A new arrival in Leeds’ growing speciality coffee scene is Stage Espresso and Brew Bar (Stage, for short), which opened at the start of 2017, tucked away behind the Town Hall and opposite the Leeds General Infirmary. Although it hadn’t been open long when I visited in August, it had already garnered high praise, being the one place everyone in Leeds consistently mentioned when I asked about new coffee shops to visit.
It’s a lovely spot, on a north-facing corner, with windows along two sides, plus a cosy downstairs seating area at the back that’s probably slightly bigger than the already spacious upstairs. However, perhaps the best feature is Copper, a young Beagle (who is the same age as Stage, give or take a month). You can find him most days, curled up in his basket by the retail shelves at the back.
When it comes to coffee, Stage uses Union Hand-roasted, although there are plans to have occasional guests in as and when there’s something that catches the eye. There’s a house-espresso, plus a guest, along with multiple options on filter. One of these is available as a daily bulk-brew, while the rest are made using the Kalita Wave.
Kapow Coffee has been on my radar for a while. A small spot, it’s on The Calls in Leeds, a quiet street running parallel to the railway tracks and the river, half way between the station (and the likes of Laynes Espresso) and Leeds Dock (North Star). Spiritually, it’s the successor to the original La Bottega Milanese, which started life a few doors away before moving on to bigger and better things at The Light and Bond Court. However, other than using La Bottega’s espresso blend from Dark Woods, it’s very much its own place.
Kapow has a cut-down, espresso-based menu, supplemented by tea from the Canton Tea Co, a toast-based food menu and plenty of cake. There’s also an impressive selection of retail beans from a range of roasters. While there’s not much seating, what Kapow lacks in space, it makes up for in cosiness and a friendly atmosphere.
North Star moved its roastery from the northern suburbs to the Leeds Dock development in the heart of Leeds last year. However, it wasn’t until this summer that it opened its new coffee shop in the space next door. A beautiful, high-ceilinged, glass-fronted spot, it’s the perfect showcase for North Star’s considerable output, with two single-origins on espresso and four on pour-over using the Kalita Wave and Marco Beverage Systems SP9.
If you are hungry, there are breakfast plates and bakes, plus lunches and, from 10am to 3pm on weekends, a concise brunch menu. This has four options, all vegetarian, with nut-free, vegan and gluten-free options available. There’s also an excellent selection of tasty-looking cakes, all baked fresh each day by Noisette, which does the food from the open kitchen behind the counter.
If that’s not enough, there’s also a range of loose-leaf tea from Storm and hot chocolate from Kokoa Collection. What’s more, North Star doubles as a general store, with a corner to the left of the door devoted to the likes of free-range eggs and sourdough loaves. As you’d expect, there’s a range of coffee-making kit for sale, along with bags (and boxes) of North Star’s coffee.
Opposite is a chain of three coffee shops in Leeds. The original Opposite (opposite Leeds University, hence the name) is 10 years old, while the third, out in Chapel Allerton, opened just over a year ago. This, the second Opposite, opened five years ago, under the soaring stained-glass arcades of the Victoria Quarter shopping centre in the heart of Leeds.
The Victoria Quarter branch is an interesting hybrid. It’s a kiosk, and feels like it should be a takeaway spot, but it’s got seating. However, despite the soaring glass ceiling, it’s not exactly the same as sitting inside, which I discovered on a freezing day in February where it was about as a warm as sitting out on the street… That said, it is an absolutely magnificent setting and well worth visiting. Just remember to wrap up warm. Or go in the summer.
Despite its small size, the Victoria Quarter Opposite packs a lot in, including a full range of espresso-based drinks, along with filter options (all from London’s Square Mile). There’s also a decent range of food, including sandwiches and cakes. The only downside is that all the drinks are served in takeaway cups…
January 2017: Sadly I have learnt that Opposite’s Victoria Quarter branch has had to close. It will be sadly missed.
One of two outlets for La Bottega Milanese in Leeds, the branch in the Light pre-dates the recently-opened branch in Bond Court. Naturally, this being the Coffee Spot, I visited them in reverse order, first calling into Bond Court before venturing to The Light (which is a shopping and retail centre built around the old headquarters building of the Leeds Permanent Building Society).
The Light itself is a wonderful structure, of soaring brick facades and glass ceilings. La Bottega Milanese occupies a corner spot on the ground floor, just by the escalators up to the cinema. You can sit “outside” on the street without having to worry about being rained on, since it’s all enclosed by a glass ceiling.
If you’ve read my piece on Bond Court, you’ll already be familiar with La Bottega Milanese’s offering. If not, La Bottega Milanese expertly blends Italian espresso tradition with modern, third-wave roasting know-how from Dark Woods (having previously used Grumpy Mule until the start of 2016). The food’s pretty decent too: in the morning, pastries and other breakfast goodies, replaced at lunch by sandwiches and salads, which in turn give way to cake in the afternoon. Finally, come evening, there are small plates, tapas and beer/wine. Truly a café for all occasions!
