This week I have taken it upon myself to conduct the coffee challenge – not familiar? Well, this hardcore challenge involves spending numerous hours lounging around, reading books and generally soaking up the coffee-house culture. It’s a hard life.
My challenge was enough to rival the toughest cinnamon challenge, the spiciest of chilli contests and I think it’s fair to say I consumed my weight in coffee. Okay, I’m exaggerating just a teeny bit. However, I did taste some of the nicest coffee in some of the finest independent establishments in Leeds city centre.
I decided to keep it independent mainly because I’m that kinda gal, but also because I was heavily influenced by a recent article I wrote for December’s issue of Debacle Magazine. After which I found even more reasons to turn anti-corporate.
In fact, the recent naming and shaming of big corporate companies that avoid paying tax, specifically Starbucks, has meant the decision to go independent is easier than ever. An apparent surge in the boycotting of Starbucks is big news for our independent stores, though I can’t say I noticed the difference when I walked past my local one this morning.
Choosing where to go wasn’t hard; I certainly wasn’t short of choice. Over the last couple of years (so I’m told), Leeds has seen a rise of brilliant independent coffee shops. Coffee shops that sell premium coffee far better than any I have tasted from the corporate chains. So I took off on my mission to explore what Leeds has to offer in the way of premium coffee shops.
I think it’s fair to say that I have a healthy obsession with this coffee shop. Placed along New Station Street on route to the train station, Laynes is in the perfect location for commuters and shoppers, and it is welcomed by coffee lovers from all over the city. If you’re feeling peckish there’s plenty of sweet treats, hearty sandwiches and yummy snacks available daily. My personal favourite is the brioche. I’m told all cakes are made locally, and it’s worth mentioning that they are damned tasty.
La Bottega Milanese
All hail the late night Italian Espresso bar. Finally, Leeds, we have an independent coffee shop serving past the usual trading hours. This coffee shop is in a prime location underneath Vue cinema and inside The Light. After I learned they had recently been awarded a Oliver Hospitality Award, I was expecting great things and I wasn’t disappointed.
Walking in off the cold streets of Leeds on a brisk January afternoon, I was immediately attracted to the chunky homemade lasagna and bakes. Unfortunately money restrictions would only permit me to try a coffee, which was delicious, well-poured and served at a perfect temperature.
Two very different cafes, catering for two very different audiences. One aimed at the typical creative student; the other placed in the lavish Victoria Quarters. And so as you can imagine, the Opposite café found in Victoria Quarters is basically a grown-up version of its sister company. The café is strategically positioned next to Harvey Nichols, ready and waiting for weary shoppers looking to sup on the good stuff. Oh, and did I mention they probably have LOADS of money.
Coffee and art go together better than, well, coffee and art. Which is great news for the people at Brewbar Espresso, who serve excellent coffee next to the Leeds Art Gallery gift shop. The café is a perfect stop-off point at the end of a long gallery session. As you might expect, the shop attracts the arty, trendy types, and when I visited during a lazy Sunday afternoon the shop certainly wasn’t short of them typing away on their Macbook Airs and drinking a cappuccino or two.
You cannot escape the lovely, quaint and slightly self-indulgent Mrs Atha’s. Decked out in the finest vintage Edwardian get-up, you can find this jaunty café on Central Road (behind House of Fraser). Inside I was transported to what I would expect to find at a mad Aunt’s tea party, mixed with an air of class.
When I visited I was instantly charmed by Mrs Atha’s. Inside is quiet and spacious, yet atmospheric, and I felt instantly relaxed. The atmosphere makes it the perfect place to catch up on work over a latte, or to simply relax with a friend. I was also pretty pleased that I had discovered the perfect place to take the family when they come to visit.
I think one of the things that stood out for me is the recent success of the independent coffee shop. It seems the independent coffee shop has become realised and respected more so recently, and I hope it is a trend that sticks. When I visited each of these shops it was clear to see they weren’t short of trade. Coffee making has almost become an art form, with people expecting their coffees to be made with the highest level of love, care and attention. The coffee industry is evolving, and so too is the sophistication of people’s palettes.