In the heart of England, Sheffield is a winning mixture of past and present, where the proud industrial history of the Steel City lives on in numerous buildings, and in firms that still trade today. The world's first official soccer team was founded here in 1857, though Sheffield FC is now less familiar than the two top clubs, Wednesday and United.
While sports don't always score abroad, the city has shipped seriously successful cultural exports in more recent times. Brit guitar groups Pulp and the Arctic Monkeys both hail from Sheffield, and actor Sean Bean swung a sword in mega-franchises Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones.
There's some spectacular scenery on Sheffield's doorstep, too, with the Peak District national park a haven for walkers, cyclists, and climbers. And even when you’re strolling on concrete, a reputation as one of Europe's greenest cities means you're never far from a park.
But if you want to take all this in you'll need some fuel, and happily the culinary scene seems to be flourishing. Two food halls—packed with independent traders—have opened in the past year, while the city’s renown as an outstanding beer destination is well deserved. The last 12 months have seen new cafes open and existing ones expand, so there's probably never been a better time to grab a coffee and explore. You may end up stopping for a chat though—I found the staff at almost all these venues to be so friendly and happy to suggest other coffee highlights.
If you’re heading out of the city into the glorious Peak District, Upshot’s orange sign is a beacon for a worthwhile stop. Inside, a two-tiered seating area is all minimalism and light woods, the ceiling speckled artily with asymmetric tiles. A window bench fits neatly in the uncluttered space, which is popular with university students and staff from the nearby hospital.
A two-group Kees van der Westen espresso machine sits on the counter, where Girls Who Grind provides the regular stock. I enjoyed a smooth cappuccino from that roastery’s Fazenda Sertão Brazil and learned that Upshot’s guest espresso comes from “all over.” There’s batch brew and pour-over at hand, plus plenty of equipment for sale, including Chemex kits and kettles.
If you need a feed, the menu mixes brunch classics and less obvious choices such as savory oats with turmeric and mushrooms. Those offerings are bolstered by rows of baked treats, and if you take one thing away from this piece, ensure it’s the following: arrive early enough to get a cinnamon bun. In my opinion, whoever bakes these has completed cinnamon buns. (You can also find them at the owners’ other venture, Elm, alongside natural wines and smart small plates.)
Steam Yard Coffee Co.
This busy cafe sits just off Division Street, a road lined with young, independent businesses. That aesthetic continues inside via various pieces of cool wall art, but on sunny days the courtyard is the place to be.
Espresso runs through a Victoria Arduino Black Eagle, with house options by Caravan Coffee Roasters. My visit involved a sweet flat white from Caravan’s Market Blend, while guest espresso came from Campbell & Syme. Alongside batch filter, the bar also houses a tap for nitro cold brew. Floating further down the drinks list is the “Astronaut”. I haven’t tried this yet, but it’s reassuring to know that someone will pour an espresso macchiato into a short, chocolate lined ice cream cone if called upon to do so.
Speaking of ice cream, Steam Yard has recently collaborated with another Sheffield independent, Bullion Chocolate Company, and the menu now features frozen delights like peanut butter ice cream sandwiches. These recent additions compete against the established expertise of local outlet 4eyespatisserie—we’re talking cherry and pistachio cruffins filled with Chantilly cream.
Those wanting stodge rather than sugar can peruse a list of grilled cheese and brioche sandwiches, and toast with toppings that I would appreciatively describe as “posh”. Laptop laborers be aware: there’s no Wi-Fi.
Tamper has become something of a Sheffield institution since it brought “Kiwi cafe culture” to the city in 2011. There are now three venues around the city centre–including at the recently launched Kommune, a multi-vendor space stuffed with fantastic independent food and drink—but the focus on quality coffee remains.
At the original Seller’s Wheel outlet near Sheffield’s theatre complex, baristas run a three-group La Marzocco Linea PB and work with Tamper’s own blend from Ozone Coffee Roasters. Batch brew and drip options are available, and to me it’s still noticeable when a cafe serves an Americano in favor of a long black, allowing customers to dilute to their taste. Hasbean was in the guest espresso slot when I last visited, but the house roast made a delicious oat milk flat white.
