The Dish List: Cielo Coffee

Where: 5317 University Dr. Irvine, 92612

How Much: $3-$5

Hours: Mon-Sat 5:30am-10:00pm  Sun 6:30pm-9:00pm

Rating: 2.5/5

A coffee shop is a sanctuary that many college students, myself included, hold very close to the heart. My perfect coffee shop combines smooth, bold coffee with a cozy ambiance that makes it a home-away-from-home. Combined, these qualities create the quintessential coffee shop experience.

Patrick Herrin | Photography Intern

Patrick Herrin | Photography Intern

While Cielo Coffee excels in the variety and quality of their coffee beverages, they lack the comfortable atmosphere that makes a coffee shop, well, a coffee shop.

Located about three miles down University Road in the Parkview Shopping Center, Cielo Coffee finds itself nestled, but in no way hidden, next to Union Bank and Subway.

The store itself seems a bit confused and like a fusion of a coffee shop, Yogurtland and Zot-n-Go. Immediately when you walk into the store, there are shelves of tea and ground coffee along with open refrigerators that shelf drinks and sandwiches for sale.

I picture a coffee shop color scheme to consist mostly of rich colors like browns and oranges. The walls of Cielo are painted an olive green, a nice color in theory, which unfortunately resembles more of a lime green thanks to the fluorescent lighting. The shop is well lit; a little too well lit. A coffee shop should have enough light so squinting isn’t required to read the menu, but also needs a certain amount of dimness to accent the colors and give the shop some warmth.  Spiral aluminum lamps hang from the walls over the table, matching the aluminum chairs neatly arranged around tables through most of the shop.  The two dark couches in the front of the store are the only pieces of furniture that seem remotely comfortable.

We arrived at the counter with an extensive menu to tackle. The selection of drinks was one of the most extensive I’ve ever seen, the display at the register had a selection of at least 15 different kinds of tea, not including the selection that was in the area akin to Zot-n-Go. While milk selection doesn’t seem to be too critical to a coffee shop, as a milk snob I was overly thrilled to find out that Cielo Coffee carried almond milk in addition to the traditional 2 percent, non-fat and soymilk.

Just when you think the options on a coffee shop menu could be exhausted, out of the corner of my eye I spotted an ice cream and smoothie menu, which seemed a bit out of place with the coffee shop theme, but fit very well with the Yogurtland atmosphere they seem to have adopted.

With the availability of almond milk, as well as my overall love for coffee, ordering shouldn’t have been a problem. But for a split second, the raspberry earl grey tea had me questioning my loyalty to coffee and almond milk. In the end, I stuck with my gut and ordered a tall almond milk latte, while my friend opted for a chamomile tea.

While ordering, the barista mentioned that if we checked in on Yelp we could get 10 percent off. As I got on my phone to check-in, I noticed that Cielo did not provide free Wi-Fi, which took me aback. In this day and age, free Wi-Fi at a coffee shop is not even an added bonus; it’s a pre-requisite in order to have “coffee” in the title of your store.

But I was still hanging on to hope with my almond milk latte. And that ended up being the saving grace of Cielo Coffee. Unlike other coffee shops, the coffee didn’t leave a bitter aftertaste of over-roasted coffee beans. The hint of nuttiness and lighter consistency of almond milk blended perfectly with the boldness of their advertised “100% Certified Organic Arabica” coffee beans.

While their coffee exceeded expectations, the atmosphere is what ultimately makes Cielo Coffee a stop-and-go coffee store. With a few changes in the décor, and most importantly the addition of Wi-Fi, Cielo Coffee has the potential to truly embrace the coffee shop experience in its entirety. Until then, I think I’ll take my almond milk latte to Starbucks to do my work.