Paradise Perks: Irvine's Unlikeliest Cool College Coffeehouse
Saba Tauqir Crunchy on the top, crumbly in the middle.
The ingredients for Inspiration are simple: peppermint, rose hip and rose petals. At least, that's what the only hand-written label on the line of glass jars holding dozens of types of tea at Paradise Perks states. The dark-tainted leaves in that jar don't look like inspiration; they just look like dirty leaves. But Inspiration is Perks's third-most popular tea, and these ingredients combine to create a unique blend, a lot like the tea bar itself.
Although Paradise claims to be an "espresso and tea bar," it has more of a smoothie-shop vibe than high-class espresso. Broken up into two sections, the first is a typical coffee shop setting with sleek tables, air-conditioning and art that blends in with the dark walls. A wall with glass doors separates this area from the open-walled recreational room for those more willing to be easily distracted. Paradise lives up to its aspirations, with comfortable furniture designed to convince you to stay longer and colorful art (some from local artists, and for sale) hanging off the multi-colored walls.
The dÃ©cor is designed so you can spend some quality time with a (text)book, pound out that essay due fifteen minutes ago, or socialize with friends. Tables of every shape and size are scattered all around the room and power outlets are readily available and reachable. Unlike at a chain, you won't get dirty looks here from other customers for meeting with a large group of people because the majority of the sound drifts right outside the open wall leading out onto the street. There's no need for earbuds to block out the noise of the coffee grinder because the wall separate this area from the service area. Large fans above you and the breeze from the open street keep you cool and fight the summer heat.
The coffee itself is not spectacular and the food is typical of any coffee shop save for the 7-layer bar: instantly sweet because of the thick layer of coconut, with the other six flavors (butterscotch and chocolate, among them) catching up soon after the first bite. It's crunchy on the top, crumbly on the bottom, with melted chocolate chips making it soft in the middle. And you'll keep picking coconut shavings between your teeth even ten minutes later.
Even if you're a Starbucks or chain loyalist, Paradise usually offers versiosn of tried-and-true favorites. Are you a Frappachino addict? There's Dragonflies for that. Want a soothing cup of tea? True to its tea bar claim, Paradise offers over a dozen choices, listed by popularity on their multi-colored chalkboards, Starbucks and Coffee Bean-style.
The baristas--who always seem as if they just took biology with you at across-the-street Irvine Valley College last semester--are always fabulous, and their better ones offer drink suggestions to perpetually confused (I prefer "curious") customers. The outdated menu on the wall doesn't offer much help--it seems that half of what's available has yet to make it onto that menu-- but the baristas whip up new drinks on the spot. Even better: They also offer sandwiches and smoothies, but they're not against customers grabbing something from the cafes across the street and bringing it over.
Paradise is well aware of IVC, UCI, and Concordia students, offering special hours during IVC finals week, but the typical crowd ranges from students to writers, businessmen to friends meeting for an afternoon coffee. But don't go there expecting just a few peaceful hours reading Kierkegaard. Paradise's defining feature is its focus on promoting local artists, musicians and comedians through special theme nights that include everything from open mic to magic shows. Artists display their work for sale, and writers leave copies of their books on the counter for the same reason.
But best of all? Paradise stays open past 10 p.m.--absolutely unheard of in Irvine.