Brew Lab (Original)

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, that when I first visited it in 2012, it had 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 🙂

December 2018: I’ve updated my piece on Brew Lab. This is the original write-up, published in December 2012, amended slightly after a second visit in April 2014. For an up-to-date description, please see the updated entry, while you can see what’s changed in my Coffee Spot Update.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery, which is a combination of photos from my original visit and my return in April 2014.

  • Brew Lab from the outside. I don't think the scaffolding is a deliberate part of the decor...
  • Turns out I was right: on my return, 16 months later, it was gone!
  • Stepping inside, you are confronted by cake, a promising start if ever I saw one!
  • And then there's the coffee menu. Ok, I thought I knew about coffee, but this had me bewildered for a little while before I got my head around it
  • For those who don't like their coffee, there's always the anti-coffee... Is that anti-coffee as in anti-matter or as in anti-pasta...?
  • Brew Lab also does food...
  • And if that's not enough, there's a whole shelf of coffee-making equipment
  • View from my seat... Captures the knocked through walls & undecorated decoration
  • A view of the space and my (now ex-) seat on the sofa
  • A better view of my ex-seat. I was conveniently next to the power socket!
  • More of the marvellous space that is Brew Lab
  • And more...
  • There are also  more conventional tables if you want them
  • And a couple of cosy spots.
  • For some reason, I loved this little niche with the water bottles.
  • So, down to business. I had the Yirgacheffe made with the V60. I was told not to put milk in it, but I only asked for milk because it came in a cute bottle...
  • I also had this yummy pastry twist with custard and chocolate bits. It was divine.
  • My friend, Suzie, who first gave me the idea of the Coffee Spot, had an equally divine slice of cake and a long black (an Americano by another name?)
  • A behind-the-scenes look at the impressive & slightly intimidating Slayer espresso machine.
  • During my first visit, co-founder Dave, gave me a lesson on all the different brew methods at Brew Lab. And I thought I knew about making coffee! Thanks Dave :-)
  • On my return, 16 months later, I couldn't resist something from the Slayer...
  • I also had a pour-over. All Brew Lab pour-over is now through the Kalita Wave filter.
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When I lived in Edinburgh, more than 20 years ago, I didn’t have much of a taste for coffee and Edinburgh didn’t have much in the way of coffee shops. Then I left and slowly but surely the good coffee spots started springing up. I suspect they were waiting for me to go… I’ve since charted the rise of the Edinburgh Coffee Shop, but recently, there’s been something of a mini-explosion of (for the want of a better term) cutting-edge coffee shops such as Brew Lab.

From the start, Brew Lab set out to be different. Yes, it’s recognisably a coffee shop, but it’s also pushing the boundaries. I’ve bemoaned the lack of a cafetiere of coffee as an option, but places such as Brew Lab have addressed this and then some. I’m not a great fan of filter coffee, but Brew Lab has made me question my prejudices with its single-shot brewed coffee, offering V60 (filter method) and Clever (cafetiere method), both made to order with a specially chosen bean.

If this has left you feeling confused, don’t worry, I was too (I feel another post coming on). Coffee brewing methods aside, Brew Lab is a simply wonderful place. I might have fallen in love with it from the outside, but since it was covered with scaffolding, I only really got a good look at it once inside, at which point it really was love at first sight!

Once past the bewildering menu, there was a lovely range of cakes and pastries to tempt me (I was, of course, tempted), and a wide range of seating from sofas through tables to a couple of wooden bars. It’s mostly open spaces, with the walls knocked through, but there are a couple of cosy niches. The decor seems to be another modern trend, that of undecorated. The bare walls and open spaces fit with the overall feel of the place, so much so that I did begin to wonder if the scaffolding was a deliberate feature…

It’s laptop friendly, with free Wifi, a well-publicised password, and plenty of power outlets. There was a steady stream of people coming through, along with a smattering who seemed to be set for the day. I was there for a couple of hours and when I left there were still a few people there who I’d seen on the way in!

Now for the irony. It’s rare that I like a place so much without actually liking the coffee. And since this is Brew Lab, which has gone to more lengths than most to make great coffee, there is a deep irony to that. I have to stress there is nothing wrong with the coffee I had; it just wasn’t to my taste. The V60 and Clever are 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 🙂

However, please don’t let that put you off. I love Brew Lab, I love what it’s doing and next time I’ll know to stick to the espresso. But please, Brew Lab and everyone else, keep experimenting. Much of the joy of visiting new coffee shops is to experiment. Remember, if you want the same-old, same-old every time, you can always stick to the chains.

April 2014: I paid another visit to Brew Lab and am pleased to report that it is as busy as ever. However, in a recent change, the V60s and Clever Drippers have been replaced with the Kalita Wave filter. You can see what I made of the change on my return.

 6-8 SOUTH COLLEGE STREET • EDINBURGH • EH8 9AA +44 (0) 131 662 8963
Monday 08:00 – 18:00 Roaster Has Bean (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 08:00 – 18:00 Seating Tables, Sofas, Bar
Wednesday 08:00 – 18:00 Food Pastries, Cake, Lunch
Thursday 08:00 – 18:00 Service Order at Counter
Friday 08:00 – 18:00 Cards Mastercard, Visa (£0.30 charge)
Saturday 09:00 – 18:00 Wifi Free with code
Sunday 09:00 – 18:00 Power Yes
Chain No Visits Original: 11th December 2012
Update: 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.