McCune Smith

The words McCUNE SMITH GLASGOW in black typeface on white.Once upon a time, speciality coffee in Glasgow was generally a West End thing, but in the last couple of years, that’s changed, with pioneers such as the Riverhill Coffee Bar, Laboratorio Espresso and today’s Coffee Spot, McCune Smith, moving into the city centre and its immediate surroundings.

A little way east of the centre of Glasgow, you’ll find McCune Smith at the top (west) end of Duke Street, right on the edge of the University of Strathclyde, in an area that feels like it might have the estate agent tag of “up-and-coming”. In the words of its owner, Dan, it’s a sandwich bar which caught the coffee bug, teaming up with Glasgow’s very own Dear Green Coffee to turn itself into a lovely little spot.

In keeping with many places in Glasgow, McCune Smith marries excellent coffee with a very strong food offering (not surprising, given its sandwich-bar origins). However, with a nod to Glasgow’s Enlightenment history, McCune Smith is named after Dr James McCune Smith, the black intellectual and abolitionist who became the first African American in the world to hold a medical degree when he graduated from Glasgow’s Old College in 1837.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • McCune Smith, on a surprisingly steep gradient at the top of Glasgow's Duke Street.
  • There are two tables like this one outside on the broad pavement.
  • Inside, McCune Smith is split into two spaces, this one on the right...
  • ... and this one on the left. Each has its own door and they're joined by an archway.
  • This is the view you get of the counter if you enter on the right-hand side.
  • There are two, high, round tables to your left, one in the window.
  • The table in the window. There's another just like it in the window to the right of the door.
  • There's also this six-seater in a niche in the right-hand wall.
  • Meanwhile, in the other room, there are just these tables against the left-hand wall.
  • The middle one is a two-person job, while the one by the window...
  • ... and the one up against the wall are for four people.
  • The ceilings are lovely and high. So high, in fact, that it's hard to get a good light-fitting shot.
  • Dr McCune Smith himself, the man after whom McCune Smith is named.
  • Revive is a Glasgow-based initiative to recycle old coffee grounds into plant food.
  • Meanwhile, continuing the recycling/reuse scheme, it's our old friend, Joco Cups!
  • So, down to business. The right-hand side of the counter's given over to food.
  • The breakfast and lunch menus are on the wall behind the counter.
  • The obligatory cake shot.
  • I spy, with my little eye, something beginning with A. And T. Quite a lot of T, in fact.
  • And coffee! In amongst the crisps, naturally.
  • Talking of coffee, the menu's on the wall by the till. Handy, but not for photographing!
  • My macchiato, complete with bottle of water...
  • ... and here, on its own.
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McCune Smith occupies a lovely spot on Duke Street’s northern side. On the ground floor of a handsome, red stone building, it has old-fashioned looks, with its simple black paintwork and gold lettering. However, this façade hides a very modern, uncluttered interior, accessed by a pair of recessed doors, interspersed between three floor-to-ceiling windows. Given the height of the ceilings, this is a lot of window, contributing to McCune Smith’s bright interior.

Once inside, it’s apparent that McCune Smith occupies two adjacent units. Despite its symmetrical façade, they’re two very different spaces. On the left, there’s a small, almost square space, door on the right, seating on the left, where a long, comfortable, padded bench runs along the wall, from the window to the back wall. There are three tables, one two-person one, flanked by two four-person tables.

At the far end, a doorway in the right-hand wall leads into the second space, which you can also enter direct from the street. Coming in this way, there’s a high, round table in each of the large bay windows to either side of you. Each has four stools, which, although not comfortable-looking, are some of the most comfortable I’ve sat on.

There’s another of these high tables to the left, between window and counter, and, in a slightly recessed nook in the right-hand wall, is another padded bench with a six-person table. And that’s it. I’m sure McCune Smith could have squeezed more in, but I’m glad it didn’t. The uncluttered layout, high ceilings, windows and simple, white colour-scheme give it an immense sense of space out of all proportion to its size.

It’s also probably a result of McCune Smith’s sandwich-bar origins. About two-thirds of the large counter at the back is given over to the food, including cakes and sandwiches. The coffee side of things, to the left, by the till, is small in comparison. However, don’t let that fool you. McCune Smith has a Rwandan single-origin from Dear Green as its house-espresso, plus Dear Green and guests on Aeropress or V60. There’s also tea from Edinburgh’s Eteaket.

Having had two Rwanda single-origin espressos at the Glasgow Coffee Festival that weekend and not really got on with them, I decided to try a macchiato (technically a 4oz, McCune preferring sizes to names on its coffee menu). While I enjoyed it, there wasn’t enough milk to complete take the sharpness off the espresso (although it confirmed my suspicion that the espresso on its own would have been too bright for my palette). Perhaps I’d have been better off with a flat white, but I was afraid that the milk might swamp the coffee.

McCune Smith serves breakfast until 11, with sandwiches, soup and salads thereafter, plus a separate brunch menu at weekends. I didn’t get a chance to try the food, but given how good everything else was, I suspect it would have been rather good too.

Over my coffee, I had a long chat with Dan, the owner, who told me of the links with the Scottish Enlightenment, plus Glasgow’s little-known history in the sugar and slave trade. In a nod to this, all the sandwiches are named after famous Scottish Enlightenment philosophers. For more information on this fascinating subject, see McCune Smith’s facebook page.

3-5 DUKE STREET • GLASGOW • G4 0UL +44 (0) 141 548 1114
Monday 08:00 – 16:00 Roaster Dear Green (espresso), Dear Green + Guests (filter)
Tuesday 08:00 – 16:00 Seating Tables, Tables (outside)
Wednesday 08:00 – 16:00 Food Breakfast, Lunch, Sandwiches, Cake
Thursday 08:00 – 16:00 Service Order at Counter
Friday 08:00 – 16:00 Cards Mastercard, Visa
Saturday 09:00 – 17:00 Wifi Free (with code)
Sunday CLOSED Power Limited
Chain No Visits 19th October 2015

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

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