It’s good to know how to appreciate the simple things in life. For some people, it’s a candlelit bath at the end of a hard day. For others, it’s watching the world come to life as you set out for an early morning run. For me, it’s finding myself a cosy spot in a bustling coffee shop, with my journal in one hand and a piping hot flat white in the other.
I’m a bit of a coffee nut. Not in the sense that I have to have half a dozen cups to get me through the day (believe me, you don’t want to see an overly caffeinated Izzy running loose), but that I really, really appreciate a good quality brew. I like my coffee to be made with love, to be ethically sourced and to be served up in an atmosphere just right for getting those creative juices flowing. As a venues editor for The Skinny, part of my job is to scope out the Edinburgh’s best bars, restaurants and cafes. This bodes well for my love of coffee shops, and I even run a monthly coffee club, which is a great excuse to kill two birds with one stone; catching up with pals over cake, all in the name of research? Yes, it’s a hard life indeed.
Thankfully living in Edinburgh has always proved rather fruitful on the great coffee shop quest. Like many of my other favourite cities (Paris, San Francisco, Melbourne), Edinburgh has a really cafe culture and is peppered with great coffee houses, all longing to be explored. Here’s a run down of my top ten:
#1: Century General Store (Abbeyhill)
“Perched atop Abbeyhill, with gorgeous views out towards Calton Hill and Holyrood Park, sits Century General Store. It’s a quirky wee place built into a cosy corner nook. With windows on every side it can feel a little like you’re sitting in a treehouse as you sup on lovingly-crafted cups of Assembly Coffee and watch the world go by. The shop itself may be small but it’s stacked to the rafters with gorgeous homeware and stationary. I’ve yet to achieve leaving without the acquisition of a new mug or two.”
Montrose House, 1 – 7 Montrose Terrace
Tempting you with their lovely homeware and cinnamon buns.
“Lovecrumbs may have a bit of an unfortunate location (sandwiched between the city’s strip clubs in an area known locally as Pubic Triangle) but don’t let that put you off. There’s a whole lotta love going on for this place. Mismatched, pre-loved furniture coexist with exposed brick walls, pot plants and staff who know a thing or two about making a good cup of coffee. For me though it’s all about the cakes. Lovecrumbs are absolute connoisseurs of the cake-crafting game and have a wardrobe (yes, really!) full of their baked goodies. Blueberry and vanilla? Pear and hazelnut? Orange and rosemary? These guys are not afraid to experiment with flavour. Give them a follow on Facebook if you dare.”
155 West Port
Hands down; cakes.
#3: Thomas J Walls
“There’s something very quaint about Thomas J Walls on Forrest Road. Housed in a former opticians, it seems that little has changed about the interior in 50 years, though the coffee shop itself has only been running for a couple. The dark wooden paneling and furniture give the place the feel of a timeless, bohemian Parisian cafe and because it’s only a stone’s throw to the main University of Edinburgh campus it’s not uncommon to see tutorial groups arguing it out over Nietzsche theories or writers gazing thoughtfully out towards the meadows as they ponder over their next project. There’s a select but well executed brunch menu if you’re feeling peckish, but really I’d be happy just with a window spot and a flat white. And maybe a spot of the chocolate Guinness cake for good measure.”
35 Forrest Road
Classic decor & larger groups.
#4: Victor Hugo
“One of my all time faves. Victor Hugo is a continental delicatessen with a distinctly French vibe and a cracking view out towards the Meadows park. They do lovely bread, cakes, meats and antipasti to go, but once you find yourself in the shop you’ll not want to leave. Tables are scarce, but if you can grab one outside on a sunny spring morning (there’s patio heaters, don’t fret!) you’ll be set for the day. Start small with the Eggs Benedict, go large with an oozing Croque Monsieur or play it safe with a dainty macaroon; whatever your decision, it’s hard not to fall for Victor’s charm. “
26/29 Melville Terrace
Raiding the deli counter, croque monsieurs and watching the world go by.
