Review | Caffe Paradiso is paradise on earth — at a price


Lisa Chasanov

Side entrance of Caffe Paradiso

By Lisa Chasanov, Summer Editor

If you ever find yourself on a jaunty stroll down the tree-lined Urbana streets, Caffe Paradiso is a fantastic — albeit overpriced — spot to sip a coffee, talk to your friends, cram some homework or reckon with the self-inflicted anxiety that accompanies an impending due date. 

If you’ve never been to Caffe Paradiso, prepare yourself for an experience unlike any other campus coffee stand. Paradiso can be described as an “experience” because its menu is far from the first reason to choose it over other local study locations. In fact, this spot derives relatively little of its allure from its food and beverage selection – Paradiso’s unique contributions to the Champaign coffee market are its colorful space and dynamic energy.

The local business, tucked between McKinley Health Center and the Music Building, is a cornerstone of the Urbana dorm experience and an acclaimed study spot for students across the entire campus.

On Monday afternoon, the air in the café was permeated by the scent of freshly brewed pour-over coffee and the sound of “Say It Ain’t So” by ’90s rock band Weezer at an ambient volume. 

When classes are in session, Paradiso is almost always aglow with laptop screens and abuzz with the sounds of business meetings, awkward first dates and friendly gatherings. Now, with most students having vacated campus, the Urbana coffee institution is more sparsely occupied, meaning that it’s uncharacteristically easy to find an extra-comfy seat in the middle of a Monday afternoon.

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The coffee counter and permanent menu at Caffe Paradiso (Lisa Chasanov)

Paradiso brews its coffee using beans from Intelligentsia, a Chicago-based third-wave coffee company that describes its mission as “elevating a daily ritual into a culinary experience” on its website.

As a somewhat avid connoisseur of medium roast black coffee — I know, annoying of me, right? — Paradiso’s pour-over is one of my favorites in all of Champaign.

With notes of bright cherry, decadent chocolate and smoky oak, the aromatic brew is positively delightful from the first sip to the last. It’s a damn good cup of Joe — and it should be, for almost $5 including tax. 

In spite of the price tag, there is reason for the occasional visit to Paradiso, both for the sake of a good cup of coffee and the aesthetic appeal of the study location; that is, if you can find a table.

The chalkboard inscribed with Paradiso’s spring menu is beginning to smudge around the edges, signaling the imminent replacement of this roster with its summer counterpart. Their offerings feature a rotating variety of craft espresso and tea beverages that reflect seasonal flavors, TikTok-viral ingredients and health-oriented superfoods.

Paradiso’s generously sized slices of banana bread, which are neatly packaged in resealable plastic bags, feature crunchy slivered almonds, caramelized edges and controversial chocolate chips. Although the pastry is well-made and represents the coffee shop well, one slice comes with a price tag of almost $4 with tax. A takeaway? It may be worth the hassle to mash up some overripe bananas and attempt to recreate the treat at home.

Caffe Paradiso storefront on South Lincoln Avenue (Lisa Chasanov)

You may ask, are Caffe Paradiso’s food and coffee worth the price tag on their own merit?


The justification for Paradiso’s prices is in the experience — it is teeming with atmosphere, comfort and quaint details. There are days when I opt to spend an afternoon at Paradiso over my usual coffee-slinging haunt  Espresso Royale on Oregon Street  because I yearn for its completely irreplicable vibe. It is an indescribable joy to complete homework assignments at one of Paradiso’s wooden booths, bathing in the warm tree-filtered sunlight that passes through their floor-to-ceiling windows.


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