Brew Lab has been a fixture of Edinburgh’s speciality coffee scene on South College Street since the end of the summer in 2012, coincidentally opening roughly when the Coffee Spot started. I first visited in December 2012 and have been a semi-regular visitor ever since, watching as it’s undergone a series of slow evolutions, the biggest of which was last year’s change of ownership to Union Hand-roasted.
Throughout it all, Brew Lab has remained pretty constant, turning out excellent coffee in a fairly unique space, which manages to feel both cramped and spacious, with knocked-through walls and low ceilings. While the bare brick/concrete walls are slightly more decorated than they once were, it still feels unfinished.
Brew Lab was one of the pioneers of pour-over coffee. These days there are two options on espresso (one black, one for milk) and two on filter, one batch brew, one pour-over (Kalita Wave). One espresso and one filter are always from Union, while the others are supplied by guest roasters. There’s also decaf (from Union) on pour-over and a selection of four cold brew options (black, white, chocolate and nitro), plus a cold-brew cocktail. Finally, there are breakfast and lunches menus, plus cake all day.
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
Brew Lab is south of the Royal Mile, firmly in University of Edinburgh territory, and was an instant hit when it opened in 2012, carving out a niche all of its own. I can’t recall ever being there when it hasn’t been packed.
It occupies two adjacent spaces (Nos 6 and 8), each with a distinct character. The left-hand of the two spaces has a square, all-glass front, with inset door and contains the counter, which runs along the left-hand wall, set back slightly from the door, leaving enough space for some retail shelves. You order here, receiving a number in return, which you then take to your table, your coffee following shortly thereafter.
The seating is all in the right-hand side, which is split into two. Maybe three times the size of the left-hand side, it has two sets of windows with a deeply inset door in the middle, although this isn’t used to the best of my knowledge. If you want to sit outside, there’s a single bench in front of the left-hand set of windows, but that’s it.
The first space on the right-hand side, through the wall to the right of the counter, has bars running along the dividing wall, providing views of the counter through the gaps, while the centre is occupied by a large, communal table. There are also two armchairs in the windows at the front, although they are not really a pair. The second space, to the right of the first, has sofas and individual tables, while there’s also a cosy extension at the back of the first space, with two rows of two-person tables running along benches down the left- and right-hand walls.
I remember being impressed with the filter coffee when I first visited, an experience which helped overturn some of my then prejudice against hand-brewed coffee (even if I wasn’t a particular fan back then, commenting “… great at bringing out the subtly and flavours in the coffee and I am rapidly coming to the conclusion I do not like my coffee subtle.” – how things have changed!).
Initially Brew Lab used the V60 and Clever Dripper, but by the time of my April 2014 update, it had decided on the Kalita Wave, which it still uses today, where it’s joined by a batch brew option. Another change is the espresso machine, which was originally a Slayer, but since mid-2014, Brew Lab has been using a Victoria Arduino Black Eagle (which, when installed, was one of the first in the UK).
The other thing that I remember from my first visit is that I found the menu incredibly bewildering. Part of that was my unfamiliarity with the speciality coffee scene, but part of it was the menu itself. These days it’s been toned down a little, with a more conventional presentation of the beans and options, although it’s still a fairly complex affair.
I’ve always had great coffee on my various visits though (even if I didn’t like it the first time!). This has included a V60 of an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe from my first visit, a Brazilian Fazenda Passeio espresso on my return and an excellent decaf pour-over from my latest visit.
I’ve paired these with some excellent cakes, from a wonderful pastry twist with custard and chocolate bits that I had on my first visit, through a peanut-butter millionaires shortbread to a pepito on my latest visit. For those not in the know, this is a long, rectangular pastry with a custard filling and chocolate chips that sounds remarkably like the one I had the first time I was there…
July 2019: this is an updated version of the original post which was published in December 2012. You can see what has changed in my Coffee Spot Update piece. There was also an earlier update in April 2014, which has been incorporated into the original post.
|6-8 SOUTH COLLEGE STREET • EDINBURGH • EH8 9AA
|+44 (0) 131 662 8963
|08:00 – 18:00
|Union + Guests (espresso + filter)
|08:00 – 20:00
|Tables, Sofas, Bar
|08:00 – 20:00
|Breakfast, Lunch, Cake
|08:00 – 20:00
|Order at Counter
|08:00 – 20:00
|09:00 – 20:00
|Free (with code)
|09:00 – 20:00
|Original: 11th December 2012
|Updates: 26th April 2014, 10th December 2018
Liked this? Then don’t forget to check out the Coffee Spot Guide to Edinburgh for more great Coffee Spots.
If you’d like to know more about Brew Lab, then try this interview with Claire Wallace, Brew Lab’s head barista, part of an awesome series by Scotland Coffee Lovers on women in speciality coffee in Scotland.
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