Oh, how the world has changed! Edinburgh is now a metropolis if not quite the continental European city it is drifting towards (a challenge with our weather!). Think back 20 years and Edinburgh’s tea and coffee shops were practically non-existent, limited to a few dingy spaces overly focused on tray bakes, and Princes Street’s department stores. A visit to Jenner’s café when visiting the big city was a tradition in our family. I arrived in the early ’90s as a young student and had few options for a good coffee and cake (plunged and layered). When funds allowed I would treat myself to a tasteful coffee and excessive piece of cake on George Street or over in Newington (the Rock – I think it was called that – and Metropole).
In the new Edinburgh, we have a myriad of options and face a new challenge – where to meet friends? A flurry of texts quickly confirms availability on a date and time, but the ‘where’ takes much longer (avoiding the Hitch-hikers discussion on civilisations). In the old days you were lucky if your café had splashed out on coffee from Brodies, but cafés seem to have got the message and realised that you don’t have to be a specialist to offer something tasty. C. and I split down the middle, one favouring coffee and the other tea. In our early days that meant that one of us enjoyed the beverage stop, the other suffered with something supplied by the local cash and carry. Luckily the world has moved on, especially by the growth of speciality suppliers.
At the risk of sounding like a business consultant, a good business recognises core strengths and seeks good suppliers to fill the gaps. My favourite artisan coffee shop brews their own coffee and buys in tasty pastries from a specialist bakery and flavourful teas from a specialist tea shop. They know what they do well and understand that if their customers value quality coffee, they probably value quality tea and snacks. (I am mainly thinking about coffee here, but please follow this link to Danielle’s piece about the growing list of artisan bakers in Edinburgh).
There are now a couple of coffee suppliers in Edinburgh, but I think it would be fair to say that Artisan Roast has led the charge in Edinburgh towards coffee café culture. They changed ‘good coffee’ from simply being made in an espresso machine or in a press, to offering coffee in which you could actually taste different flavours. I worked near Broughton Street when they opened their first shop and, for me, Edinburgh’s coffee changed from a hot brown fluid to an exciting cup with varying flavours, body, acidity and sweetness. From that first shop they have been at the forefront of Edinburgh’s coffee revolution. The shop showed what could be achieved, roasting their own beans and offering Edinburgh independent coffee shops a route to offering a decent cup (as well as wholesale and training). I must admit to making a double take the first time I saw their name referenced as a supplier on another coffee shops sign, like the heavily promoted R.J. Mellis on many a restaurant’s cheese board.
Having confessed my attraction to a good coffee, and with thoughts on where I have supped a good cup bouncing around my brain, I am going to have a mental wander around this lovely city and recall places I have enjoyed and why they stand out*. I will upload my meandering thoughts for a different area of Edinburgh every couple of weeks. I cannot promise to be complete or cover all of the new places (there are a lot!), but hopefully I will suggest a few new places to try and enjoy.
Please let me know if there are places I have missed that you particularly enjoy (or if you disagree with me!).
* I will ignore the major chains. I will not insult them as I admit to being a regular visitor, but they sit in another space (‘the third place’). I go there for the comfortable chairs and WiFi, not to drink a great coffee.