By Madison Gillespie
The University of Illinois boasts a number of coffee shops, each with a dedicated following. Espresso Royale never fails to impress with its $2 lattes every Wednesday; Hammerhead Coffee and Café Social offer modern study spaces from the ground floors of apartment complexes; and Starbucks is always around when you need a pink drink or frappuccino fix. But one small, brown-brick coffee shop on Fifth might just outshine them all.
Located at 630 South Fifth Street in Champaign and next door to the Neutral Cycle bike shop, Brewlab Coffee is an independently-owned café that is still fairly new to campus. It opened this past June and has since established itself as a cozy hideaway where, according to the company’s website, “quality coffee is brewed, stories are shared, and our lives are enriched.”
Step one foot into Brewlab, and you will quickly discover the truth to that statement. While the shop’s interior design contains both industrial and rustic elements, the real focal point is the walls. Made of 100 percent whiteboard material, all of Brewlab’s walls are literal canvases waiting (and encouraged) to be covered. Little buckets of dry erase markers are scattered throughout the shop, oftentimes mounted to the walls for customer convenience. The results are nothing short of amazing.
From inspirational quotes to doodles of cartoon characters to squandered games of Hangman and Tic-Tac-Toe, Brewlab is a gallery for all sorts of creations. You are really able to get a sense of the memories that have been created there, which makes getting a cup of coffee an even more special experience. Brewlab also cleans their walls every week, so you never know what interesting art will be in store on your next visit!
In terms of their menu, Brewlab offers their own twist on classic coffee and tea varieties, as well as some freshly baked pastries. While their menu is smaller than other coffee shops on campus, all of Brewlab’s beverages are packed with strong, rich flavors. I have only tried their mocha latte and pumpkin pie latte (their version of the pumpkin spice latte), but I was thoroughly impressed by both drinks. They are very aromatic, tasting more earthy than sweet. These are perfect beverages if you are in the mood for something invigorating, but still want to be left with a “warm and fuzzy” feeling after finishing your drink.
Also, while I personally haven’t tried it, Brewlab is quickly gaining popularity for its pour-over coffee. They offer a variety of pour-over flavors every season, all of which are provided by Halfwit Coffee Roasters in Chicago! True coffee connoisseurs have this to look forward to as well.
Aside from their main menu, Brewlab also sells other products that give back to the community: screen-printed tees featuring local designs; honey sourced from Guatemala; and hand-painted patches designed by one of the shop’s own baristas! In addition, customers have the option to build their own six-pack of root beers and colas from Homer Soda, a vintage soda company in Illinois.
All in all, Brewlab is a small café with a big voice. It inspires creativity, supports fair trade and other local businesses, and serves some pretty darn good coffee. If you’re in the mood to study, doodle, and enjoy your drink out of an oversized mug or mason jar, then this is the place for you.
All images featured in this article are from Brewlab’s Instagram account. Give them a follow (@brewlab.coffee) today!