Edinburgh’s cup is overflowing with additions to its independent coffee scene. Specialist cafés are dotted all over the city, with everything from police boxes and canal boats to doughnut shops and trendy New Town basements giving the Scottish capital a perky, caffeinated edge. Culture Trip maps out the best spots for a coffee in Edinburgh.
Visit Machina Espresso to enjoy coffee in a green space
Coffee Shop, Coffee, $$$
Plants and low-hanging lights make Machina Espresso on Nicolson Street a minimalist’s treat, with most of its creative energy reserved for its brews. This speciality coffee roastery supplies beans to businesses all over the UK. In addition to the Nicolson Street shop, it has a smaller spot just off The Meadows, near Tollcross. Both stock a range of Machina’s own espresso blends, single-origin espressos and filters.
Daylight floods into Cult Espresso through its enormous glass front doors, which give the café a natural, vibrant atmosphere. It also makes great use of plant life, soothing the buzz of freelancers tapping away at the crowded, wooden tables running down its two-levels. Highlights on the menu include espresso and filter coffees from Round Hill, a roastery in East Somerset that only select beans from independent growers. There’s also a collection of comic books in the shop to flick through as you sip your brew.
Fieldwork serves coffee from acclaimed North Berwick roaster Steampunk within an interior space that has a very natural feel; logs and plants are perched up on the walls and around the shop window. At £2 a cup of filter coffee (with £1 refills after your first mug), you’ll get value for money here that’s hard to beat.
Down at the bottom of Waverley Arches, you’ll find Baba Budan, a small and friendly coffee shop supporting homegrown roasters. The real pull of this venue is the doughnut selection, which is prepared fresh at its on-site bakery. Its rotating flavours range from pistachio to black cherry and vanilla cream. Baba Budan even serves a tasty breakfast doughnut, which you can learn how to make yourself at one of its doughnut masterclasses.
Brew Lab is the first choice of many a coffee connoisseur in Edinburgh, focusing on single-origin speciality-grade coffee provided by Union Hand-Roasted – those in the know appreciate this brand for its ethical sourcing and heritage in the UK coffee community. The shop itself is as trendy as they come with bare-brick walls, modern tunes and a happily drip-fed clientele of hipsters, university students and remote workers.
Across the road from Brew Lab is Black Medicine – a vibrant coffee shop in the heart of Edinburgh. The place is named after a Native American word for coffee that translates as ‘Black Medicine’, with decor (including a carved, wooden totem pole) heavily inspired by this culture. Upstairs is a maze of funky wooden tables and chairs, while downstairs, patrons will find a comfy lounge, most often filled with students.
Since opening its cosy basement on Frederick Street, Cairngorm Coffee has earned a solid place on the Edinburgh coffee scene. It opened a second, more spacious shop on Melville Street and is now roasting coffee in Kingussie in the Cairngorm Mountains. Robi Lambie, the owner of Cairngorm, maintains that the café wouldn’t have been possible if not for the warmth and support of Edinburgh’s coffee community.
Many people credit Artisan Roast with laying the foundations for Edinburgh’s independent coffee scene when it first opened up in Broughton Street in 2007. Now it has a total of three shops, a lab and a roastery in the city (and one in Glasgow, for extra measure). Bags of coffee line the walls, giving it a rustic atmosphere, and the staff and menu are eager to provide you with a re-education in the art of the brew. The shop is especially a must for those who take their coffee seriously.
Enjoy your coffee with a side of cake at Lovecrumbs
Cafe, British, $$$
Lovecrumbs is a great place to sip an espresso and watch the world go by. Drink your coffee at a piano, or opt for the tables if you’re feeling more sensible. There are solo desks and plenty of plug sockets for remote workers. The extensive cake selection is also a big draw, alongside the hot smoked salmon picked up weekly from a local farmer’s market.
