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The Coffee Spot Guide to Edinburgh

Princes Street, Edinburgh, looking east towards Carlton Hill from the top of the No 29 bus. Edinburgh has a very special place in my heart. I spent just over three years here while doing my PhD and ever since then, it’s been one of my favourite UK cities. While I enjoy visiting cities, when it comes to where I live, I’m not really a city person. Edinburgh, however, is one of the exceptions to that rule, somewhere I would happily return to if the occasion arises.

Of course, back when I was in Edinburgh (it sounds a terribly long time ago if I say “last millennium”) the coffee wasn’t very good. There wasn’t even much of a cafe culture. I suspect that they were just waiting for me to leave… However, the same cannot be said of Edinburgh now: there are a handful of places which can claim to be UK’s second city of coffee after London and Edinburgh is one of them.

Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Edinburgh many times and I’ve watched the speciality coffee scene grow from its beginnings at Artisan Roast on Broughton Street in 2007. Now there are so many new places opening that my annual visit is no longer enough to keep up with them all!

Leaving the coffee aside for a moment, Edinburgh is a handsome city, well worth visiting at any time of the year (although probably best avoided during the world-famous festival if you actually want to see Edinburgh itself). A gloriously hilly city, be prepared for plenty of steep climbs. In return, you’ll get some glorious views. Princes Street from the top of The Mound, the 360 degree panorama from the top of the Walter Scott monument and the views across Leith and down Princes Street from Carlton Hill being some of my favourites. If you put in a little more effort, there’s always Arthur’s Seat. Edinburgh is blessed with some world class museums and art galleries, as befits Scotland’s capital. Finally, if you tire of Edinburgh’s broad streets and tall buildings, try wandering along the Water of Leith for a different perspective.

As with all these guides, this is not, and does not claim to be, comprehensive. As I’ve already said, lots of new places are springing up and there’s quite a few I still haven’t got around to.

For more comprehensive coverage of the wider Edinburgh coffee scene, take a look at Edinburgh Coffee Lovers. You can also download the app (available for both Apple and Android). For an alternative (Kiwi) view, Emma Knapp has produced a short guide to some of her favourite Edinburgh coffee shops.

Header image: The view across Edinburgh at sunset, as seen from Observatory House on Carlton Hill.

Coffee Spots

Artisan Roast, Broughton Street

There are those who say that Artisan Roast has been at the forefront of the speciality coffee revolution sweeping Edinburgh during the last few years. I’m not sufficiently qualified to rule on that, but I do know that several of the excellent Coffee Spots which have opened in recent years will openly acknowledge their debt to Artisan Roast. I can also say, with authority, that Artisan Roast is one of my all-time favourite Coffee Spots.

It’s a small place, with just two rooms and a clear focus on the coffee. From the street, you walk into the main room, where you find the espresso machine sharing the space with a cluster of tables. At the back, you’ll find the Mooch, with its padded benches and, in the winter, log-burning stove. There are few better spaces in which to drink high-quality coffee.

Talking of the coffee, Artisan Roast, as the name implies, roasts all its own coffee, with the beans on sale on-line and in-store. There’s a mind-boggling array of ways to make and take your coffee, with all the beans on offer via all the methods. It was too much choice for my poor brain, so I just had an espresso…

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Artisan Roast, Bruntsfield Place

Artisan Roast on Bruntsfield Place, Edinburgh.Stepping into Edinburgh’s second branch of Artisan Roast, on Bruntsfield Place, there is a distinct sense of déjà vu. In look, feel and layout, it’s similar to the original on Broughton Street, right down to there being a back room called “The Mooch”.

Bruntsfield Place, which started life in 2011 as a Festival pop-up, is similar in size to Broughton Street, perhaps a little narrower and a little longer. Here the espresso machine is in the back right-hand corner rather than the back left-hand corner, and the passage to The Mooch is similarly reversed, but other than that, the similarity is striking.

