20 September 2021

11 Speciality Coffee Shops To Visit in Edinburgh

If you've been following my Instagram, you'll know I've just got back from a holiday in Malta, which I'll be writing about in due course. But before that, I spent a few days in Edinburgh. It was my first trip to the city since 1994 so I had a lot to catch up on, and was delighted to have so many excellent coffee shops to visit. In only four days, I couldn't go to all of the cafés in Edinburgh's vibrant speciality coffee scene, but I did visit 11 different coffee shops during my stay, which I've highlighted below. I've also made a Google Map (as usual, my very favourite spots are flagged in purple).

In addition, I was delighted to find speciality coffee in my room at the Kimpton Charlotte Square! There was a ceramic V60 coffee and some pre-ground, locally roasted coffee from Santu, grown in Espirito Santo, Brazil; the coffee made me miss Nuno (sob!), but tasted great. I'd brought my Aeropress Go and brought some coffee from Vermont-based Vivid, but it was nice to have a different option. I passed Santu's coffee shop on the Royal Mile on my last day but didn't have time to visit.

A quick note on COVID: most of the coffee shops I visited had had to limit seating and the number of customers inside at one time to facilitate physical distancing. In line with Scotland's legislation at the time, customers were required to wear masks and submit their details for contact tracing with NHS Scotland.
Most shops were also either requiring or strongly encouraging contactless and/or credit card payment.

Artisan Roast (New Town, Stockbridge and other locations)

Artisan Roast is a coffee roastery with several coffee shops in Edinburgh, as well as the roastery and lab, which can be visited by appointment. I visited their cosy café on Broughton Street in New Town for a pre-breakfast coffee one morning, where I had an excellent piccolo and got some good tips for breakfast and brunch spots from the super-friendly staff. There are only a few seats inside the compact coffee shop, but there are pourover brews available as well as espresso-based drinks, a good selection of pastries and bags of retail beans.

Later the same day, while I was exploring Stockbridge, the village-like neighbourhood north-east of the city centre, I came across another Artisan Roast on Raeburn Place, the main drag. This cafe was larger with a number of tables inside, clustered around the L-shaped wooden counter, and outside on the pavement. This time, I opted for a hand-brewed filter coffee brewed with a fruity coffee from El Salvador. I had just had lunch but if you're hungrier than I was, they have a range of pastries, cakes and sandwiches. There's also a good selection of coffee beans and coffee-brewing kit.

Artisan Roast is located at 57 Broughton Street (New Town), 100A Raeburn Place (Stockbridge), and other locations. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Cairngorm Coffee (New Town)

The Melville Place branch of Cairngorm Coffee, another local roaster, was the closest speciality coffee shop to my Charlotte Square hotel and also the last I visited; there's another location in the heart of New Town, but it's closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Inside, it's bright and airy with gorgeous pops of bright yellow and coral, including the rather lovely Victoria Arduino espresso machine that perches on the L-shaped counter. There are a number of tables inside and a few seats outside too. Or if you stand at the bar that runs along the wall, you can use one of the tablets that are available for customer use. My piccolo, brewed with the Guilty Pleasures blend, was impeccably brewed and I enjoyed chatting with the friendly barista about coffee and Edinburgh before it was time for me to return to Waverley Station.

Cairngorm Coffee is located at 1 Melville Place (New Town). Website. TwitterInstagram. They also have a café at 41 Frederick Street, New Town.

The Cobbled Roastery (New Town)

I discovered The Cobbled Roastery on Thistle Street when I was having dinner at Noto, just across the street. Opened by two coffee-loving friends in late 2020, The Cobbled Roastery roasts coffee in small batches every day. You can buy beans inside (and there were a couple of wholesale customers there when I visited) and there's an espresso machine on the counter too, where they'll brew you an espresso-based coffee to drink in or take away. I had a macchiato, brewed with a Colombian single-origin coffee in my mini KeepCup, which I very much enjoyed on my walk to Stockbridge.

The Cobbled Roastery is located at 48 Thistle Street (New Town). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Format (Newington)

I came across Format on my walk to Arthur's Seat and thought it looked like an interesting coffee shop in the mostly residential Newington neighbourhood, so I headed on in. There was an impressive array of manual brewing devices on the counter, but as I was trying to get to the top of Arthur's Seat before the weather turned, I had a macchiato instead. The espresso was brewed with an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe roasted by Elsewhere Coffee Roasters — not a roaster I was familiar with, although they're just down the road from me in Herne Hill. The coffee was very well brewed and I enjoyed talking to the barista about the neighbourhood and coffee shops in Edinburgh and beyond.

Format is located at 124 Buccleuch Street (Newington). Facebook. Instagram.

Fortitude Coffee (New Town)

My only regret about Fortitude Coffee is that I ran out of time to return to buy the beans of the excellent  Guatemalan La Ponderosa Gesha coffee I enjoyed in my piccolo. There were such lovely mango flavours with a little milk, and I had been looking forward to trying it as a filter coffee too; alas. The coffee shop itself is on a smart Georgian terrace on York Place. Climb the steps to the entrance and you can take a seat at the long bar that runs along the left wall or at one of the small tables on the right wall. It's an attractively designed shop and the staff were very knowledgeable and helpful. There's also a very good choice of retail bags of coffee beans, coffee-making kit and pastries on offer.

