Specialty coffee in the central Illinois town of Normal has reached a new stage of quality with the opening of Lvl Up Coffee Bar.
Brought to life by coffee roaster Noah Riley, Lvl Up aims for a quieter and more elevated coffee experience than what is offered at the higher-volume, video arcade-themed Bloom’s Coffee Bar, which Riley opened in 2019 in Bloomington.
The plant-filled 2,200-square-foot new shop in Normal features roasting on site, serene interior styling and an emphasis on equipment that balances volume with precision.
Two fireplaces, one built-in and one mobile, warm customers while the harnessed heat of a Typhoon roaster browns the shop’s beans within a soundproofed and well-ventilated roastery. Customers can see roasting in action through large windows.
Above the Corian back counter, deep green tiles form a backsplash designed by friends. On a white quartz retail bar with natural wood front, dual black SanRemo F18 SB espresso machines stand side by side.
Those machines receive what Riley described as “near-perfect water for coffee,” through a custom filtration that the former I.T. professional designed himself.
“[The water] still retains its minerals and all the things that everybody wants it to do,” said Riley. “I tried to do what seemed most natural to do, like the way that rainwater works… I thought about waterfall water and how that takes place, and that’s how I developed the system.”
After working in fiber optics and later as a server installer for a project management company, Riley exited the office-oriented tech life to follow his passion for coffee with the opening of Bloom, which was initially envisioned as a potentially replicable model.
With a single upright arcade console loaded with 300 games, Lvl Up nods to Bloom’s while offering a more quiet laid-back atmosphere. Riley came up with the new shop concept during the COVID pandemic of 2020.
“Lvl Up is more chill. It’s definitely got an upscale vibe, but Lvl Up also has a little bit of that arcade feel,” Riley said. “It pulls on that slightly, but more on the side of innovation than on the side of ‘old school.’
For all the coffees served at Bloom’s and Lvl Up, Riley aims to draw out some of the familiar brown sugar, cocoa and caramel notes of certain coffees, while also seeking coffees grown at higher elevations.
Lvl Up has been serving customers indoors and through a drive-through in November, while Bloom’s is scheduled to receive an interior overhaul later this year. Riley also plans to launch an online store for exceptional or rare coffees, as well as a program to provide other small local businesses access to high-quality coffees.
“The space doubles as an office space and a place for me to just kind of have my own area, away from the hectic parts of life and able to enjoy roasting high quality coffee,” Riley said of the roastery. “That’s really what it’s for. If I can roast for a couple shops here and there and just help them out, that’s what I’m going to do.”
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