What you get, of course, is the same Artisan Roast excellence. Everything is roasted in-house, and all the beans are available to buy. However, Artisan Roast seems to be moving away from the “any bean, any method” model that I first came across at Broughton Street. At Bruntsfield Place, specific beans are tailored to specific methods; during my visit, a Kenyan was on offer through the Kalita Wave filter, a Brazilian through the Aeropress.

Naturally there’s the traditional espresso-based menu, along with tea, hot chocolate and the usual range of cake, plus soup for lunch.

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Artisan Roast, Stockbridge

Some lovely latte art in my flat white at Artisan Roast in Stockbridge, Edinburgh.One of my early posts on the Coffee Spot was Edinburgh’s Artisan Roast (the original on Broughton Street). It therefore seems only fitting that my 500th post (depending on exactly how you count them) should be the latest Artisan Roast. This one opened in March this year on the north side of Raeburn Place in Stockbridge, in Edinburgh’s New Town. It was, in some ways, unplanned: I was told that when the space came up, sharing with a florists (The White Petal Company) which no longer needed all the space, it was too good an opportunity to miss. Thus the fourth Artisan Roast was born.

Artisan Roast has a habit of occupying interesting spaces. Of the three Edinburgh Artisan Roasts, it’s easily the biggest, second only to Glasgow’s Gibson Street. However, that’s not hard since both the original, and the second in Bruntsfield, are very much on the small side.  However, it shares a common feature with both those in that it has a cosy back room.

In keeping with all four stores, the coffee’s all from Artisan Roast, with multiple options on filter, plus the house-blend on espresso. There’s also a decent selection of cake and soup/sandwiches for lunch.

July 2016: I've learnt that the florists is no more, but the good news is that Artisan Roast is still going strong!

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Brew Lab | Artisan Coffee Bar

Brew Lab is the latest of a number of coffee shops that have sprung up in Edinburgh in the last two years. In fact, it’s so new, it’s been going for about as long as the Coffee Spot has! Situated south of the Royal Mile, firmly in University of Edinburgh territory, Brew Lab has been an instant hit, enjoying immediate success and carving out a niche all of its own.

Partly this is due to the fantastic space it occupies, which manages to feel both cramped and spacious, with knocked-through walls, low ceilings and bare brick/concrete walls. The other factor is the coffee. As the name suggests, Brew Lab is all about experimenting with different ways of making coffee. There’s the usual range of espresso drinks from the impressive-looking Slayer espresso machine, but what sets Brew Lab apart is its brewed coffee: two guest beans, one made with a V60 and the other with a Clever.

It’s rare that I walk into a coffee shop with a look of bewilderment on my face, but Brew Lab managed it, which is impressive. I suspect it’s the feeling which someone who wants a “white coffee” has in a modern coffee shop 🙂

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Castello Coffee

Castello Coffee's Logo at 7A Castle StreetIn the heart of Edinburgh, on the corner of George and Castle Streets, you’ll find a Starbucks. Ignore that and head down Castle Street towards the castle. Just before you get to Princes Street, you’ll find a Costa Coffee on the left. Go past that and a few steps later you’ll find Castello Coffee, possibly Edinburgh’s best kept coffee secret and one of its more recent additions, having only been open since the summer of 2012.

I’d walked past it twice before without giving it a second thought, but everyone I’d talked to about Edinburgh coffee had said excellent things about it, so I thought I’d better give it a go, making it my last stop on the Coffee Spot tour of Edinburgh. It’s a tiny place, with just enough room for a couple of tables and a bar opposite the counter. There are also a few tables outside and another tiny bar space by the window.

Despite its tiny size, it packs a lot in: breakfast, sandwiches and soup for lunch, cake, and three grinders, one for the regular, one for the guest blend and (a little) one for the decaf. I was duly impressed.

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Coffee Angel

Espresso, the Coffee Angel wayYou’ve got to love a place that calls itself Coffee Angel, and so it is with Coffee Angel in Edinburgh’s New Town. The coffee is excellent, there’s a good range of cakes and it also has some food options.  What I liked best about Coffee Angel is the look and feel of the place; it’s definitely somewhere you could linger the whole afternoon and the friendly and helpful staff don’t look as if they’d mind.

