After spending over a month in the Middle East, where the concept of ‘specialty coffee’ didn’t extend beyond me and my Aeropress, the Edinburgh coffee selection was almost overwhelming. While I had done some research, nothing quite prepared me for the quality of the coffee and roasters who have made a home in the great north.
This list is definitely not exhaustive, more like a starting point based on my experience with coffee in this wonderful city. Each of these places left a lasting impression on me, not only because of the quality of the coffee, but also the eagerness of the staff to engage in a conversation about what they love doing the most. The focus on specialty coffee in Edinburgh is relatively young, so I suspect that new offerings are yet to come, adding to this blooming coffee culture.
Fortitude is a small but seriously well-lit, well-stocked café on York Place. The initial thought is “where the hell am I going to sit?” which is soon replaced by “what the hell am I going to drink?” Fortitude has a focus on single origin diversity, offering two espresso choices and two filter choices. This is reflected in their retail selection too, boasting shelves stocked with beans from Workshop Espresso, The Barn, Round Hill and Drop Coffee Roasters, as well as Kalita and Aeropress kits.
Matt, who you’ll usually find at the helm, poured me a washed Round Hill Colombian Finca Camelia on a Kalita Wave. Sweetness of red apple, cherry and plums made this a memorable full-bodied delight. Traces of cocoa provided a nice balance to the fruitiness.
The Colombian Los Cristales on espresso confirmed my appreciation of Round Hill. My macchiato had notes of vanilla, rhubarb and a slight nuttiness to it. One of the lighter espresso roasts I have had which worked extremely well for the flavours of this particular coffee.
Fortitude’s diverse selection and friendly well-trained staff place it at (or at least near) the top of any black coffee lovers Edinburgh expedition.
3C York Pl
Edinburgh EH1 3EB
The appropriately named Lowdown Coffee is inconspicuously tucked away in a basement apartment on George Street. The Scandinavian interior is clean and minimal, and the wooden shelves stock various guest single origins. Swedish based Koppi roasters are consistently on offer. The owner, Paul, explains his admiration and relationship with the two Swedish barista-champions-turned-roasters who established Koppi with sustainability in mind.
The Colombia Finca Wisaquillo was a winner on a Kalita Wave. This vibrant coffee had a woody profile, revealing mangoes as it cooled. It’s worth noting that as well as espresso and Kalita, Lowdown offers coffee on the Torch Mountain Dripper and Clover, two brew methods I didn’t see anywhere else around town.
Lowdown is a fairly new addition to Edinburgh’s coffee scene (opening in January 2016) but the offering of unique beans and equipment make it a definite contender.
40 George St
Headed up by two Aussies in Scotland who roast in Bulgaria, Obadiah is a unique coffee company. I was lucky enough to be in Edinburgh at the same time as their pop up on Grassmarket. They have now wrapped up their 4-month stint, but continue roasting and will have an online presence soon. Do yourself a favour and keep an eye out for that.
Obadiah has been pretty well covered elsewhere on this site, so I will send you there.
In Edinburgh’s Newingtown, Filament is a permanent project following a successful pop up on Victoria St in 2014. The framed selection of Aeropress Championship posters makes for a great feature, while coffee is offered simply in Black/White/Filter. For homesick Australians passing through, they offer a killer vegemite/avocado bagel.
Manager and chief coffee bro Jaimie Craig breaks down the two schools of roasting emerging in the UK – roasting for the brew or roasting for the coffee – and tells me why he prefers the latter. You avoid the toastiness of over roasting, he says, which is why omni-roasters Has Bean are usually the pick on espresso.
My first choice, a macchiato made on washed Ethiopia beans from Has Bean, is an immediate chocolate hit, followed by lemon (a lot of it) and subtle apricot notes. Then on an Aeropress, I'm served with a washed Colombian coffee from Square Mile. This full-bodied cup is filled with dark cherries, lemon and has a silky mouthfeel. The choice of Aeropress confirmed for me the tradition of filter brewing in this city - all of it is manual, not a batch brew in sight! This might be the most notable difference between Sydney and Edinburgh’s café society.
The vibe at Filament is relaxed on both of my visits, a few laptops are open while deliveries and customers drop in and out to a soundtrack of eclectic beats. This is the place to go on a rainy day for some down time. Or on any other day, ever.
38 Clerk St
Edinburgh EH8 9HX
Stepping into Brew Lab West End was like stumbling into a coffee themed sci-fi film. Serious spaceship vibes at this second instalment (the original Brew Lab sits on South College St). These guys are serious about their coffee, which shouldn’t have surprised me given what I quickly learnt about coffee in Edinburgh.
You can find two Has Bean single origins on espresso (one for milk and one for black) and John was the second barista I met who praised the roaster for the same reason: the omni-roast means coffee is roasted just enough to extract the right amount of flavours, and never over roasted. I can’t help but agree. My espresso on the Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Kebel Aricha was lightly acidic and filled with blueberries. A sweet, tea-like quality made this a memorable one for me.
Rotating filters include Workshop Espresso, The Barn, Square Mile and Drop Coffee. Unlike every other café on this list, Brew Lab West End uses Marco SP9 automatic brew machines. I didn’t give these a go, but I’m told by the guys in the Lab that these let you control both temperature and timing perfectly, providing consistency for filter brews.
Great vibes at West End (and great banter from the staff) made Brew Lab memorable. I’ve heard the original on South College St is just as friendly, so if you’re in that part of town, check it out.
3a Queensferry Street Lane
Edinburgh, EH2 4PF