Brussels, Belgium has a lot of famous foodstuffs. Belgian frites. Belgian waffles. And, of course, Belgian chocolate.
While you don’t hear much about Belgian coffee (mostly because, like the rest of the world, Belgium just lifted their coffee culture from Italy), Brussels does have a vibrant coffee scene with plenty of worthwhile Bruxelles coffee shops right in and around the main tourist district.
We’re not going to try to tell you the best coffee in Brussels, since taste is subjective. But we did visit seven coffee shops (and one bonus shop) in Brussels while we were there in late-November 2019 in an area where many tourists will be spending at least some of their time – near the Grand Place.
For purposes of comparison, we taste-tested the same basic espresso drink, a cappuccino. Here’s a rundown of our experience.
Godiva Café Chocolat
Since we were staying at the Grand Place Hilton, we decided to start our coffee experience right where we slept at the attached Godiva Café Chocolat.
Being a Godiva café and store, the emphasis here is on the chocolate (and chocolate drinks), but it is a true coffee shop with all the standard drink choices you’d expect.
The cappuccino was fine. Pretty smooth. Not overly bitter. Nothing particularly notable.
Since it is a chocolate café first and foremost, we had a hunch the chocolate confections would be better than the coffee and that proved to be the case.
We tried a chocolate crème brûlée. It was super rich, and super delicious.
The cappuccino itself was served with an actual Godiva chocolate, which was rather shocking. Given the price of individual chocolate pieces in the store, this made it almost a buy one, get one free thing, and really helped pull up their score.
This is where the Godiva Café faltered. Badly. The seats are limited, only five or six tables along one wall, and two of them are four tops.
Pretty small for a big hotel location that’s directly across from the train station.
We ended up in the only table that was left, right next to the exterior door. We had little room to put our bags and the door kept repeatedly opening, both when people came in and just because it wanted to.
It made the experience pretty unpleasant since it was cold outside and could easily be fixed by Godiva locking that exterior door and letting people walk through the hotel.
- Cappuccino served with Godiva chocolate
- If you’re staying at the Hilton, you don’t have to leave the hotel
Location: At the Hilton Grand Place, Carrefour de l’Europe 3, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium
Comptoir Oriental des Cafés
The Comptoir Oriental des Cafés is more experience than just coffee shop. That’s because it’s two things in one – a coffee bar and a roaster.
There’s a roasting machine as you walk in, the back of the place is filled with bags of green coffee beans, and the coffee menu goes beyond your typical coffee menu. Well beyond.
You get to choose your own roast for espresso drinks. You can try whatever roast piques your interest, and if it’s a hit you can buy the beans fresh in the store.
If you’re looking for true specialty coffee in Brussels, it’s worth popping in.
The cappuccino was quite strong, but not bitter. Pretty smooth. It was also surprisingly unimpressive. And we did ask if the roast we picked would make a good cappuccino.
Considering the in-house start to finish, it was a shocker it wasn’t the best espresso we had. We did only try the one roast, though, so it’s possible we just picked poorly for us.
If you’re looking for somewhere to buy coffee beans in Brussels near Centraal or the Grand Place, though, this appears to be the last local roaster standing, so it’s worth giving it a try.
Nada. None. Nothing at all served fresh. There were a few packaged offerings.
A cookie came with the cappuccino. It was fine. A very basic butter cookie.
Cool roastery décor. Coffee served coffee bar style. Which means no seats. You can drink your coffee standing at the bar or at the tall table in the back.
The place filled up at one point while we were there. A tour group maybe? There was a line out the door. It got pretty tight in the narrow bar area.
- Totally unique atmosphere
- Fresh roasts for sale
Sometimes it seems a coffee shop gets its high ratings simply because the staff allows patrons to sit on their laptops for hours without interruption.
We’re not saying that’s what’s happening at OR Coffee, but it does have a high online rating and there were plenty of people on laptops.
By far our worst experience – worst coffee, worst treat, worst environment.
Fruity espresso. Those two words should never be paired, but at OR that’s the kind of espresso they serve.
The barista also made several coffees to be delivered to tables in a single trip, instead of bringing them out as they were finished, so, as you might expect, our cappuccino wasn’t as hot as it should have been.
It was smooth enough, though, so if you dig a fruity espresso, this might be the place for you. I’d recommend getting it to go, since to-go orders didn’t sit behind the counter for several minutes.
They had a variety of coffee treat options, including sandwiches and vegan pastries. We tried a slice of carrot cake.
The icing was the best part, and it wasn’t great icing. This was the only food we left behind during our coffeeshop tour of Brussels.
Two floors of seating, but the place was still packed. The one open table was a two-top closest to the counter, and the guy sitting on a stool near it didn’t like being asked to remove his jacket from the chair he wasn’t using. Lots of people spread out on laptops.
- Making that guy move his coat?
BEL 20 Urban Coffee & Bar
It might have benefited from the fact it was the first coffee shop we visited after leaving OR Coffee, but directly across the street and with none of the problems we found at OR, BEL 20 was a lovely experience.
