Writer Jason Huffnagle is traveling all across Europe, drinking coffee and sharing with us the cultures, recipes, and traditions of coffee all across the continent. In this edition, he visits Edinburgh, Scotland.
BY JASON HUFFNAGLE
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE
Once a year—for three weeks in August—the population of Scotland’s capital doubles in size with visitors eager to experience the largest performing arts festival in the world: the Fringe. And yet this is not the only reason to visit Edinburgh—it is a city reputed for many other historical and culturally significant things. This includes but is certainly not limited to its role as a source of inspiration for J.K. Rowling, who wrote there several books in the Harry Potter series (Tom Riddle’s grave, y’all). The city is also home to the Edinburgh Castle, a majestic fortress carved into a rocky mountain, which once housed the Scottish monarchy and now hosts the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo every August. On top of its rich history, Edinburgh is increasingly becoming well-known for its craft coffee scene, with quaint and cozy shops popping up on nearly every corner—or, as the Scots would say, on every row, close, and mew.
I frequented several coffee shops in Edinburgh and collected a few general observations. First, the shops I visited had a considerable commitment to rotating selections of coffee from different roasters, almost at the same level one might expect a craft beer bar in the United States to rotate its tap offerings. Second, I noticed several of the shops I visited stocked a copy of Food Insider’s Scottish Independent Coffee Guide, an incredible book chock-full of shops dotted across the Scottish expanse. It seemed a strikingly useful companion for a longer stay and for those of us more-than-committed to finding the perfect cup. Finally, among the offerings of craft beer and gin gardens, many local coffee shops had booths at the different performance venues associated with the Fringe.
Located in Old Town Edinburgh, near the University of Edinburgh, this serious-about-specialty coffee shop became a bit of a home base during my weeklong stay in the city. Craft coffee and espresso drinks are served in a setting resembling a cozy cross of Scotland-meets-Bohemia. Once fully caffeinated, you can work off your excess energy by hiking Arthur’s Seat (a giant rock formation from which you have spectacular views of the city) or the Salisbury Crags, beginning or ending the journey with a visit to Holyrood Palace—where Queen Elizabeth II stays on her visits to Scotland.
Over the course of the week, I built a rapport with one of Filament’s baristas, who shared a good deal regarding Edinburgh’s coffee scene. Remarkably, much of what she said sounded familiar to coffee culture in America. One such similarity was her description of regularly held and informal latte art competitions, hosted by a rotating selection of roasters and shops, where baristas in the community gather and engage in friendly competition. These “jams” reminded me of the throwdowns I have participated in as a barista in the States.
Just off the Royal Mile, a strip of road connecting Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace, this centrally located shop is named after the owner’s great-grandfather, who was one of the last men to deliver milk by horse and cart in southern Scotland. What this shop lacks in square footage it makes up for in charm, with exposed stone walls and a knowledgeable staff. Get your beverage “to take-away” and bring it along for a stroll through the nearby Princes Street Gardens.
I did not find a coffee shop in Edinburgh more committed to creating caffeine delivery systems than Brew Lab. This trendy purveyor of all things percolated takes “coffee nerd” to a whole new level and offers an assortment of bar drinks, AeroPress, cold brew on nitrogen (also available in bottles in other shops across Scotland), and pourover. They also have an assortment of tasty sandwiches and pastries, all made in-house. However, if you can’t make it for your morning or afternoon cup of Joe, stop by for a coffee cocktail or craft beer.
I’ll be taking a train to my next stop: Edinburgh’s big sister to the south, London. Coffee culture in London is reputed to be vibrant, and I am looking forward to experiencing it firsthand and sharing some of the highlights in my next entry. Until then—cheers!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jason Huffnagle is a freelance writer for Barista Magazine who has worked in coffee as a barista for six years. Having recently left his “adult job” in the U.S. Senate, the Alaska native is spending the next four months traveling throughout Europe. You can keep up with his coffee-fueled travels and other exploits by following him at @jasonhuffnagle on Twitter.