Café notes: Brew Lab Coffee, Edinburgh, Scotland

Fortified—or, perhaps, better described as “fat-ified”—with a salted caramel doughnut, I embarked upon the best espresso I’ve yet tried in the UK at Brew Lab Coffee.

doughnut on plateespresso with foam art served with sparkling waterBrew Lab is in Edinburgh, Scotland, an easy walk from the tourist madness of the Royal Mile. Located near a university, its clientele seemed to consist mostly of students and…pregnant ladies.

These notable women may also be students, but I was mildly amused to find myself seated next to someone immensely gravid on both of my visits. And, no, it wasn’t the same woman, unless she was a Mission: Impossible spy wearing an unimaginably perfect fake face. I think it is safe to describe Brew Lab Coffee as a family friendly establishment.

It is also a “coffee snob friendly” cafe. I find the coffee shops I wish to visit when traveling by searching for “single origin espresso.”

coffee shop menu board featuring espresso from Colombia and Peru

I’m not so elite a coffee snob that I refuse to drink any blend of beans, but I do find that the overall beverage quality is higher in shops that at least offer the option of exclusivity. Brew Lab Coffee features two different kinds of beans at the espresso bar: one for straight, black shots, and another for drinks blended with milk. That’s a clear marker that the drinks are going to be good.

And, yes! Yes, their espresso drinks are excellent. It is well worth a moderate walk up and down Edinburgh’s ubiquitous hills, through sometimes heavy rain, past a multitude of other shops offering fair espresso, and even with arthritic feet. Brew Lab’s coffee was so good, I did not explore the other fine options I read about online, but returned to savor it again.

heavy rain falling outside cafe doorcafe interior made of old stone, brick, and reclaimed wood

As luck would have it, Brew Lab Coffee is as charming a setting for a good sip as it is competent in the making of one’s drink. Like much of Edinburgh’s Old Town, the visitor will feel steeped in history here. The cafe’s brick walls and reclaimed wood elements are atmospheric, warm, and inviting. The warren-like layout offers cozy corners enough for all patrons, though admittedly this may not be the best hangout for those with extreme claustrophobia.

Hints of the space’s former use as an office remain in the rather cheeky access to the men’s toilets. I felt a bit indelicate photographing it as the large window offers a rather generous view. I liked the “Meeting in Progress” sign, however, and risked my Victorian sensibilities and the poor gents’ modesty with a quick snapshot.

phone displaying map to Brew Lab Coffee shop

Brew Lab Coffee is located at 6-8 South College Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9AA. It’s open seven days a week, and worth the walk from the Royal Mile.

0131 662 8963

And two more coffee varietals for pour overs at their brew bar, making four types in total. I stuck with my preferred straight espresso shots having only a few days in Edinburgh and a tragically low threshold for caffeine consumption.

2 thoughts on “Café notes: Brew Lab Coffee, Edinburgh, Scotland

  1. It’s been about 30 years since I was last in Edinburgh, yet a part of me is still amazed that you found both good coffee AND clean toilets. Your travel journals are great fun! Thank you!!

    • I think I enjoyed a major advantage in visiting Edinburgh a week or so before the enormous Fringe festival. Streets were already being cordoned off for hoards of visitors, and everything was getting spiffed up and ready, but it wasn’t packed yet.

      I’m sure I missed out on so much by avoiding a festival, but I’m absolutely terrible with crowds. My goal is to return to Edinburgh in the damp of winter when I’ll feel right at home and presumably tourists will be even LESS in evidence. 😀 I love how a light rain clears the streets of people who obviously aren’t from Oregon.

      Coffee has always been a fascinating drink, but the “Third Wave” coffee notion means a certain recognizable coffee experience in major cities (and surprising corners elsewhere) around the world. I still found some heavy, greasy food in Scotland, for example, but also found fresh, interesting, international flavors pretty easily. Thank you, foodies! 😉 That’s a major change from when I last visited in 2001, when only expensive restaurants offered even a chance at that kind of food, or, if it was out there, it was harder to find.

      Your comment and my response forced me to look up WHY we refer to “Third Wave Coffee,” and here’s a pair of links for those, like me, who know the term, bandy it about occasionally, but haven’t looked up the history before.

      Short version: Third Wave Coffee is drinking this elixir of life with an artisanal emphasis, like an oenophile appreciates her wine.

      Edinburgh definitely offers lots of Second Wave, decent coffee, and clearly supports at least one Third Wave location: Brew Lab. That much was obvious from a short, weekend visit.

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