Some Yorkshire natives frequently describe the area as “God’s own county,” which suggests they’re not shy of sharing the virtues of this northern English region. Leeds is Yorkshire’s largest city, which may explain the loud and proud approach of many locals when their home is the subject.
That said, the place does have a fair bit to shout about. Formerly an industrial powerhouse built on the milling trade, Leeds has evolved to become the country’s second-largest financial and legal hub, with four universities fueling growth across different sectors.
Previously dubbed “the United Kingdom’s fastest-growing city,” Leeds now blends historic houses of commerce like the 1857 Kirkgate Market—one of the largest in Europe—with designer developments such as Trinity Leeds. But fortunately, it’s not all big brands. Recent years have seen the city’s independent economy thrive, and this is evident in the ever-expanding set of places to pick up a great coffee.
Locals appreciate this daily, whether they’re working on deals, dissertations, or just feel tired from worrying over when Leeds United will finally awake from slumber and win promotion back to the Premier League. But the city’s well worth a stop for tourists too, particularly as its cultural, sporting, and social attractions are a straightforward train trip from London, Edinburgh, Manchester, or York. The list below is by no means exhaustive, but if you feel your energy dipping as you wander across this lively city, it includes some of the best places to grab a brew and recharge.
La Bottega Milanese
A man in an immaculate shirt and tie dispenses drinks and “Ciaos” in perfect synchrony. Customers sip cappuccinos while standing at tiny tables. People in suits breeze past naked lightbulbs and concrete pillars. That instrumental funk you’re imagining? It’s playing.
You might be in Leeds, but the stylish La Bottega Milanese does its best to capture something of the city it’s named after. Espresso comes from two La Marzocco Linea Classic Pros, and the drinks menu proudly wears its Italian heritage, with traditional nods including an affogato and a liqueur-spiked espresso corretto.
The “off-peak” service section offers AeroPress and V60 cups too, and more modern tastes are reflected in the range of non-dairy milk and matcha, beetroot, and turmeric lattes. One of three grinders will presumably always hold La Bottega’s own La Classica blend, but recent guest espresso came courtesy of Darkwoods Coffee, based only 25 miles from Leeds.
If you plan to stop for more than a quick caffeine hit, you might find yourself tempted by the counter of savory and sweet Italian treats. Do chocolate cannoli taste just as good regardless of which country you’re in? There’s only one way to be sure.
North Star Coffee Shop & General Store
Want to escape the city buzz and wander by some water? A 20-minute walk from the central train station, North Star lies just off the River Aire on Leeds Dock. While the company has been roasting coffee since 2013, the cafe opened its doors less than two years ago.
The outside seating might not always be your first choice (Yorkshire isn’t famous for its climate), but the tranquil interior provides an ideal opportunity to relax with a drink. A piccolo with North Star’s Burundi Maruri Natural was the best coffee of my last weekend in Leeds, and the shelves were full of more offerings from Peru, Rwanda, and El Salvador. A La Marzocco Linea PB sits on the light wood counter—there are always two espresso choices—while filter comes from Marco SP9 brewers.
Noisette Bakehouse takes care of the food here: breakfast and lunch plus highly photogenic cakes and pastries. The “General Store” features plenty of coffee equipment next to various food and drink products, and the menu also includes beers from some of Leeds’s superb breweries. One of which—Northern Monk—has a bar that is only a short stroll back up the riverside …
Something of an early fixture on the Leeds specialty coffee scene, an unmistakable orange front gives way to a clean, minimal space. (Is it possible to say that a venue opened in 2011 has a rather “classic” feel? Maybe in this industry.)
Layne's baristas serve espresso from a Synesso MVP, with batch and pour-over brews also on the board. London’s Square Mile regularly provides the coffee here, but the V60 was recently loaded with a single-origin Colombian from Round Hill Roastery in southwest England.
Being around the corner from Leeds Station means Layne’s is often busy, but the apparently compact layout benefits from chilled out basement seating. The main service area provides contrasting viewing opportunities: will you choose a window pew and look out on bustling commuters, or turn inwards to see plates proceed from the open kitchen? The food includes brunch comforts such as Turkish eggs and buckwheat pancakes, as well as coffee complements from fellow Leeds business Porterhouse Cake Co.
