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…

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • The Dovecot, contemporary art gallery and tapestry studio, on Edinburgh's Infirmary Street.
  • Not somewhere you'd expect to find a top-notch Coffee Spot, but there, at the far end...
  • ... is Stag Espresso, the Dovecot's in-house coffee shop and cafe. Don't go in here though...
  • ... entry's through the Dovecot itself, although when it's closed, you can use the other door.
  • Using by the main entrance, Stag Espresso is on the left, through these double-doors.
  • Just in case you thought you'd come to the wrong place.
  • A panoramic view of Stag Espresso from just inside the doors...
  • ... and a closer view of the art works hanging on the back wall.
  • This is the view looking the other way, towards the main doors.
  • The door to the street is on the right, down these steps. Before 10:30, this is the way in.
  • There's also a couple of intimate two-person tables tucked away by the window...
  • ... and this, slightly less intimate one, to the left of the door at the bottom of the steps.
  • The mural on the wall is worth checking out. I believe it's the main hall of the Dovecot.
  • Directly ahead of you, foliage notwithstanding, there's a clear path to the counter.
  • A view of Stag Espresso from the top of the steps.
  • One of Stag Espresso's many four-person tables. This one's by the end of the counter.
  • So, down to business.The counter is well-stocked with cakes...
  • ... very well stocked, in fact.
  • More of the cakes.
  • And, because I get told off if I don't, here are some of the more unusual offerings in detail.
  • Salted peanut caramel shortbread, anyone? There was no cheesecake though...
  • There are also savoury options, including a choice of two different soups at lunch.
  • If you're wondering about the coffee, Stag Espresso sneakily displays its credentials.
  • The Nude Espresso isn't actually on sale; it was a guest roaster at the Stag Espresso pop-up.
  • So, who's the coffee from? Peek behind the counter... It's J Atkinson & Co's Archetype blend!
  • The heart of the coffee side of Stag Espresso is at the far end of the counter.
  • My flat white, complete with complimentary bottle of water: the joys of table service.
  • The 'instagram shot' shows off the latte-art to its best effect. I make that 14 leaves.
  • I also had a very generous bowl of ginger and sweetcorn soup for lunch.
  • It came with half a sandwich: this half, to be precise. Not sure who had the other half...
  • I followed this up with an espresso, wanting to get more of a taste of the Archetype blend.
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I’m glad that I’d heard such good things about Stag Espresso from a variety of sources, otherwise I might not have ventured in. From the outside, it doesn’t shout speciality coffee, while the interior can best be described as efficient, even clinical perhaps, although that’s a little harsh. However, its clean, white, bright interior, with white plastic-covered tables and contrasting black seats, won’t appeal to all.

And yet, look closer. On the shelves, teapots from Brew Tea Co, with Keep Cup Brews for sale. On the menu, piccolos/flat whites alongside the more typical cappuccinos/lattes. And then, the clincher; behind the counter, bags of coffee from J Atkinson & Co. Count me converted.

Entry is via the Dovecot, where on your left, Stag Espresso is through a large pair of doors. The layout’s simple, almost square, with windows to the left, overlooking Infirmary Street, while the counter’s to the right. Three rows of square tables occupy the space in between. These are mostly two-person ones, but three four-person tables are thrown in for good measure. And you could probably push some of them together if you had to.

Infirmary Street slopes steeply down, while Stag Espresso’s on the same level as the gallery foyer, making the back of the café a metre or so above the street level. At the back, on the left, a broad flight of steps descends to street level and an alternative door. This is in use for the first two hours of the day (08:30 – 10:30) when the Dovecot’s closed, but Stag Espresso’s open. Two cosy tables are tucked away by the windows, below the level of the rest of the café, so if Dovecot’s stark whiteness offends you, pop down here and pretend you’re in cosy little coffee shop.

Regardless of the merits of colour scheme/layout, it’s a bright, cheerful place and, even at its busiest, it was, to its immense credit, never painfully noisy, a rare delight. The other bonus is table service, lifting Stag Espresso above the crowd. I’d gone for lunch and had the ginger and sweetcorn soup because, I reasoned, it couldn’t taste as bad as it sounded. I was right; it was quite lovely. I also had a half sandwich (Bree, tomato and chutney) which was excellent, the bread in particular being soft and chewy.

I paired that with a flat white, the Archetype blend going very well with milk, resulting in a very smooth, light drink. Curious, I tried it as an espresso and was surprised at how bright it was, particularly given how smooth it was in milk. It was one of those that coated the top of your tongue, but left the sides of your mouth alone, which I appreciated. I probably prefer it with milk, but am curious to see how it fares as a piccolo.

If you think I’m being a little harsh about Stag Espresso’s interior, I probably am. I had a long chat about coffee shop design with the owner and head barista, Richard, where he decried the current trend for the stripped-back-wood/bare-stone look that dominates third-wave coffee shops (it’s so prevalent that you could call it the third-wave look). Even though I really like it, Richard has a point. Stag Espresso is definitely cut from a different mould. Give it a go.

December 2015: Stag Espresso was a runner-up for the Coffee Spot Special Award for 2015.

Monday 08:30 – 17:00 Roaster J Atkinson & Co (espresso only)
Tuesday 08:30 – 17:00 Seating Tables
Wednesday 08:30 – 17:00 Food Lunch, Cakes
Thursday 08:30 – 17:00 Service Tables
Friday 08:30 – 17:00 Cards Cash Only
Saturday 10:00 – 17:00 Wifi No
Sunday CLOSED Power Limited
Chain No Visits 20th October 2015

Liked this? Then don’t forget to check out the Coffee Spot Guide to Edinburgh for more great Coffee Spots.

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3 thoughts on “Dovecot Café by Stag Espresso

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