt shake, with nutty hints of the Earth. I valued the experience of my autumn walk to the market, as well as the ability to buy a small for $3.60 directly from the guys who made it.
Photos by Kate Aldridge