Smile Politely

Cafe Zojo steals the show

There are places to get good coffee in C-U, there are swarms of places to get a cup of liquid containing a legal stimulant that vaguely resembles the stuff, and then there are places where the baristas have won awards for their work. We check out a contender in the latter category, Cafe Zojo.

Cafe Zojo celebrated its grand opening last week at The Pines at Stone Creek Commons development at Windsor and Philo Roads in Urbana. Tucked in between Kinex Fitness Studio and yet another Subway (%!@$#!), Cafe Zojo is a welcome addition to an otherwise factory-fresh, sterile-feeling retail park.

For their first week, Zojo offered free brewed coffee, charged $1 for all other beverages, and it turned out to be a huge success. The owner, Teresa Baldwin, told me they were expecting about 200 people to walk through the door on their first day, and instead the final number reached well over 500. This venture is not a huge leap for Baldwin—before opening Cafe Zojo, she was the coffee side of the operation next door at Wines at the Pines. With a surprising lack of cafes in southeast Urbana, the demand for a good cup became overwhelming, and the idea for Cafe Zojo was born.

As far as food, Cafe Zojo mainly specializes in cold case, grab-and-go lunches, though they also feature a handful of hot items: empanadas, quiches, and delicious soups. The head chef at Escobar’s makes and delivers the soup every morning, and oh my—our Caribbean plantain & carrot soup was good. Really good. The same can be said about everything else we tried. The empanadas were wonderfully flaky, the salad was crisp and extremely fresh, and my bagel and lox plate was perfect. The barista gladly offered to toast the bagel and plate everything for me (items in the cold case are housed in plastic to-go containers). This was the best part of the visit for us—sitting back in an old wooden chair, chatting with a friend, having a long munch and sipping a beautifully crafted latte.

If it isn’t made in-house, it’s made nearby. Fans of Urbana’s Market at the Square will be pleased to find Cafe Zojo employing a wide variety of familiar names—dairy from Kilgus Farmstead, eggs from J&T Farms, greens from Blue Moon Farm, sprouts from Tiny Greens, pastries from Rick’s Bakery, and of course Escobar’s daily soups.

All of the dishes we tried were delicious, and perfect in terms of cost and convenience. Zojo proudly serves items that cater to vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free diets. The coffee, however, is the standout star of Cafe Zojo, and they’ve set themselves apart from the other caffeine peddlers in town by featuring pour over coffee.

Pour over falls into the water-displacement method of brewing. Grounds are placed in a filter, then into a ceramic cone. Hot water is then slowly poured over, and once the grounds are immersed, the “slurry” is stirred and the water is allowed to slowly drain into a container below. Proponents of this method claim it provides a cleaner, smoother, more fully-extracted cup than other methods. I’ll admit, as a french press user, I was surprised to see the fullness and body achieved with the pour over. Zojo has plans to feature rotating guest roasters for their pour overs, including Counter Culture Coffee, Verve Coffee Roasters, Gaslight Coffee Roasters, Ritual Roasters, and MadCap Coffee Company, and many more to come.

Though the coffee, food, and general ambiance of Cafe Zojo are wonderful, what really impressed me was the staff’s infectious passion for good food, solid relationships with the community, and of course coffee. Their head barista, Lindsay Bailey, is a certified Technical and a certified Sensory judge for the United States Barista Competition/Specialty Coffee Association of America (meaning she knows her shit). Teresa, Lindsay and the rest of the crew tasted through 30 different brands of coffee before settling on Intelligentsia. Lindsay explains, “When choosing Intelligentsia, it was a fairly easy decision when it came down to it. With the seasonal coffee offerings, outstanding direct trade relationships with coffee producers at origin, and the fantastic people at Intelligentsia, the relationship between Intelli and Zojo was an effortless decision.”

She went on to explain that Intelligentsia’s Roasting Works, as well as their training lab, are located in Chicago, giving them a better opportunity to keep things semi-local while giving our community the chance to enjoy a cup of Intelligentsia coffee exactly as it should be. Product consistency is a primary focus—staff members are not only trained to make the perfect cup, they go so far as to calibrate the espresso grinders every morning to match the strength of the specific barista pressing the grounds.

Plans for the future include new menu items (a bunch have already been added since our visit), cuppings (coffee tastings) lead by Lindsay, and hopefully some live music outside on their spacious patio.

Cafe Zojo is located 2740 S. Philo Rd. Suite D, or better yet, just go to The Pines. You’re sure to find it. You can check out their website. Hours of operation are 6:30 a.m.–10 p.m. every day!

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