Built on top of seven hills, Edinburgh is a sprawling city where you will find centuries-old buildings within walking distance of impressive modern architecture. Walking the Royal Mile will take you from the abstract Scottish Parliament building past a Cathedral and a myriad of hidden closes all the way up to Edinburgh Castle, a building from which you can gaze over the entire city and see its largest landmarks. No matter how many times one visits the city, it is hard not to be taken aback; to feel like you must look in awe at what is around you.
Edinburgh is a city of hidden gems. The historic neighborhood of Old Town offers centuries worth of history for you to peruse. You can even see markings made by those who built St. Giles Cathedral, a building at the heart of many crucial Scottish historical events. A few minutes away you will find the bustling Georgian New Town. Further afield you will find the upbeat Stockbridge neighborhood with all of its small independent stores where it is not uncommon to see fruit stands in the street.
One of Edinburgh’s best-kept hidden gems is the quality of roasters based in the city. Coffee has been roasted in Scotland’s capital for over a decade but over the last years the roasting industry has gone from strength to strength, growing to many more businesses who each offer their own take on coffee. Let’s chat about some of the top coffee roasters in Edinburgh.
Fortitude Coffee has three cafes in Edinburgh, one on York Place in New Town, another in the heart of Stockbridge, and a coffee shops and bakery on Newington Road.. Founded in 2014 by Matt and Helen Carroll, Fortitude was originally a multi-roaster cafe. They then decided to branch out into coffee roasting. We are lucky they did because today Fortitude is known best for its cosy and welcoming cafes as well as the quality of their roasted coffee. Roasting on a Diedrich IR-12, Fortitude provides coffee to cafes around the city such as Cheapshot, a police box cafe run by students at the University of Edinburgh, and through their online retail store.
Fortitude Coffee roasts beans from around the world, rotating their offerings constantly to provide new and exciting coffees to their customers. It is not uncommon to see beans from a few different continents at once on Fortitude’s menu. More recently, Fortitude has branched out into offering rare and unique coffees through their 125 subscription. The 125 program offers subscribers a way to taste small samples of coffee that might otherwise be too expensive to buy in larger quantities. Fortitude’s attention to detail shines through in this offering, with each coffee being accompanied by an extensive profile on its origin and roast profile.
Williams and Johnson Coffee
Williams and Johnson Coffee, owned by Zack Williams and Todd Johnson, roasts coffee on a single roaster next to the Leith waterfront. Their cafe and roasting operation is based in Customs Lane, an artistic studio for creative professionals that is well-known throughout the city. Walk outside their cafe and you will see a picturesque scene of marvelous buildings, boats, and a bridge that makes its way into many photographs of the Leith area.
Williams and Johnson started roasting coffee for wholesale customers five years ago. One year later, they opened up their own cafe where they serve the coffee they have roasted. The business prides itself on freshness, aiming to release new coffee as soon after harvest as possible. The founders have extensive roasting experience, knowing the ins and outs of what to look out for when roasting coffee. This shines through in the end product. Further, Williams and Johnson package all of their coffee in minimal, biodegradable packaging, so you can enjoy the freshest beans without worrying about how to dispose of the bag in which they are stored.
The story of Cairngorm Coffee starts in the Scottish Highlands back in 2013. Robbie Lambie, the owner of Cairngorm, dreamed of owning a coffee shop in Scotland’s capital. Lambie did not keep his dream in his head: he worked hard to turn his ideas into reality, starting Cairngorm Coffee. If you ask a coffee lover in Edinburgh to name a shop they recommend, Cairngorm is likely going to be on the list. With two cafes in Edinburgh’s New Town—their newest store based in an old bank building—Cairngorm satisfies the caffeine-needs of many people around the city.
Cairngorm Coffee roasts their own coffee and operates at the cutting-edge of roasting and marketing. Cairngorm Coffee’s packaging comes in colorful, custom-designed bags. Each bag comes with a brief description of the coffee you are about to drink as well as clear recycling information on the packaging so you can have confidence in disposing of your coffee bag waste. Recently, Cairngorm have been exploring coffee blends, with their Guilty Pleasures blend making the proclamation that a blend can be just as good as any single-origin. They also released a dual-process pack that allowed customers to try the same coffee processed in different ways. If you are looking for coffee roasted in Edinburgh, it’s always worth keeping your eye on Cairngorm.