Leeds’ much-loved Laynes Espresso, down by the station, has a second outlet, perhaps best described as a pop-up concession (although it’s permanent) on the ground floor of the sprawling Belgrave Music Hall and Canteen. Occupying a simple counter at the back of the main room, at first sight there’s not a lot to Laynes Espresso, just the espresso machine, some cake and a bar with three stools. There’s no pour-over filter and none of the food (not even toast!) that you’ll find at Laynes HQ.
However, scratch beneath the surface and you’ll find there’s a lot more than meets the eye. Since Laynes is part of Belgrave Music Hall, you can take your coffee and sit anywhere you like, including the roof terrace. You want food? There’s burgers (Patty Smiths) and pizza (Dough Boys). There’s even a bar… And, once a month, Laynes takes the place over for Sunday brunch!
August 2017: I’ve learnt that Laynes has closed its operation in Belgrave Hall. Thanks to Wayne for the heads-up.
Today’s Saturday Supplement is another in the occasional Meet the Roaster series. Today we’re in Leeds, at North Star Micro Roasters, who have been going for just over a year now. I went to see Krag and Ellis, the guys behind North Star, back in the summer as part of my Coffee Spot tour of Leeds.
Roasting with a 5 kg Toper in an industrial estate just north of Leeds, North Star is that city’s first micro-roaster, which is a quite a surprise considering the strong coffee scene in the city and in the nearby Harrogate and York, which, together with Leeds, make up the Yorkshire Coffee Triangle. There’s also a strong roasting presence with the likes of Holmfirth’s Grumpy Mule, while in Harrogate, Falcon Speciality is one of the country’s leading green bean importers.
However, Leeds’ wait for a speciality coffee roaster to call its very own ended last October when North Star started production. There are two espresso blends, the seasonal Czar Street, which changes three to four times a year, and the Dark Arches blend. Added to this are around eight single-origins, roasted primarily for filter, but with some roasted for espresso.
August 2017: North Star moved the roastery to Leeds Dock last year, opening a cafe in the space next door in July this year. Expect an update soon!
Bringing the best of Milanese espresso bar culture to Leeds might be one way of describing La Bottega Milanese. However you care to describe it though, there’s a distinctly modern, Italian feel to the new branch of La Bottega Milanese on Bond Court, which I was fortunate enough to visit back in June, a few weeks after it opened.
Compared to the intimate charm of, say, Laynes Espresso (before it’s expansion in 2017), or the brick-and-wood grandeur of Mrs Atha’s, La Bottega Milanese is a different kettle of fish entirely. It also doesn’t have a basement! On the other hand, few can boast a 26-seat communal table, which is clearly the pride and joy of owner, Alex, nor do they have the generous outside seating that Bond Court affords La Bottega Milanese.
La Bottega Milanese blends Italian espresso tradition with modern, third-wave roasting know-how to produce a really lovely cup of coffee courtesy of local roasters, Grumpy Mule (although La Bottega has now switched roasters to Dark Woods at the start of 2016). The food’s pretty decent too: in the morning, pastries and other breakfast goodies, replaced at lunch by sandwiches and salads, which in turn give way to cake in the afternoon. Finally, come evening, there are small plates, tapas and beer/wine. Truly a café for all occasions!
The original Laynes Espresso, which has been serving fine Square Mile coffee to the folks of Leeds since 2011, has a great location for the traveller: just around the corner from Leeds Station. It’s sufficiently close that if you have any sort of wait between trains, you can nip out for a quick coffee.
It’s a small spot, the upstairs being dominated by the counter, with a couple of tables opposite and a bar in the window. A small basement doubles the available eating, but even so I doubt you could squeeze more than about 20 people in, with maybe another four outside. For more space, try Laynes’ concession in Belgrave Music Hall.
I visited twice, both times for breakfast, since it was just as conveniently located for my hotel as for the station and has the advantage of being open from seven o’clock in the morning. As well as a small breakfast menu (there was toast; therefore I was happy) there are sandwiches from 12 o’clock and an abundance of cake all day long.
For such a small place, there’s an excellent coffee menu, with espresso being supplemented with pour-over filter and a selection of loose-leaf plus Yorkshire Tea.
January 2017: Laynes Espresso now has a new extension which has significantly increased the seating available. Expect an update in due course.
On the pedestrianised Central Road, located, appropriately enough, right in the centre of Leeds, is the delightful Mrs Atha’s, perhaps one of the most complete coffee shops I’ve been to in ages. With a lovely interior, cosy little basement and small outside seating area, there’s plenty of seating options.
The coffee is provided by stalwarts Has Bean, with a house-blend, the charmingly-named “Mrs Atha’s Little Tipple”, on espresso and a single-origin on filter. There’s also a selection of single-origin filters from regularly-rotating guest roasters, quite often from Europe. Typically, I arrived the day before Mrs Atha’s new espresso machine, a Slayer no less, was due to be installed! Tea drinkers are also well catered for, with a wide selection of loose-leaf tea from Postcard Teas.
As good as the coffee (and tea) is, Mrs Atha’s is just as much about food, with a comprehensive all-day breakfast menu complimenting lunch and a selection of (very) specials, all of which are prepared in the basement kitchen. Add to that a wide range of extremely tempting cakes and you can’t really go wrong.
There is, by the way, a Mrs Atha: she’s the grandmother of the three brothers who own Mrs Atha’s.