We weren’t entirely sure what to expect since it’s both a coffee shop and a bar, but while we were there it was pretty low-key and pleasant.
The cappuccino was perfect. Smooth. Hot. Zero bitter aftertaste.
Plus, it had the prettiest latte art of all the drinks we got during the day’s tour of local coffeeshops.
A limited selection of pastry items. We ordered a chocolate croissant, which – surprise! – had a rich, creamy chocolate center.
It was a good choice if you like a sweet, but not too sweet, treat alongside your coffee.
The cappuccino came with a chocolate, which was good enough for free chocolate.
There are two faces of BEL 20, the front “coffee shop” face and the back “bar” face. When we were there (2 p.m. on a Friday) the place was nearly empty, which meant we had our choice of seating.
We sat in the bar section, which got us further from the door (it was cold!) and out of the sun’s glare, and those seats were darn comfy!
Music was playing, but it wasn’t loud.
Note: The place is a bar, though, and they were playing sports on the TVs, so it could easily get jam-packed and noisy at certain times.
- The comfortable seating
- Soft lighting in the bar area
- They advertise air conditioning if you’re in Brussels during summer
MOKA looks tiny from the outside and it is that. You may have to squeeze past people sitting at the bar (we did on our way out), but if you want a decidedly local experience and one damn fine cookie, this is where you want to go.
This was the hottest coffee we got all day. It was smooth, with just a hint of bitter aftertaste.
Though, not bitter enough to detract from its flavor.
The house-made cookie is the star of the show, and worthy of some praise.
It’s a big American-style chocolate chip cookie, baked soft, and actually one of the best chocolate chip cookies either of us have ever tasted.
Which makes sense. Belgian chocolate and all. Luckily, they still had some left in the afternoon.
I’m not gonna lie, the seating is not great at MOKA. Our table had outdoor wooden slat chairs that were pretty awful.
And it’s tight in there. Not ideal if you’re carrying anything large with you, like the camera backpack I had to find a spot to put.
I’d say it’s good for a pop-in, definitely for the cookie. I couldn’t imagine spending an hour there.
But the mosaic tile floors were nice.
- That cookie
- The local vibe
Yuka Espresso Bar
Another coffee shop with a local-ish feel, Yuka had a bit of a city loft vibe. We went in the last hour they were open, and the only other people there were friends of the barista.
The Yuka cappuccino was the best we had all day. Very hot. Very smooth.
We didn’t try anything, but a large dessert case displayed some stellar-looking pies and cakes. It’s possible it would have rivaled Moka for food/drink combo.
The cappuccino was served with a Lotus Speculoos cookie, an excellent choice.
Exposed brick and parquet floors. The lighting is soft.
Wooden chairs weren’t particularly comfortable. Though, there was good space around the tables, so it’s not cramped.
Like Moka, the coffee was spot-on, but it lacked a little in comfort.
- The coffee
- Speculoos cookie
Pret A Manger
Due to its standard use of organic milk and prevalence in a lot of the cities we regularly visit, Pret A Manger is a go-to coffee spot for us.
So, we thought we would include it with the locals, since there’s one right there in Brussel-Centraal, just to see how it stacked up.
My good gracious, that was one terrible cappuccino, bitter to the point of being completely unpalatable. (Hey, I never said Prets were consistent).
We ordered two of them, and one came out about an inch shorter than the other. Did one of us get shorted? Did one of us get extra?
Who knows, but we felt screwed.
The coffee treat offerings at American and European Prets are largely the same. There’ll be a few breads. There’ll be a few cookies.
But they do have some variation.
There’s a chocolate praline cookie at the European and Asian stores that is THE choice cookie of all the Pret cookies. Seriously, that cookie will do things to you.
But the good news is Pret cookies are almost universally good, so thumbs up on the treats.
Since we went to the Pret in the Brussels central train station, rushed and chilly are the two best words to describe it, but that’s not typical.
Prets usually have pretty comfortable seating options.
- Organic milk
Coffee Fellows – (Bonus Brussels Koffie Shop)
When we were last in Brussels in July 2019, we stayed near Brussel-Zuid. That made it easy to slip over to the train station for coffee, where they have a few options, including a Pret a Manger, an EXKi, and a Coffee Fellows, which became our go-to coffee shop.
While the memory has faded, the coffee was definitely good enough that we kept going back.
We may never know what went wrong, but on this visit we were served some bitter, bitter cappuccino. It demanded sugar and for you to stay off of its lawn.
We ate lunch, and the turkey bagel was pretty decent. The bagel was better than its toppings.
Though, they burned my first one, and both came out with issues (one was charred, one was somehow both charred AND still cold in the middle). Still, pretty standard fare for a coffee chain.
We tried some coffee treats in July, then switched to getting them from the Paul downstairs, which is a million times better, to have with our coffee.
Surprising for being inside a train station. Though the doors stay open, it wasn’t too hot in July or too cold at the end of November.
Some people kept their coats on, but where we were sitting we didn’t need them.
- Honestly, this time, just the convenient location since international trains (Eurostar, Thalys) leave from Zuid.