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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

Detail from the menu board at Brew Lab in Edinburgh, showing one of two espresso choices, this one (a washed Guatemalan from Union) for use in drinks with milk.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.

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Cairngorm Coffee, Frederick Street

A piccolo in a glass on a red saucer at Cairngorm Coffee, Frederick Street, Edinburgh.In keeping with the best Edinburgh coffee shop traditions, you’ll find Cairngorm Coffee in a basement, occupying a pair of joined spaces under a row of houses on the steeply-sloping Frederick Street. This is one of two branches, the other, on Melville Place, having opened in April 2015. This, however, is the original Cairngorm Coffee, having first opened its doors in March 2014, which means that it celebrates its fifth birthday this month.

Cairngorm Coffee started life as a multi-roaster, showing-casing coffee from across Europe. However, in April 2018, Cairngorm started roasting its own coffee. For now, the roastery is based in the family-owned café in Kingussie, just off the A9 in the heart of the Cairngorm mountains, but there are plans to move it to Edinburgh.

The coffee operation at Frederick Street is fairly simple, with a single-origin on espresso and another on batch-brew, although you’ll find a wider range at Melville Place. The coffee options change on a monthly basis and are served from a concise drinks menu, where they’re joined by an equally concise tea selection. If you’re hungry, there’s a short breakfast/lunch menu, heavily biased towards sandwiches and toast, plus a selection of cakes and pastries.

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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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Detour Espresso

Detail from the Detour Espresso sign, taken from outside the shop in Edinburgh.When you’ve been away from Edinburgh for as long as I have (an embarrassing three years!), everything is new, even places that have been open for ages, like Lowdown Coffee. However, today’s Coffee Spot, Detour Espresso, is genuinely new, having only opened in August this year. Located on the south side of the Meadows, an area bereft of speciality coffee since the closure, long ago, of Freemans Coffee, it’s a welcome addition.

There’s not a lot to Detour Espresso, but it’s well worth making a detour to visit. Essentially a large, open cube (bless those high Edinburgh ceilings) you’ll find Birmingham’s Quarter Horse Coffee Roasters on espresso with its Dark Horse blend, along with a guest single-origin, plus a further single-origin on pour-over/batch-brew from a different guest roaster. These guest roasters change every month or so, depending on how quickly Detour goes through the stock.

If you’re hungry, there’s a simple all-day food menu with breakfast and lunch options. This includes my favourite option of toast, plus a range of toasted sandwiches and soup of the day, while, for a change, you can have a warm savoury tart with side salad. There’s also plenty of cakes from old friends Cakesmiths.

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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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The logo from the door at Fortitude in Edinburgh: Espresso & Brew Bar, plus Coffee Merchant.When I first visited Edinburgh’s Fortitude in April 2014, it had been open all of four weeks. A self-titled espresso & brew bar, plus coffee merchant, Fortitude lived up to the billing back then. These days it's added a decent food offering and has turned itself into a pretty decent roaster. Originally using London's Workshop and regularly-rotating guests, these days all the coffee is roasted in-house (but sadly not on-site, where there's no room for a roaster), Fortitude sourcing some exceptional single-origins, with two options on espresso and four on pour-over through the Kalita Wave.

It helps that Fortitude’s a lovely spot in which to drink your coffee, with its high ceilings and uncluttered layout. There’s not much 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, although when I returned at the end of December 2018, they were off roasting. Instead I was equally well-looked after by Cristabel and Niall.

If you’re hungry, there are small breakfast and lunch menus, with a tempting selection of toast, sandwiches and soup, plus a decent range of cake.

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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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Lowdown Coffee

My pour-over of a Washed Kenyan from Morgon Coffee Roasters served at Lowdown Coffee in Edinburgh.With all the travelling I’ve been doing recently, it’s been increasingly hard for me to get around the UK like I once did. Even so, I was rather embarrassed to discover that it’s been three years since I last visited Edinburgh. Unsurprisingly, rather a lot has changed since my last visit, including plenty of new faces and a few changes at some well-known old faces.

Where to start? Well, let’s try Lowdown Coffee on George Street, right in the heart of Edinburgh, which opened in February 2016, just across the way from old favourite and Edinburgh stalwart, Wellington Coffee. Like Wellington, Lowdown Coffee follows the tried-and-tested Edinburgh tradition of locating your coffee shop in a basement, which gets a thumbs up from me.

However, that’s where the similarities end. Lowdown Coffee is on a mission to do things differently. For starters, there’s table service, a refreshing change from queuing at the counter. The coffee, which changes weekly, is drawn from some of the best roasters across Europe, with one option on espresso and two on pour-over through the Kalita Wave. How about the daily food menu? Or the water, with different formulations for different beans? And that’s just for starters…

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Machina Espresso, Brougham Place

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 opening a second shop, is now roasting its own coffee!

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Machina Espresso, Nicolson Street

Machina Espresso Coffee Bar: detail from the sign outside the Nicolson Street branchI first dsicovered Edinburgh’s Machina Espresso in 2013, when I wrote about it as part of my first-ever feature for Caffeine Magazine. Back then it was an equipment supplier, in November that year, it opened its first coffee shop in Brougham Place, where it fulfilled dual roles of coffee shop and equipment supplier, its shelves full of (very) shiny home espresso machines, compact grinders, great cups, tampers, pouring kettles and so on. However, that was only the beginning…

In 2017, Machina Espresso took two big steps forward. First, in May, it started roasting its own coffee in a dedicated facility (sadly not open to the public) and then, in the summer, the second branch, the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, opened on Nicolson Street.

In keeping with its roots, there is plenty of coffee kit on sale, although Nicolson Street stops short of grinders and espresso machines. Machina Espresso only roasts single-origins, with two choices on espresso (for drinks with and without milk), while there’s another on batch-brew. If you’re hungry, Machina Espresso has a good selection of cakes, plus a concise combined breakfast and lunch menu available until four o’clock (although the porridge is only available until 11 o’clock).

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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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