The Best Coffee in Edinburgh?

At the top of Arthur’s Seat

This week my lovely wife and I took a our first ever trip to Edinburgh. Alongside running up Arthur’s Seat every day, I had a goal: to find the best coffee shop in the city!

We relied on an incredibly well thought-out methodology. It included:

  • Vaguely looking at some lists and reviews online.
  • Typing “coffee” into Google Maps a few times.
  • Wandering into any Café that seemed nice as we ambled round the city.
  • Drinking lots of coffee.

Coffee Shop Reviews

We were there for 3 days, so obviously we didn’t actually compile an exhaustive review of every coffee house in the city, but we did our best! Keep scrolling down to read a review of each coffee shop in the order we visited them, or you can click below to read them by their overall score.

 

Fortuna Coffee BarFortuna Coffee Bar

77 Queen Street
fortunacoffeebar.com

Fortuna was the first café we visited, having just stumbled off a 3 hour train from Warrington. After a bag laden hour, wandering the streets of the New Town, we were in need of sustenance and a sit down.

Walking into Fortuna (via some decidedly non-accessible steps) you are met with a welcoming ambience. The music was a perfect volume to chat without worrying about being overheard. Mostly bluesy instrumental stuff, but a long way from elevator jazz.

We sat by a cosy little window booth, which – cuteness aside – Katherine found “less comfortable than the train”. The service was prompt and polite, if not overwhelmingly friendly.

Katherine had excellent, strong tea, with tea leaves in a pot. My coffee was delicious, with rich, complex tones in a sensibly sized cup (so you can actually taste the coffee). Good foam art too. My only criticism would be of a slight bitterness that might put off the non-coffee-converts.

We also had some food, which was delicious, and also more than a little on the pricey side. Scrambled egg on a single piece of toast for £5.50 – mine also had avocado for £8. The cakes looked a little “bought in”, but still had a good range and looked appetising.

The WiFi was easily available, with a visible password next to the counter, and a downspeed of 53 Mbit, upspeed of 43Mbit (!) – good enough to do anything you could possibly want. A few sockets were scattered around too. All in all, I could definitely see myself managing a morning drinking lovely coffee and getting some writing done here.

Fortuna Coffee Bar Scorecard

Drink

Score of 4.5 coffee cups
Really good coffee and nice tea. 4.5/5

Food

Delicious savoury food and good range of cakes. 4/5

Ambience

A nice setting. Shame about the pretty-but-uncomfortable window seats. 3.5/5

Price

Most expensive cafe we visited: two drinks + two eggs on toast for £18.50. 2/5

Overall

A nice cafe, with great coffee. May be cheaper to eat lunch before you visit… 3.5/5

(Click to return to list of reviews)

 

Southern Cross Cafe

63A Cockburn Street
Southern Cross Cafe on Facebook

Our next coffee stop was on Cockburn Street. It was instantly clear that we’d found the hipster heart of Edinburgh, with several million boutique coffee shops, an analog still photography studio, and enough beards to braid an organic collar for your cockapoo. As we strolled down the steep cobbles, Southern Cross caught our eye, and ushered us inside

Immediately upon walking in there was a totally different vibe to Fortuna. Much visually busier, bustling and louder, it felt like a place you could be noisy with friends. The music was punchy with a folky latin flavour, enough to set a tone, but still not enough to be disruptive.

The cakes immediately caught my eye, and we ordered some drinks, fries and cake. Everything came very quickly, although actually placing our order took five different episodes of eye contact with the waiter. We also asked if we could sit upstairs, but were told we had to sit downstairs as it was too much effort to carry drinks up there, apparently?

There are a mix of interesting seating areas, including outside, a mezzanine upper floor and a basement. It’s warm and cosy, although a little dark, possibly a bit cramped in places. For laptop users there were a few sockets around, and WiFi was faster down than up (90 Mbit down, 0.9 Mbit up), which is great for downloading, but might cause you some issues sending video in a webchat.

My coffee was smooth and very drinkable. Not particularly dramatic, but sometimes that’s what you want. I would use this sort of taste as a starting point for someone unsure about coffee. The foam art was a bit sloppy – although still better than I can manage – and let’s face it, its the flavour that matters.

The cake, however? We tried two, and both were disappointing. A bit dry, not enough sweetness or flavour going on. As Katherine worded it “Looked the part, didn’t taste it”.

We didn’t feel particularly satisfied by our experience – maybe if we’d been allowed to sit upstairs – but it definitely wasn’t terrible. I think I was disappointed to have expended so many calories on cake that wasn’t yummy.

Southern Cross Cafe Scorecard

Drink

Smooth, drinkable coffee, not much complexity. 4/5

Food

Fast service, nice fries, but the cakes let the side down. 2.5/5

Ambience

Eclectic and inviting. But maybe let punters sit where they want to sit? 3/5

Price

Two drinks + two cakes + chips for £17. Not terrible. 3.5/5

Overall

An interesting setting, with easy to drink coffee, but we didn’t love it here. 3.3/5

(Click to return to list of reviews)

 

Café Truva

77 The Shore
Cafe Truva on Trip Advisor

On day two of our trip, we took a long guided bus ride round the coastal perimeter of the city. We stopped off to see the Britannia Yacht, which thankfully was closed (boring old boats are boring), and made our way back through The Shore, which I’d heard was a fairly chic part of town.