Cult Espresso embodies the idea of upbeat coffee culture in every possible way. Their name is playful—the door literally says “good times” on the front—their cafe is welcoming and full of knowledgeable staff who can help guide you through their menu and roasted coffee offering. Cult Espresso is a ten-minute walk away from Edinburgh’s Old Town but it’s worth the visit. While the cafe may look small from the outside, the cafe is long inside and has plenty of places for tables.
In 2020, Cult Espresso started roasting their own beans. While their roasting operation has been going on for a shorter period of time than many other players in the city, anyone with a passion for coffee would find delight in trying beans from Cult. Roasted by hand in small batches, Cult Espresso roasts on a 6kg Giesen roaster. The roaster is situated in South Queensferry so you will not see it in their cafe. Cult started roasting to explore the next part of the coffee industry: they developed a reputation for great coffee drinks and atmosphere and wanted to expand into the next frontier.
Obadiah Coffee is located in a railway arch under the rails that connect the Scottish Borders and many other parts of Southern Scotland to Edinburgh’s Waverley Station. Started by Sam and Alice Young in 2017, Obadiah Coffee is run by a small team of passionate coffee professionals whose coffee has developed a strong reputation by coffee lovers across Scotland and further afield. Obadiah’s main business is to sell coffee to wholesale customers but they also have a thriving online store and retail coffee operation. On their website you can find coffees from all around the world that they have chosen to roast based on extensive cupping and tasting.
Roasting on a 12kg Deidrich roaster, Obadiah Coffee offers an extensive range of coffee flavor profiles in their roasted coffee. This means that there is always something for everyone available on their store or in cafes that sell their coffee. It is not uncommon to see a chocolatey Brazilian coffee next to coffees from countries like Ethiopia and Uganda with wild yet delicious, mouthwatering tasting notes. In addition, Obadiah has conducted extensive research into packaging their coffee. They have adopted a 100% recyclable packaging that has a low environmental impact on account of the minimal materials used.
A profile on Edinburgh’s speciality coffee roasters would not be complete without discussing Artisan Roast. Artisan Roast was the first speciality coffee roaster to open in Scotland, starting back in 2007. They have played a pivotal role in establishing the reputation of coffee roasted in Scotland. Artisan Roast operates five cafes around Edinburgh, including their famous Broughton Street cafe with a sign that says “J.K. Rowling never wrote here,” written after confusion about whether J.K. Rowling wrote in their cafe. They also have a roastery and a cupping lab where the behind-the-scenes work to cup, grade, and roast coffee goes on.
Artisan Roast has years of knowledge on roasting coffee that shines through in every coffee they roast. On their website you will find coffees that cater to all tastes, from the light-roasted beans for which speciality roasters are famous to darker-roasted beans that have been roasted that way to bring out just the right characteristics in the bean. Artisan Roast occasionally offers special-grade lots such as beans that have won Cup of Excellence awards. Recently, they expanded out into cask-finished coffee—coffee that has been left to rest in a whisky cask for a month—which speaks to their innovation and interest in expanding how we think about speciality coffee.
The Edinburgh Speciality Roasting Scene is Thriving
Edinburgh is home to a diverse range of speciality coffee roasters. Some roasters, like Cult Espresso and Cairngorm, started as cafes and eventually expanded out into roasting. Other roasters started with their roasting and later opened cafes; some roasters do not have cafes, instead opting to focus on doing the best job they can at roasting specialty coffee. On your next trip to Edinburgh, walk around Old Town and New Town, reflect on the beauty of the architecture around you, and remember to stop by a coffee shop or two and pick up a bag of beans roasted by an Edinburgh speciality coffee roaster.
James Gallagher is a Scotland-based freelance journalist. This is James Gallagher’s first feature for Sprudge.