It’s got free wifi and an excellent range of seating: sofas for lounging, tables for working, bar stools for perching and outside seating for that rare thing in Scotland, a sunny day! I really, really loved the place. The only downside I could see was that there weren’t any power sockets for my laptop.

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Cult Espresso

Thumbnail - Cult Espresso (DSC_6406)Continuing my theme of visiting Edinburgh and calling in on a coffee shop shortly after it opened, I present Cult Espresso. Unlike my previous victim, Fortitude, which opened four weeks prior to my visit, Cult Espresso opened on Monday and I was there on Thursday! I was already aware of Cult Espresso from social media, and when I heard on twitter that it had opened, I pencilled it in as a must-visit on my first day.

Run by father-and-son team, Kevin & Gary, Cult Espresso is, I think, the first to bring coffee from Bath’s Round Hill Roastery to Edinburgh on a permanent basis. Before setting up Cult, Gary ran a coffee kiosk on Dalmeny station. Originally using Lavazza coffee, it wasn’t long before Gary progressed to Round Hill, so was natural to continue the relationship when Cult opened.

I’ve been to several coffee shops that are corridor-like in layout (Goodge St Espresso and, in particular, NYC’s Gasoline Alley spring to mind). However, Cult takes this one step further by seeming to actually be built inside the corridor between two tenement buildings! While this sounds an unpromising set-up, it results in a lovely space, full of multiple, intimate little areas.

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Dovecot Café by Stag Espresso

A flat white in a classic white cup seen from directly above with a multi-leaf fern motif in the latte art.Dovecot Café, by Stag Espresso, is the in-house café of the Dovecot Contemporary Art Gallery and Tapestry Studio on Edinburgh’s Infirmary Street. It’s been around since 2011, making it an established player Edinburgh’s speciality coffee scene. Despite this, it seems to go under the radar, although I’ve heard consistently good things about it and its occasional pop-ups.

Like 6/8 Kafé’s latest venture inside Birmingham’s Millennium Point, this is speciality coffee in a mainstream setting and, as such, can only be applauded. If only all galleries/museums served coffee to this high standard. Oh well, we can dream.

Stag Espresso uses Lancaster’s J Atkinson & Co., which, as far as I know, is the only place in Edinburgh where you can get it. There’s no pour-over, just a solid espresso-based menu using Atkinson’s Archetype espresso blend, backed up with a wide range of loose-leaf tea from Edinburgh’s Anteaques, a good range of soft drinks and an outstanding cake selection.

Judging by the crowd that was there during my visit (hardly a table was unoccupied), it also does a roaring lunchtime trade, offering sandwiches and soup as the mainstays. Best of all, there’s that rarest of things in speciality coffee, full table service.

December 2015: Richard, of Stag Espresso, has sold up and moved on, with new ownership (Leo's Beanery) taking over the cafe in the new year...

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Filament Coffee

A cup of filter coffee, seen from above, next to a handleless jug, on a white, round table at Filament Coffee.Filament Coffee is another of the new places that have opened in Edinburgh in 2015 (May, to be precise). Originally a pop-up that appeared on Victoria Street in 2014, it has now found a permanent home on Clerk Street, not far from Cult Espresso, helping the slow spread of speciality coffee southwards from the city centre.

Housed in an old fishmongers, Filament is long and thin, with an eclectic range of benches and tables along both walls. The focus is firmly on the coffee, where there are various single-origins from an interesting cast of roasters (during my visit, an El Salvador from Has Bean, with a Guatemalan from Square Mile and an Ethiopian from new roasters, Obadiah, on filter).

If it’s food you’re after, Filament has a selection of cake and a very comprehensive bagel menu, perhaps one of the most comprehensive I’ve seen. Like toast, you can’t really go wrong with a good bagel.