Exiled New Zealanders and Australians might be tempted by the rare chance of a hot Milo, and an antipodean flavor is infused through the food menu: witness beetroot on burgers and the holy trinity of “smashed avo,” poached eggs, and halloumi. If you fancy something sweeter, Tamper’s lamingtons are a blissful combination of sponge, chocolate, and coconut.
Just around the corner from Sheffield’s Antiques Village, this Italian-inspired cafe retains something of a vintage vibe. Retro posters and soccer memorabilia almost form a mosaic, while home cooks can browse stacks of stylishly packaged pastas, oils, olives, and more.
The coffee menu is similarly classic. There’s nothing too fancy or alternative, but a creamy cappuccino feels a good fit in these surroundings. The house espresso is a blend of Brazil, Peru, Colombia, and Nicaragua, roasted darker than usual–at Bragazzis’ request–by fellow northern outfit Darkwoods Coffee. A compact, two-group La Cimbali dispenses the drinks, on a counter that’s usually half-covered with ruffled pastries and jars of bite-size cannoli.
If you have been browsing the antique stalls, or walking in one of the woods nearby, you could easily be drawn to the pristine Italian sandwiches piled on the glass cabinet. That’s presuming you enjoy golden ciabatta with salami, or roasted Mediterranean vegetables, or fresh mozzarella…
But whether you’re eating or not, the relaxed vibe—enhanced on my latest visit by a superb soundtrack of lo-fi American indie tunes—means Bragazzis can still offer you a slice of La Dolce Vita as you explore the quirky Abbeydale Road area.
Foundry Coffee Roasters
Opened in 2018 in the formerly industrial Kelham Island, Cutlery Works was Sheffield’s first food hall, and it houses some superb eating haunts. Handily, it also provided a new site for Foundry, which has been roasting coffee in the city since 2012.
Head to Cutlery Works’ airy second floor and you’ll find one long bar that glows when the sun shines through the roof. Beans are roasted behind the counter when the venue is closed, and espresso arrives from a lovely-looking Londinium L3. On my last trip, Foundry’s Ethiopia Layo Taraga was clean and fresh in a piccolo, and naturally you can buy their beans here too.
Non-dairy-drinkers will be pleased that oat milk is swapped in for free, while those who want something stronger can opt for an Irish Coffee. Tea fans can also support Sheffield through a range of brews provided by the local Birdhouse Tea Company.
Food is mostly bakery-based: Leeds outlet Brown & Blonde supplies indulgent brownies, while Foundry’s own “toast station” sits next to an array of spread-it-yourself toppings. And even if you are partial to pancakes, you may never have encountered a “crownie”: a brownie wrapped up inside a freshly fried crepe (with a vegan version available.)
On my visit there were rumors of extended evening openings, which would surely be welcomed in this buzzy, sociable setting.
Other cup winners…
Once I started, I realized there is almost too much good coffee in Sheffield. For your convenience, I’ve condensed some more suggestions.
Traveling via Sheffield Train Station? Look for Motore Café’s little blue van. Perched on the main walkway into town, it offers Darkwoods Coffee espresso and a jazz soundtrack while you wait. The barista remains unfailingly cheerful in all weather. Five minutes away is Marmadukes Café, which serves consistently good drinks (Origin Coffee on house duties) and camera-ready cakes in a classy setting. On the city centre’s outskirts, relative newcomer Albie’s is a chill, welcoming little spot. Beans come courtesy of another Sheffield independent, Smith St Coffee, which has coincidentally just opened its own cafe. Back at Albie’s, you’ll find more 4eyespatisserie bakes to complete your caffeine hit.
Finally, the suburb of Crookes has benefited from the 2018 arrival of Whaletown Coffee Company. The drinks list is built on Bailies Coffee Roasters, with an ambitious range of guests that recently included Belgium’s Mok Coffee. Tired travelers might spot the rare option of an “orca”, a quadruple-shot latte which apparently makes one “highly intelligent and extremely fast.”
Martin Flynn is a freelance writer based in Sheffield, England. Read more Martin Flynn for Sprudge.