We didn’t find quite as many artisan cafés as I’d hoped there, but it was a gloriously sunny day by the water, so we popped into pretty little Café Truva. With a scattering of tables outside, extremely clean windows (Katherine noticed this, not me, obviously) and a lovely view of the river, it seemed a great choice.

It has a genuinely Turkish atmosphere inside, with Turkish pastries and a traditional Ottoman sand coffee machine. They also have a proper espresso machine, for those of us who prefer coffee less akin to burnt treacle in its consistency and flavour.

Even so, my cappuccino was intense and pretty bitter, rather than rich and complex. I suspect they use the same ultra strong blend for everything. The milk was also froth rather than microfoam. It was definitely not the best cup of char I had during our time in Scotland! Katherine’s tea was nice.

The food was fairly basic, and not even particularly cheap. More of a greasy spoon level of food, rather than riverside bistro. My halloumi bap was in a supermarket bap, and Katherine’s eggs were undercooked. Value-wise, given the quality, it was overpriced.

They did have WiFi, with a downspeed of 12 Mbit and upspeed of 9Mbit. Not rocket fuel, but acceptable – no sockets though.

Despite the negatives, they were friendly, smiled and made us feel welcome. My chair was comfortable, the view outside was beautiful, and the whole vibe was peaceful. I’m not a total coffee snob – I’d rather have adequate coffee in a nice place than amazing coffee in a miserable setting.

All in all, we enjoyed our brief stay here, and I could definitely see it as an inspirational place to write.

Café Truva Scorecard

Drink

Bitter coffee, over-aerated milk. Not barista quality. Tea was fine. 2.5/5

Food

Simple tastes, inadequately executed. 2/5

Ambience

A friendly, thematic riverside retreat. 5/5

Price

Two drinks + two savoury choices for £17. Didn’t reflect the quality. 3/5

Overall

We appreciated the setting more than the refreshments. 3.1/5

(Click to return to list of reviews)

 

OQO

19 Haddington Place
OQO on Facebook

On our way back to the centre, we found ourselves walking along the interminably long Leith Walk – which is a straight road several miles long. It was a hot day, our bag was heavy, we hadn’t slept well thanks to our horror show of an Airbnb… we needed perking up.

A quick scan of Google Maps and my general research into good coffee points led us to OQO. With a perky sign over the door “Your Coffee Nook”, it provided us a retreat from the road works and unseasonable sun – seriously, we are in Scotland, why do I need suntan lotion?!

The owner was friendly, chatty and non intrusive. I effortlessly fell into the best café conversation I had in Edinburgh, talking about dialling in shots, and tasting the espresso at the beginning, middle and end of a pull to see the different tones. Fun (ie. Katherine rolling her eyes) stuff.

The cafe itself is small but varied, with a cosy outside, comfortable inside and a rear room for those wanting to chill with a laptop all day. It was the only place with non conventional (ie. reclaimed-wood-brass-piping-hipster) seating that was actually comfortable, so that was a plus. Non-irritating gentle volumed world jazz was playing whilst we were there.

The middle room actually has a laptop “ban”, which would be annoying if it weren’t for the dedicated work space out back (with loads of sockets!). The WiFi was fine, with 13 Mbit down and only 0.5Mbit up. To be fair on OQO, everywhere else I tested there were no laptops, whereas they had about 5 other people in the work area at the time. Still, that upload speed should still be enough for very nearly all your needs.

And then, finally, we get onto the coffee. The coffee was the best coffee I had in Edinburgh. Light, but rich and interesting. A good foretaste, not bitter, with the best foam art I got in Edinburgh too. Katherine said her tea was nice, if not exceptional. Let’s face it though, tea doesn’t matter – not when the coffee is this good!

We didn’t have food, but the sandwiches looked simple-yet-interesting and were well priced, and the cake appeared inviting.

If we had been there longer I would definitely have visited again. As it is, I will have to return next time I’m in Auld Reekie.

OQO Scorecard

Drink

The best coffee in Edinburgh? Certainly was that week. 5/5

Food

We didn’t try the food, so haven’t given a rating. Suspect it was heading for a 4/5.

Ambience

Comfy, uses the space well. It would feel cramped if full. Has a laptop section! 4/5

Price

We had two drinks for £8. Toasted sandwiches for £4. Reasonable. 4/5

Overall

I’m keen to return, even for the coffee alone! 4.3/5

(Click to return to list of reviews)

 

Deacon’s House Café

304 Lawnmarket
Deaconshouse1788.co.uk

Our final day involved trips to the National Museum of Scotland and Edinburgh Castle, so we concentrated our café search on the Old Town. As we vaguely hunted for souvenirs/bribes-for-the-grandparents-so-they-agree-to-look-after-the-children-for-a-week-again, we wandered past Deacon’s House.