#5: Casa Amiga (Leith Walk)
“This colourful family-run Portuguese cafe used to sit a mere stone’s throw from my flat in Leith. After moving to the other side of town, I miss it dearly. Not just because the Pasteis de Nata were out of this world, but because the staff were lovely and there was always something new and exciting to try on the menu. Thankfully they’ve now opened a second branch in the North Bridge Arcade, which is pretty close to my office. “
294 Leith Walk
Getting your Pasteis de Nata (Portuguese tarts) fix!
#6: The Elephant House
“It can sometimes be difficult to get through the scrum of photo-takers outside The Elephant House, let alone get a table inside! The cafe is somewhat of an Edinburgh institution. It’s always been much-loved (I used to get taken here as a child for hot chocolate so can vouch for its early credibility), but its popularity really look off after the launch of a certain literary series about a boy wizard back in 1997. The Elephant House is referred to affectionately as the birthplace of Harry Potter, as it used to be a favourite haunt for J. K. Rowling. It’s easy to see why she would find it an inspiring place to work! The cafe is full of quirky charm, with elephant-themed models and artwork tucked into every nook and cranny, and stunning views out towards the castle from the back room. There’s a fairly substantial menu on hand too if you’re needing some fuel for the brain. With views like that, you’re not going to want to go anywhere fast.”
21 George IV Bridge
Hot chocolate and creative vibes.
#7: Brew Lab
“Just a stone’s throw from work, Brew Lab is where I go to get my daily coffee fix. Thankfully they know how to make a bloody good cup! The staff know their stuff and will quite happily show off their latte art skills as they serve up cup after cup of expertly-brewed single origin blend coffee. The cafe is almost always packed (a nod towards its general greatness) and yet because it’s made up of wee nooks and crannies it manages to avoid that overly-cramped you get with other popular joints. The shabby-chic interior, with exposed stonework and vintage leather armchairs, gives the place a nice edge and draws in an eclectic crowd ranging from students, city-centre dwellers and die-hard espresso enthusiasts. They also do cracking focaccia breads and pastries if you’re needing a little something to keep your latte company. It’s ‘artisan’ but not pretentious; a hard balance to achieve.”
6 – 8 South College Street
Lovers of anything rustic and true coffee connoisseurs.
#8: Cairngorm Coffee (West End)
“Cairngorm Coffee have two shops in town; one on Frederick Street and one on Melville Place. It’s the West End one I like. It’s much more spacious and offers a light and airy space to get some writing done on a lazy Sunday off. The location is also a winner, with cobbled streets a’plenty en route as you steer away from the city centre. Busy spells tend to peak around the brunch hours, but with gorgeous offerings like cinnamon toast and toasted banana bread up for grabs, it’s little wonder. Can’t find a table? Grab yourself a window spot and make use of the free iPads. These guys have thought of everything.”
1 Melville Place
Brunch in a contemporary setting.
#9: Project Coffee
“Fancy escaping the bustle of the city centre? Head up into Bruntsfield, an area known for its curved terraces and plethora of chain-free shops, bars and cafes. Holding its own amidst tough competition is Project Coffee, an artisan coffee bar with an emphasis on promoting locally sourced suppliers. These guys are also heralded with bringing the likes of Kilimanjaro, Press and Wellington Coffee to Edinburgh’s streets, so we’ve got a lot to thank them for. That, and their squishy sofa, if you’re lucky enough to bag it. I’m a big fan of their coffee, and quite often pop up here when I’m in the area shopping for one-off cards and gifts for people. It’s places like Project Coffee which should keep people rooting to support independent businesses.”
196 Bruntsfield Place
Escaping the city centre
#10: Peter’s Yard
“There’s nothing better on a crisp Autumn evening, when the air is cool enough to bring just a hint of colour to your cheeks, than to grab a table with pals in the middle of the Meadows park and watch the world go by. Peter’s Yard is the perfect place to do just that. The much-loved Swedish company Söderberg have gained quite a fanbase amongst Edinburgh’s residents, with bakeries and stores in the park and Stockbridge. The Simpson Loan branch is my fave, and their cardamom buns are to die for. I love the way the modern glass exterior contrasts so vividly with the historic hospital buildings behind. It’s very Edinburgh, very Scandi and very Izzy. “
27 Simpson Loan
Cardamom buns and people watching on The Meadows