If Antwerp holds the key to the Belgian coffee kingdom, Leuven is well on its way to becoming caffeine royalty as well. This student town has seen a wealth of great coffee bars popping up in recent years. Here’s our guide to the city’s standout spots for a cup of black gold.
Coffee Shop, Coffee, Belgian, $$$
Jens and his companions introduce people to MOK coffee at MOK bar | Courtesy of MOK
It didn’t take too long for every coffee-guzzling Leuvenaarto get closely acquainted with MOK. The specialty coffee roaster, named after the cozy Dutch word for ‘mug’, opened in the winter of 2012 and has become a household brand since, supplying many Leuven businesses with its coffee and slowly expanding to other cities as well. Owner Jens hopes to have a real influence on Belgian coffee culture and gets to try out his artisanal roasted product in MOK’s bar, a small shop in the Diestsestraat.
New on the Leuven coffee scene, Thelma Coffee & Design has attracted a lot of buzz since opening in the increasingly hip Vaartwijk area. Owner Katrien, who left a career as a dentist in the rearview mirror to pursue her concept store dream, prefers her guests to enjoy their MOK coffee amid beautiful design and floating Pyth plants. Clothes and accessories by young Belgian brands like LN knits and Sternum combine effortlessly with Scandinavian furniture in the bright, open space. A nice selection of children’s clothes for sale too make Thelma, sweetly named after Katrien’s oldest daughter, a home away from home for young urban moms.
Scandinavian simplicity and floating Pyth plants at Thelma Coffee & Design | Courtesy of Thelma Coffee & Design
Turkish Mutlu and Leuven-born Annelore embarked upon multiple adventures when they not only married each other, but when started a coffee house together as well. The small, mustachioed façade of Le Mustache actually hides a spacious business, where an extensive menu includes coffee made the traditional Turkish way. For breakfast, the always smiling Mutlu is happy to offer up a colorful assortment of cereal, to mix and match as you please.
A sampling of the specialty coffees and cereals available at Le Mustache | Courtesy of Le Mustache
Bar, Cafe, Coffee, Belgian
Inspired by the phrase, ‘Life is too short to drink bad coffee,’ the tiny coffee bar Mont Café is a stone’s throw away from the KU Leuven classrooms and keeps true to its slogan. The thousands of sleepy students dragging themselves to morning classes with a monkey-adorned take-away cup in hand clearly agree.
The interior of Koffie en Staal, designed by Nouchka and Lino themselves | Courtesy of Koffie en Staal
Who knew coffee and steel would turn out to be a match made in heaven? The vintage bar in the Mechelsestraat is filled with handcrafted furniture by Lino (steel) and self-designed jewelry and homemade pies by Nouchka (coffee). By embracing sustainable materials and placing a communal table in the middle, the couple has created an warm space at Koffie en Staal with an authentic feel that is well worth walking a couple of minutes out of the town’s center for. The divine Greek yogurt pie is a must-try.
The charming cobbled ‘Paris street’ boasts a nice number of homey places for drinking and eating, not in the least Koffie Onan. A massive wall-to-wall cabinet filled with bags of Onan’s home-roasted coffee takes up the entire left side of the bar, betraying a deep knowledge and love of the black gold. The barista vibe is a strong one, with Hans Onan and his companions more than willing to recommend a cup suited to your personal tastes and cushion covers made out of the burlap sacks that the green beans arrived in.
A long time favorite among fashionistas, Punto Caffè’s sunny terrace in between the two main shopping streets is ideal for people-spotting. Add to that a large assortment of specialty coffees (how about a toffee nut latte or Homesweet Coffee), bagels for lunch and sumptuous homemade cakes, and it’s no wonder the tiny shop decided to expand. Punto Kiosk in the Brusselsestraat serves up your favorite cup of Punto joe with a side dish of international and local newspapers.
The fact that the circles in the venn diagram representing coffee lovers and book lovers overlap quite a bit has not gone unnoticed by Lies and Mark. When the married couple found out their favorite neighborhood bookshop-coffee house, De Dry Coppen, was closing down, they decided to recreate the place they most wanted to exist in Leuven themselves as Barbóék. Take your steaming cup of joe into one of the many peaceful corners surrounded by wooden bookshelves or catch some sunny rays on the patio.
After tasting Caffénation’s (caffeine king of Antwerp) espresso, coffee was no longer just coffee to Kris. The result: Noir Coffeebar in the Naamsestraat, where the atmosphere is amiable and a cup of grandma’s slowly filtered coffee brings a peaceful moment to a hectic day. Broke students will be relieved to know it’s totally fine to bring your own ‘bokes’ (sandwiches), though you’ll probably end up craving a piece of their delicious pies anyway.
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Waiting for you right across the street after a visit to the essential Museum M is ANNA. Specializing in tea as well as coffee, owner Christel (middle name Anna) is committed to using high-quality products whose origins she knows perfectly. The exceptionally comfortable sofas are perfect for settling down with one of the many different slow brews or refreshing iced teas.