Given its people-watching potential—and how tough it can be to find good coffee in the United Kingdom after 5pm—it’s worth knowing that Layne’s is open until 7pm weekdays, 6pm weekends.
Temple Coffee & Donuts
Though it sits on an unremarkable lot among garages and petrol stations, this is a popular fuel stop to the west of the city’s financial district. Savvy work on branding and social media is reflected on the premises, where the décor’s as bright as the rainbow of donuts at the counter. If you don’t plan on dunking one of these in your drink, they can be carried away for later in equally fresh pink and green boxes.
Still, it’s not a case of style over substance. Coffee–from East London’s Dark Arts–flows smoothly from a three-group La Marzocco Strada, with batch-brew filter available. Vegan caffeine fiends might appreciate that the swap to oat milk is free, which is not the case in some other city shops. It makes sense here though: all the donuts are vegan, as is the ice cream.
A couple of iced coffee options sit alongside more alternative specials, including the “Purple Haze: lavender steamed milk with floral flavors.” There’s less in the way of coffee equipment for sale, but there is a wall of branded merch should you desire a cafe-related souvenir of your stay in Leeds.
Its renown as a shopping destination means that each weekend crowds hit Leeds in search of glitzy goods. If that all gets too much, you can stop here in the smaller Thornton’s Arcade, and find an oasis of relaxed style and substance.
Kapow’s downstairs area is snug, with a couple of small tables and some window seats. This means customers have the option of chatting with the friendly staff, who knock out espresso on a Kees van der Westen Mirage Duette. Pour-overs are on hand too; a honey-processed Ethiopian from Echelon Coffee Roasters was fresh and floral on my latest stop.
Echelon was one of several Leeds-based coffee brands stocked on that visit. Maude Coffee Roasters—last seen plotting another specialty venue for Leeds, titled Fwd Coffee—was also among the many retail bags in the window. This suggests a laudable commitment to the locality, despite the house espresso being provided by London’s Union Coffee.
Customers who pass the small but well-filled cabinet of goodies—plenty of gluten-free options alongside decadent brownies from Leeds’s Brown & Blond—can enjoy a peaceful hour on two airy additional floors, with artwork dotting the walls throughout.
This unfussy pit-stop between the city centre and the student areas of Hyde Park and Headingley has been around longer than many of the specialty spots in Leeds: a sign informs passers-by that Opposite has been “Smashing out amazing coffee since 2005.”
The Cafe lies—funnily enough—opposite the main campus of the University of Leeds and therefore fuels the toil of students and staff throughout the day. But this isn’t an extension of the library: the easygoing vibe means many tables are free of textbooks, and the helpful baristas are just as accommodating to customers from further afield. Dropping in on a weekday afternoon, I was handed a super-smooth oat milk flat white, and suggestions for other worthy cafes in the city.
Here, Union Coffee is fed into a La Marzocco Linea PB, with batch-brew from the likes of North Star. Tempting homemade cakes are bolstered by strong pastry work from another Yorkshire city; cinnamon buns and more are sent up from Sheffield’s Cawa Bakery. Back in Leeds, Opposite could provide a handy pause on the way to an intimate gig at the Brudenell Social Club, or a film at the beautiful Hyde Park Cinema.
Cielo Coffee House
Though Leeds has certainly improved in the last few years, it’s not always easy to find a quality cup away from more central parts. Happily, this outpost in the eastern area of Garforth has been roasting and pouring coffee for more than a decade, and has retained its upbeat atmosphere.
This might be down to the owners’ commitment to giving their profits to other local organizations, or their volunteer program, which helps young people gain coffee skills that can lead to paid employment.
It would be a shame if the product didn’t match the principles, but thankfully it deserves a mention too. All of Cielo’s coffee is roasted on site, and an April trip to Uganda was planned to build more direct relationships with importers. Espresso is dispensed from a La Marzocco FB80, and the house choice is rotated regularly.
Nearby French bakery Dumouchel supplies excellent pastries, and those wanting a sugar fix might also eye the hot chocolates, often served swaying with cream and chunks of sweet snacks. Cielo is a heartening example of a neighborhood independent that has survived the nationwide deluge of awful-to-average chain coffee.
Martin Flynn is a freelance journalist based in Sheffield. This is Martin Flynn's first feature for Sprudge.
Top image by Dan Seekings.