And finally, with a name like Filament, you’re really holding yourself hostage to fortune unless you have some seriously good light bulbs on display. Fortunately, Filament does not disappoint! Coffee Spot Calendar anyone? Although this year’s is already at the printers, so can’t feature Filament…

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The Fortitude Logo proudly proclaiming its status as Espresso & Brew Bar combined with Coffee Merchant.New kids on the block, Edinburgh’s Fortitude had been open all of four weeks when I visited at the end of April. A self-titled espresso & brew bar as well as coffee merchant, Fortitude lives up to the billing. As well as great coffee to drink in from London’s Workshop and regularly-rotating guests (such as Edinburgh’s New Town Coffee), there’s a wide selection of beans for sale, including the likes of London legends Monmouth and Glasgow’s Dear Green Coffee. As if that wasn’t enough, there’s a wide range of coffee-making kit that you can buy.

Fortitude’s a lovely spot to drink your coffee, with its high ceilings and uncluttered layout. There’s not a huge amount of seating, but it’s well laid-out and very laptop friendly, with free Wifi and power outlets at every table. You’re also assured of a warm welcome from husband and wife team, Matt and Helen.

Initially, I struggled to find Fortitude, since Google Maps had it at the other end of York Place, leading me to walk past it twice, before I paid attention to my surroundings rather than blindly following Google Maps. Fortunately, it’s now in the right place, so you shouldn’t have any problems!

May 2017: Fortitude is now roasting its own coffee. I tried some at the Glasgow Coffee Festival and it was very good, while the pour-over I had in The Kaf in Glasgow was superb!

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The welcoming exterior of Kilimanjaro on Edinburgh's Nicholson StreetOne of the great things about independent coffee shops is that everyone is keen to recommend other great coffee spots to you, which is how I found out about Kilimanjaro on Nicholson Street in Edinburgh. I was pointed in its direction by Artisan Roast and since you all know what I think about Artisan Roast, a visit was obligatory.

Just as well, since I may have walked straight past Kilimanjaro without a second look. And that would have been a shame, since I’d have missed a great cup of coffee in a lovely coffee shop. To be honest, while I applaud the wave of experimental coffee shops sweeping Edinburgh (and beyond), sometimes I long for a straightforward coffee shop, serving straightforward coffee. So it was a pleasure to find Kilimanjaro, a thriving coffee shop focusing on serving excellent coffee.

Kilimanjaro is average-sized, smaller than the near-by Brew Lab, but considerably bigger than stable-mate Wellington Coffee or Artisan Roast, for example. The bulk of the seating is up front with a narrow spur leading off to the back. The contrast in terms of look and feel with Brew Lab, which I’d just come from, could not be greater.

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Machina Espresso

The window Edinburgh's Machina Espresso, showing off some of the wares, including cups, grinders and espresso machines.Machina Espresso might just be the perfect coffee shop. Set a little back on a wide pavement on Brougham Place in Edinburgh’s west end, it’s not a huge place, with just enough room for a few tables, a counter and multiple displays for coffee equipment. However, there’s an atmosphere about the place that just feels right, a certain calm that even an intransigent toddler (who was swiftly taken home by an indignant parent) couldn’t ruin.

Machina Espresso started life in Lock-up Coffee, a city-centre, weekend pop-up run by Ben Wylie, a barista at the late, much lamented Freemans Coffee. Back then, Machina Espresso was just an equipment supplier, but in November last year it moved into its current premises to become a fully-fledged coffee shop. The equipment is still here: (very) shiny espresso machines from Rocket and Expobar; compact grinders, great cups, tampers, pouring kettles... Everything, in fact, that you need to make great coffee at home.

However, if you can’t wait, Machina Espresso will happily serve you coffee (and cake). During my visit, the espresso was from nearby Steampunk Coffee and London’s Nude Espresso, with three single-origins on filter (all made through the Chemex). Spoilt for choice!

May 2017: Machina Espresso, as well as having a second shop (which I've not visited) is now roasting its own coffee!

