Among the many reputations Edinburgh possesses, artisan coffee is not traditionally held up as one of the wonders of the city. However, as Edinburgh moves towards becoming a truly cosmopolitan capital, the number of specialty coffeehouses crafting quality, rich-tasting espresso is on the rise. We pick the top 10 independent coffee spots in the city.
The youngest buck of the fledgling Edinburgh speciality coffee scene, Cult Espresso, nestled away on Buccleuch Street, is steadily earning a devoted following among Edinburgh bean-aficionados. Opened at the end of 2014, the enterprise has been one big family affair from the beginning, spun out of Cult’s owner Garry Stone and his father’s small coffee kiosk inside the South Queensferry railway station. The reassuring, pick-me-up aromas and the sense of cosy intimacy from that kiosk have carried over into their first proper cafe, aiming to convey an appreciation of the care and attention that goes into making a truly special cup o’ joe. Simple and honest, from the minimalist, exposed brick aesthetic to the cafe’s USP – brewing Bath-based Roundhill Roastery beans in a renowned Kees Van Der Western machine – Cult Espresso is a homely, tucked-away treasure for seekers of no-frills, quality coffee.
Fortitude Coffee Merchants are similarly compact yet packing just as equal a punch when it comes to serving flavourful, ethically sourced coffee. Located on York Place – perfect if you want to grab a quick cappuccino before attending a performance at The Stand Comedy Club – Fortitude is a one-stop shop, in all senses of the latter. Fortitude primarily uses Workshop coffee, a company committed to roasting the sweetest and cleanest coffee. Adorning the walls of the cafe are bags of Workshop and other specialty blend beans from around the world, available to buy for home-brewing, as well as Aeropresses and other coffee paraphernalia to complete your toolkit. Along with their great selection of newspapers and cakes stocked from another Edinburgh coffee haven, Lovecrumbs, Fortitude is a delightful weekend hideout for whiling away an hour or three in.
A favourite haunt for the trendy Edinburgh student, owing to its location within walking distance of Potterrow and Teviot Row House, Brew Lab offers so much more than a reliable latte on the way to lectures. The coffeehouse opened in 2012 after four years of planning, research and development conducted by University of Edinburgh graduates, Tom Hyde and David Law, who sought to launch Edinburgh’s first artisan coffee bar. The two friends re-purposed an old University of Edinburgh building, completely stripping back the plaster and textile to expose the traditional brick features and steel structure. Offsetting the spartan interior, however, are modern design flourishes such as the monolithic concrete bar and leather sofas, resulting in a space where old and new design techniques complement each other beautifully. Brew Lab firmly believe that filter coffee, prepared by hand using Kalita Wave pour-overs is the optimum way to experience a coffee’s taste, texture and aroma; behind the brew bar, they have even pinned up tasting notes for the coffee connoisseur, ranging from orange zest to nougat. Both respectful of tradition and irrepressibly forward-thinking, Brew Lab’s coffee scientists are making discoveries worthy of Fleming and Higgs.
A charming indie outfit that many of its most loyal followers have stumbled upon whilst trying to navigate the Old Town, the Dovecot Café inside the Dovecot Gallery complex is an enticing prospect for all java-heads in Edinburgh. The building’s previous life was as a public swimming bath before its refurbishment to create a space for showcasing the best work from leading local craft makers and artists, including world-leading tapestry, ceramics, glass wear, metals and high design. Once you’ve explored the chic industrial gallery spaces, sit down in the cafe’s bright-white surroundings and let the welcoming staff advise on the list of coffee, lunch and snack offerings. Aside from the consistently excellent artisan roast coffees, you’ll find granary bread sandwiches with fillings like pastrami, jarlsberg and pickles and Scottish smoked salmon with wasabi cream cheese. In addition you can choose from an array of salads, such as the falafel and shredded vegetables with hummus, tomato and spinach, and soups with which you can add a half sandwich as part of a lunch deal. An array of sponges and tray bakes are positioned on the counter for those looking for a final sugar hit – the banana and sunflower seed cake is a particular personal favourite.
Stay away sandwich and soup lovers; Lovecrumbs is, as the name suggests, cake-only. On any given day, you can find a salty peanut butter chocolate tart, violet and blueberry cake, chocolate and rosemary cake, vegan brownies, and many more sponges. Coffee arrives courtesy of Artisan Roast, the tea from Anteaques and bespoke hot chocolates from Coco Chocolate, whilst those looking to avoid a caffeine kick can sup on the organic pressed apple juice. The whole enterprise, operating out of its Grassmarket base, came to fruition in 2012 under the stewardship of cake aficionados Rachel Morgan and Hollie Reid. The cafe is often full to bursting, thanks to its popularity with students and its attractive window seat with its piles of bright oversized cushions. If the vintage, upcycled atmosphere does nothing for you, a new sister cafe from Rachel and Hollie, Twelve Triangle, has recently opened on Brunswick Street, whose star attractions are the creatively filled handmade doughnuts, filled with maple pecan custard or chocolate peanut butter.
Union of Genius runs on a simple formula; it offers six different soups every day, which come accompanied by a range of artisan breads. The shop, located on Forrest Road, is a favourite among students. The chefs’ characteristic use of chorizo, harissa, and curry paste provide warming, fiery tastes on chilly Edinburgh days. Union of Genius also runs a soup van in George Square for those in need of a quick lunch-on-the-run.
An independently-run coffee shop at basement level on Frederick Street, the Cairngorm Coffee Company is one of the capital’s newest and instantly buzzed-about java joints. The environment is entirely relaxed; customers can either bask in the delights of the Scottish weather, rain or shine, in the streetside seating area, or in the burlap-sack walled interior with several iPads built into the decor for free perusal. All the hot snacks are home-made and are tailor-made for study sessions, featuring grilled cheese and toasted bacon sandwiches, club focaccias and smoked salmon bagels. The sweets selection runs the gamut of continental and Scottish baking. The main article, the signature Cairngorm Blend espresso, is brewed especially for Cairngorm by Stockbridge roaster Mr Eion, a blend of Indian Tiger Stripe, Costa Rican and Sumatran Mandeeling coffee beans. If you leave here as a Cairngorm convert, they helpfully sell coffee-related gifts, branded Cairngorm merchandise and accessories for home baristas.
No list of coffeehouses in Edinburgh would be complete without the ubiquitous Elephant House. The cafe is extremely popular with tourists thanks to its role as the venue for the composition of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series of books. As such, weekday service is often packed out and grabbing a free table at lunchtime is a minor miracle. However, the hustle and bustle of this quirkily-decorated red cafe is still wonderfully conducive for students and aspiring writers, redolent of Rowling’s working atmosphere. The array of snacks are undeniably crowd-pleasing, such as the various filled bagel sandwiches, and all of their arabica beans are roasted locally. Bottled beers and wines come onto the menu when the cafe turns into a jazz and live music venue on occasional evenings.
Slowly but surely building up a coffee empire in Edinburgh and now expanded to three cafes in Broughton Street, Bruntsfield and Stockbridge, Artisan Roast are solemn guardians of the latte. The arduous process of work undergone by the roasting team starts with sourcing their beans seasonally from fair trade plantations around the world, testing them under laboratory conditions in Canonmills, roasting them in Prestonfield and then finally selling and brewing them to their cafes as well as numerous other Edinburgh haunts. Beans are roasted around three times a week as well, so your espresso blend will likely be no more than four days old. Kick back among the upcycled furniture and inhale the fumes of Artisan Roast’s extraordinary output.