Somebody recently told me that Edinburgh is now in the top 3 places in the UK for coffee and has per capita more independent coffee shops than any other city. So this got me thinking, does independent mean better? There is a huge thing with food about shopping local, eating local and in general watching your food miles which I am totally on board with but given there can be no airmail friendly coffee I am more dubious on the benefits of the independent coffee shops.
Living in and around Bruntsfield we are served by the big chains Starbucks and Costa as well as the much acclaimed Artisan Roast. AR recently awarded best cafe in the UK for their Broughton St offering, undoubtedly offer a great coffee. However I am not a fan of the atmosphere in the Bruntsfield cafe, staff more interested in talking to their friends than serving for me take away from the product. Maybe at 28 and working in the banking sector I'm not their target audience but for me this is where the chain/independent discussion is interesting. Within the city others such as Wellington do better in my opinion in providing an independent environment perhaps more aligned to Edinburgh, they also have some of the best home baking going.
Take a short walk from AR in Bruntsfield and you find Project Coffee, here the coffee is ok, the setting slightly warehouse and the food expensive. It lacks a unique selling point when placed against its acclaimed neighbour and this leads to my second point. Are there now in fact too many coffee shops? Another highly acclaimed cafe Loudons has a neighbour in Cuthberts. When I reviewed Cutherberts on Yelp I summed it up as go here if you can't get a table in Loudons. It may seem harsh but I do just think that perhaps too many places are trying the same thing.
By contrast to Project Coffee and Cuthberts as we all know there is a Starbucks almost on every corner in this city and while they have quite rightly been attacked for their tax policy they are purveyors of possibly the most consistent cup in the city. It is comforting in a way to know you can go anywhere and know you will have the same experience. Staff who are personable but professional, music which is enjoyable but not intrusive and a business with a commitment to assisting their bean producers and perhaps most importantly one with the means to do so
So the truth is we are very lucky, we are served by quirky independent coffee houses providing a quality product and we also have the dependable chains providing a consistent product.
I am JD and I love coffee!