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Mimi’s Bakehouse

Mimi's Bakehouse

It’s all about the cake. That’s what it says over the counter at Mimi’s and that sums up what is rapidly becoming a must-visit place in Leith. In truth, it’s always been a must-visit for me, so it’s good to see the rest of the world catching up, even if I can’t always get a table now! Naturally, the coffee’s great and, as well as a mouth-watering range of cakes, Mimi's does excellent breakfasts and lovely lunches.

One note of caution about Mimi’s: since it’s so popular, this really isn’t a place to just sit and linger. That’s not to say that the staff are going to hassle you to eat up and get out, far from it. However, it’s busy and that means a certain level of noise and bustle. Also, Mimi’s is all about the pleasure of the food. As such, it's somewhere I go for the coffee, cake and food rather than to spend a couple of hours and have a coffee while I'm at it.

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Printworks Coffee

Thumbnail - Printworks Coffee (DSC_5770)Printworks Coffee on Leith’s Constitution Street vies for my attention with the famous Mimi’s Bakehouse, itself just a couple of streets away. In terms of character, the two are miles apart, but you know a place has to be pretty decent to drag me away from my beloved Mimi’s!

In many ways, Printworks is the sort of neighbourhood café that you can find on any street in any town or city in the country. However, by serving Monmouth coffee (from London) and loose-leaf tea from Pekoe Tea (all the way from Edinburgh!) and by doing it well, Printworks proves that you don’t have to be a speciality coffee (tea) shop to serve decent coffee (tea). It also goes to show that there’s no good reason why this sort of friendly, neighbour café can’t do decent tea and coffee, although judging by the numbers, far too many fail.

Printworks has great food too, using local, independent suppliers. There is a limited, but excellent, breakfast menu, served until 11.30 (it includes porridge and a scrambled egg breakfast bap, so I’m happy) plus a wide-ranging lunch menu from noon onwards. At weekends there’s a separate brunch-menu until three. Plus cake, of course.

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The Milkman

The logo of the Milkman, on Edinburgh's Cockburn Street, a silhouette o the owner's grandfather, seen side-on, wearing a flat cap and smoking a pipe. It was taken from a photograph taken in 1938 at the Empire Exhibition in Glasgow.It is traditional that, when visiting Edinburgh, I pop into a just opened coffee shop. The trend started last year with Fortitude and continued with Cult Espresso. It’s therefore only fitting that Gary, from Cult Espresso, who I ran into at this year’s Glasgow Coffee Festival, was the one to put me onto The Milkman, the latest addition to Edinburgh’s thriving speciality coffee scene.

Conveniently located at the bottom of Cockburn Street, just a couple of minutes’ walk from the southern entrance to Edinburgh’s Waverley station, I popped in the following Monday, just a week after The Milkman had opened. It’s a tiny spot, having taken over from an old sweetshop which had the premises before it. Triangular in shape, it makes good use of the natural stone walls and amazing tiled floor to present a very pleasing interior.

The coffee is from Glasgow’s Dear Green, making it one of a handful of places in Edinburgh to use a Glaswegian roaster (and, arguably, the only speciality coffee shop to do so). Currently, there’s only espresso, but there are plans for a brew-bar in due course. Food is also initially limited to an impressive range of cake and toast/muesli for breakfast.

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Wellington Coffee

The view through the door of Wellington CoffeeBlink and you might miss it could be a good description of Wellington Coffee, which has been serving excellent coffee to the good folks of Edinburgh from the corner of Hanover and George Streets since 2008. It’s located down some steps in a basement and if you didn’t know what you were looking for, you could easily walk right past, which would be a shame.

It’s not big, although it squeezes the seats in: I reckon it could hold 20 at a push, which is surprising, given its size, and there’s room for more outside. The end result is a surprisingly pleasant, intimate place, which, while not built for lingering all day, is nevertheless great for an unhurried coffee and cake. While I was there, there was a steady stream of visitors, with the vast majority sitting in rather than coming for takeaway. Clearly, the place has its charm.

Wellington really is all about the coffee though. There’s none of the accessories of your modern coffee shop: no power, no wifi, no fancy brewing methods; just an espresso machine, three grinders (for the regular, guest and decaf beans) and a limited range of excellent cake.

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