Tea & Sympathy is one of the smallest (and definitely among the cutest) cafés in Edinburgh. It originally started as a furniture upcycling business back in 2009, with remnants of this past artfully decorating the space. Its focus is, according to the owners, “to move away from throwaway culture”. The shop also has artwork and cards for sale, making it feel like you’re drinking coffee in the actualisation of an Etsy shop.
Castello Coffee boasts a modern interior, evoking feelings of Scandinavia. It’s very clean, very stylish and lies right on the edge of the Bruntsfield Links – giving it a lovely green view on sunny days. The original Castello Coffee is actually on Castle Street (hence the name), but the Bruntsfield branch is recommended as it is a little less hectic. Both have great coffee, using Allpress Espresso on a La Marzocco Strada machine.
Blending into Edinburgh’s beautiful Old Town on Cockburn Street, The Milkman is likely one of the most picturesque coffee stops in the Scottish capital. The stony outer facade has remained unchanged for decades, while inside opens up to a cool, modern shop. There’s limited seating inside, but if you want a good coffee for a walk round Old Town, fresh from a UK roaster, then look no further than here.
Little Fitzroy regularly works with Girls Who Grind Coffee – an all-female roastery in England that focusses on increasing participation and visibility of women in the industry. “[Coffee] is a male-dominated scene,” says owner Cathryn Cripps Clark. “Once you get up the ladder, it’s more of a boy’s club, so I do anything I can to encourage change.” Coffee and equipment line each of the shelves in Little Fitzroy. It’s a small place, with only a few tables for customers, but the cosy set-up only adds to its community feel.
This shop is hidden away in a George Street basement, at the bottom of a stony set of winding stairs. It is a little like walking into an open-plan work lab, which is appropriate given that Lowdown is all about the methodology. The shop uses a manual espresso machine, meaning baristas can control every shot of coffee from grind to extraction. It is particularly hailed for its interesting selection from acclaimed Swedish roasters, Koppi. The table service is a nice touch, too.
The coffee at Kilimanjaro is good, and the brunch is even better. This is no secret, as patrons often have to wait for a seat at one of the venue’s charmingly mismatched tables, especially at weekends. The wait is all worth it when those zucchini fritters arrive, next to feta cheese, poached eggs and beetroot chutney. For more brunch spots, check out our list of the best brunch places in Edinburgh.
A glowing flock of Macbooks illuminates Red Box, located in the heart of student stronghold Marchmont. The big desks and reliable Wi-Fi make it perfect for last-minute essays, soothed by the homely set up of fairy lights and cute dog portraits. Red Box roasts its own coffee and puts a focus on sustainability, with all of the packaging biodegradable or compostable where possible, and the food sourced locally and seasonally.
The Counter takes up tiny quarters inside three converted police boxes across Edinburgh, making them a joy to stumble upon, and serves a bespoke coffee blended specially by Stockbridge’s own Mr Eion. The most unique of the bunch is The Counter on the Canal, which serves brews from a canal boat docked at the town-end of the Union Canal.
You can almost smell the creativity in the air at this arty roastery in Leith – but it might just be the coffee beans. Based in Custom Lane, this brilliant café is not only a roast on-site coffee spot but also a co-working space and exhibition site perched right on the edge of the water. It’s a great place to kick-start your creative juices with a little hit of caffeine as you watch artists in their element.
Fortitude’s little residence on York Place has become one of the most respected coffee spots in Edinburgh. There aren’t many seats inside, but what it lacks in space, its make up for with its coffee. Fortitude’s single-origin espresso has been roasted for “optimal sweetness”. Its filter coffee menu showcases two single-origin beans from its roastery, hand-brewed using a Kalita Wave pour over, best served black. “The pour-over is a very underrated, delicious way of drinking coffee,” owner Matt Carroll tells Culture Trip. “It’s a great way as a roaster to fully show the character of the coffee.”
This pretty café sits in the heart of The Meadows, making it an ideal outdoor coffee stop on sunny days. The coffee comes from Artisan Roast, and the food is all veggie and vegan. Also, in the best of times, the dogs, guitars and good vibes are in no short supply. Not open in winter.