Coffee competition has been brewing in Ghent over the last decade. Specialty coffee shops have been popping up in cities across Belgium like Antwerp, Brussels, and most interestingly, Ghent. In this small, progressive and charming Flemish city, a varied coffee culture all its own has sprouted up to the delight of casual caffeine lovers and coffee aficionados alike. Jazzy joints, dessert heavens, sustainably conscience locales — there’s something here for every kind of coffee drinker to get their hands on.
I recently talked with the owners and names behind Ghent’s best specialty coffee shops to discover what inspired them to start their business and their thoughts on the coffee climate in Ghent in Belgium. Let’s see what they had to say!
1. Barista – Coffee & cake
Over the years we saw the coffee scene slowly grow and eventually explode in Ghent, but we can say we were the first ones to start! -Sabine Van Dorpe
Barista opened in 2007, and in 2008 their barista went on to win the national Barista Competition. It was in 2009 that they opened their second shop making more space for families or groups. When Barista started off, the coffee scene was very small. These days, coffee is still their main focus, but they started to pay attention to their sandwiches and cakes as well. They mainly offer espresso-based drinks, and slow coffee in a French press. The range of plant-based milks is becoming more important, along with the vegan cake offerings. Sabine believes the vegan trend will evolve from just a hype towards a more common and accepted lifestyle.
2. OR Coffee Roasters – The only specialty roaster in Belgium
Our big focus is absolutely our direct trade approach. In the meanwhile, we are buying 90% – and still the only specialty roaster in Belgium – directly at the origin. – Katrien Pauwels
Belgian coffee lovers know OR! OR Roasters has their own coffee training center, multiple espresso bars, roastery, and hundreds of wholesale customers. When I talked to Katrien about the the coffee culture in Belgium, she mentioned it’s not necessarily a forgiving business for entrepreneurs. Since the high cost of labor in Belgium can be a hurdle for businesses starting up, she says, “You will rarely see busy coffee shops with many employees. Most of the shops are run by 2-3 barista’s even when very crowded. The reason is that cost of labour is so high that owners cannot afford to have extra people.” The solution? More coffee shops are offering breakfast, lunch, brunch and snacks to attract customers and keep business profitable.
3. WAY – True honest coffee
What is the next big coffee trend/hype? I keep on believing in a black future 😉 – eene De Buysere
WAY isn’t exactly in the city center, but more like three stops from the Gravensteen castle. The small detour out of the city center is entirely worth it, though! The modern and warm atmosphere at WAY welcomes you and the food and beverages will keep you coming back. Most coffee shops in Ghent stick to beverages or food, but WAY does both exceptionally well without compromising on the quality of either. Their lunch menu is inventive, delicious and beautifully presented. Owner Charlene De Buysere who has quite some coffee accolades of her own (World Aeropress Champion, Belgium Aeropress Champion & Brewerscup Champion), decided to open WAY out of her love for coffee.
4. Take 5 Espresso – Jazzy locale in the heart of Ghent
When they step out with a smile and tell us it was the best drink they’ve ever had, our day is made!! -Alexis Ywaska
5. Simon Says – A colorful coffee experience
We wanted our grandmothers to be able to visit and feel just as comfortable as the local hipsters coming for their flat-white-soya takeaway! – Christopher Joseph
What is the next big coffee trend/hype? “People are becoming more aware of where and how their coffee is being produced. I hope to see fair trade coffee being sold as a standard, rather than the niche product it is right now.” -CJ
Simon Says is just on the edge of historic Patershol neighborhood and situated at the end of the Oudberg, a lively street lined with an assortment of restaurants and bars. You can’t miss the colorful Art Nouveau building which houses the welcoming coffee bar and B&B. The friendly service is what makes the difference here, keeping locals coming back and delighting people stopping in for a cosy coffee break.
6. Bar Bidon – Coffee with a side of cycle
We love good coffee and we really like to ride bicycles, so we decided to combine the two in Bidon! Gent is a great coffee city, with a lot of high quality and diverse coffeebars. There’s something for everyone. – Annelies Browaeys
Bar Bidon is a combination coffee bar serving breakfast, lunch and cake, but also bicycles and their acessories. The move to open a bicycle themed coffeshop came easily to owner Annelies Browaeys. Having grown up in Oudenaarde (the center of the Ronde van Vlaanderen) it only seemed natural to her to open this concept in the cycle loving city of Ghent.
7. Koffeine – Neighborhood brews made with love
Belgium is following coffee culture trends, but it will take more time for all the new trends to become part of daily Belgian life. – Zoran Stankovski
As you head into the heart of Ghent, don’t overlook this coffee spot tucked behind Sint-Baafsplein. Koffeine is a cosy and consistent coffee bar that stays true to its roots, and doesn’t feel the pressure to follower the more hipster trends. Owner Zoran Stankovski admitts Koffeine isn’t a hipster hangout but a reliable neighborhood place to get quality coffee, read the paper, to settle in and have a good chat with friends and family.
8. Clouds In My Coffee – Coffee & brunch near Dampoort
The coffee scene is Ghent has always been cool. It’s not as hot as in Antwerp, but we do it the Ghent-way: low-key, less talking more acting, friendly… -Nils Van de Cauter
Facebook // Dendermondsesteenweg 104
9. Madam Bakster – Gluten free & plant based milks
In our coffee shop we only serve plant-based milks for your cappuccino’s. We press our milks fresh everyday. We serve a homemade almond milk or a homemade hazelnut milk. – Laura Verhulst
Madam Bakster is a welcomed addition to the vegan coffee scene. Not only are all the coffees made with fresh-freshed nut milks, the desserts are gluten free. The owners have kept busy with a newly released cookbook, bakery and refined sugar-free coffee bar. Their mission is to make veganism more accessible. A Madam must try? Their homemade almond or hazelnut milk!
10. Full Circle Coffee – Belgium’s 1st plant based coffee bar
I try to keep my focus on coffee in an as pure a form as possible. -YF Feller
Another great coffee and vegan spot to grace Ghent is Full Circle, Belgium’s very first 100% plant based coffee bar. Retro furnititure and white tiles add to the Scandinavian feeling of this sun-filled spot, and the outside terrace is a great place to be in the summer. Full Circle is super well located near Zuid and De Krook.
Facebook // Zuidstationstraat 5, 9000 Gent
11. Vandekerckhove & Bar – A family affair since 1854
By deepening our understanding of coffee & methods of making it – we can all take our daily pleasure to the next level. – Anna Bargiel
Vandekerckhove is what Anna would call a “playground for a coffee geek”, and she’s so right. This beautiful space welcomes you with the fresh smell of ground coffee and an impressive display of coffee accessories propped up around the store. Tea lovers will also feel at home here; a giant wall of tea is something to marvel at. It’s a family business, and 160 years later the passion is still going strong to say the least. Anna describes Vandekerckhove as a “a fifth generation coffee business surfing on the 3rd coffee wave”.
12. Moor & Moor – Coffee grocer with a conscience
The next big coffee trend will be direct trading with fair trade, organic and fair transport. -Yves De Moor
Moor & Moor isn’t just a coffee shop, but a grocer with vintage flare on the corner of Onderbergen and Jacobijnenstraat.