The site was established in 1788 as a workshop for the Brodie family, one of whom – “Deacon Brodie” – ended up being hung for housebreaking, crimes he often committed using the tools from his workshop. There’s bits of story all around the walls, if you are interested in such things.

The first thing I noticed was an irritatingly glib sign on the wall announcing “We Do Not Have Wifi, We Talk To Each Other!”. Which would be all very well, unless, say, you came to a café to work. Or on your own. Or have anxiety or autism or whatever. Don’t worry though, you can always use your phone as a hotspot. Unless its a 250 year old building with metre thick walls, in which case you’ll have no signal and you can just sit there in silence… No sockets either, but there is a hook on the ceiling for a gas lantern, so, you know, that’s something.

Inside its a little gloomy, although quite spacious – I suspect they’ve taken out some tables for covid – with the extremely old school decor you would expect from a building revelling in its historicity. My chair was a bit hard, and it was the only place I struggled to take photos because of the lighting.

Despite my readiness to dislike this place, it won us over on nearly everything else! The cakes were incredible, the best we had in Edinburgh, with a pistachio orange slice so moist and fragrant I’ve emailed them for the recipe. The tea was the best Katherine tasted in town.

Even the cappuccino had decent foam art, which I wasn’t expecting! The coffee itself was very mild and a bit watery – I let Katherine taste it, and she liked it (she doesn’t like coffee) – so its inoffensive enough to be good coffee for people who don’t like coffee.

It was cheaper than most places, and friendly enough, despite the twee signage. I had expected it to be a one trick “look we are a museum and a café!” and they surprised me with great cake and good drinks. Worth a visit for the cakes!

Deacon’s House Café Scorecard

Drink

Nice tea and adequate coffee. Your nan would love it. 3.5/5

Food

Mouthwatering cakes? Yes please! 5/5

Ambience

A bit gloomy with hard chairs, but there’s a history lesson in it for you… 3/5

Price

Two drinks and two cakes £12. Pretty good. 4/5

Overall

Pleasantly surprised. Might be the best value on the Royal Mile! 3.9/5

(Click to return to list of reviews)

 

The Milkman

7 Cockburn Street
Themilkman.coffee

Our last café needed to be near the station, so we could catch our train. This took us back to Cockburn Street – yes, the same irritatingly hipster road I mentioned in the Southern Cross review. The Milkman is so cool it has two coffee shops here; one at either end of the street! This surely costs them loads extra in staffing and rent, but its definitely unique.

To win the prize at hipster coffee shop bingo, you need to look for:

  1. Uncomfortable seats made out of chipboard and reclaimed wood.
  2. Prices without decimals or currency markers: £3.80 becomes 3.8.
  3. Liberal use of Helvetica, like they think they invented it.
  4. Punters with inconvenient looking facial hair.
  5. Fast WiFi.
  6. Great coffee.

We didn’t get to shout “Bingo!” at the Milkman, but only because we didn’t see any beards. We got everything else. I struggled to sit and read my book because my back wasn’t the same shape as the bare brick I was leaning against. Prices on the board (in Helvetica) lacked currency or extraneous zeros. The WiFi was the fastest internet I have ever used, with a download speed of 390Mbit(!!) and upload of 50Mbit. You could download a 1Gb HD film in 30 seconds. Insane.

And the coffee was excellent.

My cappuccino was very smooth, as easy to drink as at Southern Cross, but a bit more nuanced; there were hints of complexity at the edges of each mouthful. Katherine had a mocha and didn’t like it very much, because it was very rich, and ultimately she doesn’t like the taste of coffee very much. I enjoyed it! Milkman only lose half a point for the slightly lacking foam art.

The atmosphere was nice enough, with the expected disaffected indie playing in the background, at a thankfully ignorable volume. The server was single-handed and busy when we arrived, but she was very apologetic and tried to give us free stamps to say sorry. The WiFi was the fastest internet I have ever used, with a download speed of 390Mbit(!!) and upload of 50Mbit. You could download a 1Gb HD film in 30 seconds. Insane.

The cakes were very nice, subtle but strong in flavour. I had a caramel slice with the top layer of chocolate the same consistency as the caramel. Different but enjoyable.

I can see why these guys are so popular. It’s where I would go to have a grown up coffee and catch up with a friend, but I might also prefer somewhere with, you know, chairs.

The Milkman Scorecard

Drink

Score of 4.5 coffee cups
Excellent coffee, would have been a 5 with better presentation. 4.5/5

Food

Tasty cakes, although a lack of other food options. 4/5

Ambience

Very nice, but my backache-after-20-minutes lost you a point. 4/5

Price

Two drinks and two cakes £12. Happy with that. 4/5

Overall

Two for the price of one on the same road. Well worth a visit. 4.1/5

(Click to return to list of reviews)

3 thoughts on “The Best Coffee in Edinburgh?

Leave a Reply to Thembo Isaiah Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *