The Unique Police Box Cafés of Edinburgh, Scotland

We learn about this converted coffee shop concept and its presence in Edinburgh.

BY JAMES GALLAGHER
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE

Scattered around Edinburgh, Scotland, you will find police boxes—which might make you think of the TARDIS from the television show Doctor Who. They were originally commissioned by the police as a way to ensure officers were able to contact headquarters. These police boxes served an important role in policing and are a mainstay in a number of Scottish cities. However, as radios became more common, the need for these police boxes has dwindled. The police eventually stopped using the boxes and they were made available for sale.

This was not the end of the Scottish police box, however: Passionate entrepreneurs across Edinburgh have repurposed them into takeaway coffee stands. The police boxes provide a good environment for a takeaway stand: shelter from the outside, electricity, and enough space to house coffee equipment.

If you enjoy a coffee on the go and want to see the creativity inherent in the Scottish coffee community, I can think of few better places to go than a police box café. Let’s look at some of these shops and where you can find them.

Mel, the current operator of Cheapshot Coffee. Photo by Max Weaver.

Cheapshot Coffee

Started by Paddy, a student at the University of Edinburgh, Cheapshot Coffee is an entrepreneurial coffee venture that is at the heart of Edinburgh’s coffee community. Every year, a new student is given the opportunity to run Cheapshot for a year, after which point the same opportunity is afforded to someone else. During this time, the student operator can build their coffee skills, meet new people who come to grab a coffee, and pick up some business skills.

In addition to the strong community Cheapshot has built in the three years since its founding, the shop has gained a reputation for its pricing model: Every drink is $2 (pound sterling). This is a very affordable price in comparison to other specialty outlets in Edinburgh and is feasible, at least in part, due to the low overhead associated with operating a police box versus a fully fledged café.

The exterior of The Drip. Photo by Aimee and Jakub of The Drip.

The Drip

With locations in Morningside and Tollcross, The Drip has transformed two former police boxes into both hubs of community and art in themselves. The Drip coffee boxes feature eye-catching, detailed black-and-white art on the exterior. When they are open, you can stop by, grab a flat white or the coffee of your choosing, and ask about the art, Edinburgh, or anything else that crosses your mind. The Drip has partnered with Edinburgh bakery Baby Faced Baker to offer sweet treats to their customers. While their police boxes may be small, they are not so small that they cannot fit in some delicious snacks—which pair excellently with coffee, of course.

Jakub, who runs The Drip police box cafés with his fiancée, Aimee, told me his favorite part about working at The Drip “is definitely being your own boss.” He went on to say, “But I love it when a brand-new customer comes along and takes the first sip of their coffee; you can quite often tell from the expression on their face that they’ll be back for more sooner rather than later. We also made lots of pals; getting to talk to people from all different backgrounds is a blessing.” Indeed, police box cafés are hubs for community.

Wrapping up

Next time you are in Edinburgh, make an effort to try and stop by at least one of Edinburgh’s police box cafés. Stop for a coffee, ask about the Edinburgh coffee scene, complain about the weather—or, on a rare sunny, warm day, remark how terrific the weather is—and drink your coffee before going on with your day.

Police boxes do not have the same vibe as sitting in a café with a good book and a coffee. But they do provide an excellent opportunity to have a quick chat (or longer, depending on how busy the stand is) with someone who enjoys making coffee with everyone on their toes. Police box cafés most certainly create community here in Edinburgh and are loyal coffee stops for hundreds of people across the city.

Other police box cafés to check out that were not mentioned above include Sam’s Coffee Box and The Clava, but you’ll encounter even more just walking around the city.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


James Gallagher (he/him) is a coffee enthusiast who runs a blog about specialty coffee at jamesg.blog. His blog features recipes, brewing tips, and interviews with industry professionals from across the globe. His work has previously been featured by Coffee People and Steampunk Coffee.

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