I’m not a hard-core coffee drinker. In fact, until recently, I only ever had coffee on two occasions: in a restaurant after dinner and in Spain for breakfast (always black, no sugar).
However, there are times in life when you shamelessly get caught up in a hype you initially really tried to ignore. Boat shoes, for example (I swore I’d never wear those until I realised just how comfortable they are). Overpriced gin tonic (I didn’t actually try to fight that one much though). Coffee bars.
If someone would have told me a year ago that I’d be walking around holding a plastic cup of overpriced coffee-caramel milkshake (aka frappé, apparently), I would have either laughed hysterically or punched them in the face. Or both.
I’m that kind of psycho.
But then I travelled to Asia: the magical continent where exists the divine green tea wonder of iced matcha latté. Love at first sight. I had LOT’S of them (blended, with cream), but unfortunately, no Belgian shop seems to sell them.
Back home, I didn’t just crave my favourite drink. I also missed the coffee/tea house culture. I missed sitting in a comfy chair, watching the world go by, reading a book, doing some writing, sipping a nice cuppa. And so I started ordering cappuccino’s on grey winter mornings, latté macchiatos on shopping breaks and coffee-caramel milkshakes whenever the sun is shining.
I still can’t really stand caffeine… More often than not my heart rate goes insane, the blood in my veins starts roaring like rapids and my head feels dangerously dizzy. Frappés are the worst: a lethal combination of caffeine and sugar to instantly send your system in overdrive. In fact I’m pretty fuelled while writing this.
What better moment to share my favourite coffee bars in Leuven?
Koffie Onan: never a bad idea
This tiny coffee bar is always crowded, yet that makes it all the more cosy. In winter, the small interior is a perfect place to warm up and in summer the terrace on scenic Parijsstraat is great for people watching.
There are tons of different blends on offer, as they take both coffee ánd tea seriously here (burning and grounding their own beans). Moreover, the cakes and shortbreads are delicious and service is always friendly.
This is my number one place because it combines a homely (yet not too loud) interior with decent knowledge of coffee and sweets that are value for money.
If I’d have to list one downside, it’s that I find the pre-packed teas in the shop rather over-priced. The packaging is nice, but if your focus is on the actual leaves, there’s better deals to be had elsewhere.
Barbóék: for quiet me-time
When I’m stressed, I like to hang around in bookshops or libraries. For some reason, the smell of paper and the endless shelves of colourful covers calm my mind.
Barbóék is a wonderful place because it is both a well stocked, atmospheric book shop ánd a coffee bar. That makes it more quiet than most of the other bars I’ve listed, but also more inviting: I could spend hours alternating between browsing potential reads and sipping cappuccinos.
While Barbóék might not have the most extensive range of roasts on offer, it’s a wonderful place to relax in one of the comfy sofas or at the large communal table. I like the fact that the seating area is not in separate corner, but chairs are instead scattered throughout the shop. Every now and then they also host recommendable slow reading and silence-writing events. Check their website or Facebook for more info on those.
Swartehond: for chats and muffins
In the same street as Koffie Onan, Swartenhondt has a brighter interior and a less caffeine-centred menu. Apart from the classic cappuccinos and lattés, this is a great place for smoothies, bagels and muffins (the lemon-raspberry one is my favourite).
I like Swartenhondt for the friendly owners, it’s focus on organic and fair trade produce and the happy atmosphere. It’s usually pretty loud, so I recommend it for having a chat with friends, not for doing your reading.
Coffee Cafe: for sugar-rush
If you’re a coffee purist I really don’t recommend this place; this is not the bar to sample pure black cortadas. However if it’s caffeine infused dessert you’re after, do come inside!
Coffee Café has made it in my list because it’s menu features tons of whipped cream loaded specials, decorated with pralines, m&ms or other sweets: the McFlurry of coffee, I’d say. There are usually some cute-looking seasonal suggestions as well, well announced on the Facebook page.
The interior is neat but not very cosy or special, yet service is alright and the cakes are generally as filling as the drinks. Props to the sugar-lovers who can combine a sweet with the coffee and still keep it together!
Punto Cafè: for take-away
Punto Cafè is not my favourite place to sit inside, because the interior is rather generic. However it is where I go to get a takeaway frappé in summertime. There are two branches in Leuven, not far from each other. The one on Brusselsestraat doubles as a newspaper shop and is usually less crowded, but the one in Leopold Vanderkelenstraat has a (tiny) terrace op front.
Punto Cafè is also one of the few places in Leuven where you can buy red velvet cake year-round. The only negative is that the cakes and cookies on offer change randomly, so it’s not guaranteed that the red velvet will actually be there when you need it. The carrot cake is pretty good too, though.
Leopold Vanderkelenstraat 14