Fortitude Coffee is located at 3c York Place (New Town). Website. TwitterInstagram. They also have a café at 66 Hamilton Place in Stockbridge.

LOWDOWN (New Town)

LOWDOWN is on a busy stretch of George Street, in the heart of the New Town, but as it occupies a shop on the lower-ground floor (hence the name), it feels like a peaceful oasis away from the hustle and bustle at street level. Once you've climbed down the stairs, there are a few tables outside on the patio, and more seating inside the café. As you go inside, the shelves on the right-hand side house a variety of treats in the form of coffees from roasters like Dak, Colonna, Manhattan Coffee Roasters and Rush Rush. When I asked what was in the hopper there was a choice between a natural Indonesian roasted by New Ground and a washed Ethiopian from Dak. As I had actually sampled the former while I was at New Ground in Oxford the week before, I opted for the latter. My piccolo was impeccably brewed and the citrus flavours paired very nicely with the lemon and elderflower drizzle cake I ordered.

LOWDOWN is located at 40 George Street (New Town). Website. Instagram.

The Milkman (Old Town)

I showed up at The Milkman's original Cockburn Street coffee shop soon after they opened on my first morning in Edinburgh. I'd just been for a run up Calton Hill and was in need of more coffee and sustenance and there was already a queue outside. Inside, the décor is rustic and very cosy. Seating has been limited because of physical distancing measures but there are still a few seats in the window, and a couple of other small tables, as well as two larger tables outside. My piccolo was brewed with a Nicaraguan coffee from Origin, and as I had heard the pastries were particularly good here, I treated myself to a chocolate and hazelnut babka. Both were very good indeed. Kudos too to the barista, who was managing the long (and sometimes demanding) queue alone, preparing drinks to a very high standard and with a smile. You can also buy some lovely products from coffee cups and brewing kit, to candles made with coffee grounds, and coffee-themed jewellery.

The Milkman is located at 7 Cockburn Street (Old Town). Website. TwitterInstagram. They have a second café just up the road at number 52.

Modern Standard (Bruntsfield)

I've enjoyed coffee from Fife-based roaster Modern Standard before, including at the now-defunct Macintyre Coffee in Angel. And when I heard that they'd opened up a coffee shop in Edinburgh towards the end of 2020, I was excited to visit. Located in the Bruntsfield neighbourhood, a short walk south of the city centre, and just across from the Bruntsfield Links, it's a popular coffee stop for joggers and dog walkers, as well as other coffee lovers. You'll know you've arrived when you spot the cobalt blue shopfront — a colour that extends to the interiors too, alongside light wood and the bright white Dalla Corte espresso machine. The coffee bar and a shelf filled with Modern Standard coffee beans and merch, and a variety of coffee-brewing equipment for sale, takes up the first room, but there's more seating in the next room. 

Sustainability is important here, and there's a poster highlighting all of the steps in their coffee supply chain — and the many people involved in producing each cup of coffee — while I appreciated the photographs of coffee washing stations inside the washing stations (well, the bathrooms). I had a single-origin Peruvian coffee in my piccolo, which was smooth and sweet, and a vegan cinnamon bun, which was perfectly moist; I don't think I would have realised it was vegan had the sign not specified.

Modern Standard is located at 49 Barclay Place (Bruntsfield). Website. TwitterInstagram.

Union Brew Lab (Old Town)

Founded in 2012, Brew Lab was acquired by Union Coffee in 2018 and the spacious café continues to combine the more lab-like brew bar areas with cosier vibes in the seating areas, spread out through several interconnected rooms. I was very much in the mood for a pourover when I arrived with my mum on a Saturday afternoon. There were two single-origin coffees available, and although it felt a little bit wrong not to order the Union coffee, I also wanted to try coffee from local roaster Obadiah Coffee while I was in town, having enjoyed some of their coffee at home over the summer. Besides, the Ethiopian Biftu Gudina on offer sounded right up my street and indeed, it had delicious berry and lime notes. I only realised later that cakes, sandwiches and other bites were listed on the back, and of course, I couldn't resist the peanut butter blondie. My mum gave her tea a thumbs up too.

Union Brew Lab is located at 6–8 South College Street (Old Town). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Williams & Johnson (Leith)

When the sun came out, we headed to the Portobello to stroll along the beach and dip our feet in the sea. On the way back, we made a brief pit stop in Leith. Although I hadn't been expecting to have time to visit Edinburgh's much-redeveloped waterfront neighbourhood, I had had the foresight to flag Williams & Johnson in my Google Map. The roaster sells retail bags of their coffee beans in minimalist packaging, and serves coffee and cakes at the counter inside in the spacious café in Customs Wharf. My dad and I enjoyed our respective macchiato and piccolo (the latter was brewed with a Colombian coffee) and the millionaire's shortbread we shared to keep us going on the ride home. There are a few seats outside in the courtyard if the weather is being kind.

Williams & Johnson is located at 1 Customs Wharf (Leith). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

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