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The Coffee Spot Guide to Leeds

The magnificent Leeds Town Hall, one the UK's largest, was built between 1853 and 1858.Leeds is one part of the Yorkshire Coffee Triangle, an area with a homegrown speciality coffee scene which has developed over the years. This has been supported by a number local roasters, although you’ll find a range of coffee in the city from Yorkshire and beyond. Although there are outposts of good coffee in places such as Chapel Allerton, the bulk of Leeds coffee scene, including its roasters, are in the compact city centre, which you can walk across in under 20 minutes.

The city benefits from this compact centre, bordered to the south by the River Aire and the Leeds Dock development, while the motorway forms a useful boundary to the north, east and west. Leeds has an abundance of beautiful Victorian buildings, as well as boasting one the country’s largest town halls and some amazing Victorian arcades, including Thornton’s Arcade and the redeveloped Victoria Quarter. Much of the centre is pedestrianised, making wandering around a very rewarding activity.

As with all these guides, this is not, and does not claim to be, a comprehensive guide to Leeds’ coffee scene, which has boomed over the last year or so.

Header image: renovated warehouses on the north bank of the River Aire, just south of Leeds city centre.

Coffee Spots

200 Degrees, Leeds

An Indonesian single-origin espresso in a classic black cup, served at 200 Degrees in Leeds.Nottingham-based café/roaster, 200 Degrees, opened its first café just four years ago, since when it’s been rapidly spreading west and south, with branches in Birmingham, Leicester and as far afield as Cardiff, plus there’s a second Nottingham outlet. However, in December 2016, 200 Degrees struck out northward to open its first Yorkshire branch in Leeds.

It’s not fair to say that if you’re seen one 200 Degrees, you’ve seen them all. However, there is a very definite 200 Degrees look, layout and feel, so if you’ve been to one, then the other branches will hold few surprises, although each has its own quirks. In the case of the Leeds branch, all the usual features are there, including a barista school upstairs. While it most closely resembles the Leicester branch, with outside seating and a second seating area at the back, it lacks Leicester’s soaring mezzanine area.

The coffee follows the same tried-and-trusted formula, with the house espresso blend, Brazilian Love Affair, joined by the interestingly-named Mellowship Slinky Decaf and a single-origin guest espresso, plus another single-origin on filter, all roasted in-house. There’s cold-brew on tap, plus the usual food options, including breakfast and lunch sandwiches, salads and bucket-loads of cake.

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Kapow Coffee, The Calls

Details from the sign in the window of Kapow! Coffee at 44 The Calls in Leeds.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.

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Kapow Coffee, Thornton’s Arcade

Kapow! The neon sign from Kapow Coffee's second branch in Leeds' Thornton's Arcade.The original Kapow Coffee is a small spot, tucked away on The Calls in Leeds. This, the second branch, which opened in April 2017, is a much larger affair, although initially it seems not much bigger than the original. Located in the magnificent Thornton’s Arcade, one of Leeds’ many fine examples of Victorian architecture, it occupies a narrow store, spread over three storeys, with a smattering of seating on each floor.

The extra space has allowed Kapow to expand its coffee offering compared to the original, where there’s just a single espresso blend on offer. Here, the Revelation blend from Union Hand-roasted is a permanent feature, joined a regularly-rotating guest espresso. There’s a selection of single-origin coffees available via the V60, while there’s an even larger selection of retail bags and, if you ask nicely, the staff will make you a pour-over of any of these. While I was there, local roasters Maude Coffee and North Star were well-presented, with Maude’s Parallel making an appearance as the guest espresso.

If you are hungry, there’s a selection of cakes and sandwiches displayed on the counter, while if coffee’s not your thing, there’s hot chocolate and tea from Bristol’s Canton Tea Co.

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La Bottega Milanese, Bond Court

A flat white from La Bottga Milanese in Leeds. The coffee is in a white, tulip cup with the words "La Bottga Milanese" written on the inside of the rim, with the cafe's logo on the front.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!

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Laynes Espresso, New Station Street

A unique take on the tasting note card from Laynes Espresso in Leeds: the Tasting Note Beer Mat.From its home on New Station Street, Laynes Espresso has long been at the forefront of speciality coffee in Leeds. Once-upon-time, there was just Laynes, then came Belgrave Hall, the (relatively short-lived) Sheaf Street Canteen and a pop-up at Leeds Dock, all of which have now closed as Laynes has consolidated, renewing its focus on the original Laynes in the process.

This used to be a small, cosy spot, with an equally cosy basement. However, Laynes underwent an expansion at the end of 2016, taking over the space to the right and knocking through both upstairs and down. The new Laynes is three times the size, transforming the upstairs into a bright, spacious coffee shop and kitchen, while the basement has lost its claustrophobic feel.

With the extra space comes an expanded menu and an increased focus on food. Building on the expertise gained first through weekend brunches at Belgrave and then Sheaf Street and various pop-ups, Laynes is as much, if not more, about food as it is about coffee. The result is an awesome all-day breakfast/brunch menu, heavy on vegetarian choices. The coffee, as ever, is from Square Mile, with Red Brick on espresso and a single-origin pour-over.

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Mrs Atha's

The Mrs Atha's Logo: the words "Mrs Atha's" in gold capitals, with the words "Coffee & Tea" written beneath, all above the word "Leeds" written in script.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.

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North Star Coffee Shop

Details from the sign on the door of North Star's Coffee Shop & General Store in Leeds Dock.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.

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North Star Micro Roasters

A bag of Ethiopian Rocko Mountain Reserve beans from North Star Coffee Roasters in Leeds.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!

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Opposite Chapel Allerton

The Opposite logo in white chalk on a black background, with the word 'Coffee' written underneath.Out in Chapel Allerton, in the leafy suburbs north of Leeds city centre, is the third of the eclectic local chain known as Opposite. The original Opposite (opposite Leeds University, hence the name) is nearly 10 years old, while the second (now closed), under the soaring stained-glass arcades of the Victoria Quarter shopping centre, opened five years ago. They were joined last year by the Chapel Allerton branch, which opened under the name “Cup & Saucer”. However, about a week after my visit, it was due to be re-branded as “Opposite Chapel Allerton”.

Several people in the Leeds coffee scene told me that it was their favourite spot, and I can see why. Just off the busy Harrogate Road, in a parade of local shops and restaurants (which includes a large Caffe Nero), it’s a lovely little spot, exuding charm all the way from the big windows at the front to the massive chalk drawing on the back wall.

Sandwiched between window and wall is some excellent food, a great range of cake and some wonderful coffee from London’s Square Mile, plus regular guests. There’s a fairly standard espresso menu plus single-origin pour-over through V60 or Aeropress. It’s well worth a detour!

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Stage Espresso and Brew Bar

The minimalist sign for Stage Espresso and Brewbar, hanging outside on Oxford Row.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.

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