Why a Broughton Street coffee shop has been named the best cafe in the UK

Manager of the Artisan Roast coffee shop, Catherine O'Shea.  Picture: Neil Hanna

Manager of the Artisan Roast coffee shop, Catherine O'Shea. Picture: Neil Hanna

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THE homemade sign as you enter reads “JK Rowling never wrote here”.

Artisan Roast in Broughton Street is keen to stress it is not your average Edinburgh coffee shop.

For a start, its interior, ironically, is not unlike the set of a Harry 
Potter film.

All around a large custom-made coffee machine, which might have come from a Hogwarts potions class, shelves groan under the weight of bags of coffee beans, labelled jars of different coloured tea leaves, cups, a selection of well-thumbed books, shiny silver cafetieres and other 
coffee-related contraptions.

Small wooden tables, matching the slightly creaky wooden floor, are 
surrounded by chairs covered with cushions and worn leather and in lieu of wallpaper, large canvas coffee bags cover the walls, adorned with 
multicoloured text stamped on by plantations all around the world.

A narrow passageway leads to a small back room, where lower wooden tables are surrounded by brightly coloured cushions and 
coffee pots and teacups have been converted into lights suspended from the ceiling.

It may be early on Tuesday afternoon but business in bustling, with some customers catching up on gossip while others relax with their nose in a book. It’s clear that many of those coming in and out are repeat visitors, with manager Catherine O’Shea catching up on some of the regulars’ news as she fills takeaway orders.

“We do have a lot of the same people coming in all the time,” she says. “I can ring off the orders in the morning.

“As soon as someone comes through the door I’m already making their coffee. We have a lot of really good loyal customers.”

That’s perhaps not surprising, considering this snug little cafe has just been voted the best in the UK. It not only hit the top spot, but was also the only cafe outside London to feature in the top ten list, based on reviews from Qype, which is billed as the largest user-generated review site in Europe.

Started five years ago by Gustavo Pardo – the “business brain”, from Chile – and New Zealander Michael Wilson – the “coffee nut” – the place originally began as a roastery.

However, people coming to buy beans to take home kept remarking how the business really should invest in a coffee machine of its own.

Since taking up that advice, the Broughton Street premises have been joined by another in Bruntsfield, one in Glasgow and two in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where Michael now lives.

And while online reviews do 
rave about the friendly service and laidback atmosphere, they also agree that the businesses success is mainly down to something far more 
fundamental.

Catherine explains: “The beans that we source are speciality 
beans. They’re the top eight to ten per cent of all the coffee beans in the world so they’re much more expensive but they’re definitely 
worth it.

“It’s all about quality – we’re looking to gradually change people’s idea of what a coffee should taste like. We roast all our own beans freshly twice a week.

“If you get a cup of our coffee you don’t need to add sugar, we’ve spent so long preparing the roast and preparing the actual coffee itself that it’s not bitter or sour. We 
believe in careful preparation to make the best product.

“We have two roasteries now, one in Edinburgh and one in Glasgow. Our house blend is so popular, it’s really nice, medium-bodied, not your typical Italian roast and not too dark. It’s roasted specifically for 
having lovely chocolatey and balanced flavours throughout.

“We’ve got a great range of beans and they change every three months depending on what’s on the market and although the price of beans has gone up significantly since we started we’ve kept the prices the same.

“We trade fairly with the farmers and estates who supply us too. We also try to be environmentally 
conscious.

“All our takeaway cups are 100 per cent compostable, but we also do a deal where if you bring your own coffee carrier you get ten per cent off.”

Loyal customer Brendan O’Connor, 61, who lives in Rodney Street, was one of the first to catch on to the new coffee contender and says the award is well deserved.

“I’ve been buying all my coffee here for a number of years now. It’s lovely, so fresh, and there’s a lot of variety.

“It’s not like going to the supermarket where the beans have been on the shelf for God knows how long.”

The accolades may have begun pouring in – Megan Barker, who works in the Glasgow cafe, won 
Scottish Barista of the Year in 2011 – but the owners are happy to leave global domination to the big chains.

“We want to try and keep it as local and with that same community feel as possible.

“One of the things Gustavo and Michael wanted was for these cafes to be like the coffee houses back in the old days, where creative people, scientists, politicians, everyone really, came to meet and discuss the issues of the day.

“That’s the kind of feel that we’re trying to recreate and it seems to be working.

“People who come in actually sit and chat to each other, they really engage in conversations, which is really nice because you often lose that in a city 
environment.

“Most people would never think to talk to the person sitting at the table beside theirs, so we love the fact that this is somewhere you can do that without people looking at you like you’re weird.

“We regularly hold music events too, and we just started up a surf club. We go out to Dunbar quite a bit, it’s really good fun, it’s free and it’s open to everyone.

“It’s kind of like a free arts space in here as well, people are more than welcome to approach us if they have an idea for an event.

“We have a guitar on the wall and local musicians often come in and just have a wee session.

“It’s lovely, you never know when there might be a wee spur-of-the-moment gig.”

Wilma Raabe, 26, who is visiting from Germany, is the latest new customer to come through the doors.

“Everyone who’s into coffee tells you, ‘you have to go to this place’,” she says as she waits for her order.

“I heard about it before I even got here.”

CAUSING A STIR ONLINE

Top 10 UK cafes according to Qype reviewers:

1. Artisan Roast – Edinburgh

2. Scandinavian Kitchen – Fiztrovia

3. Monmouth Coffee Shop – Covent Garden

4. Flat White Espresso Bar – Soho

5. The Wolseley – Mayfair

6. Dose Espresso – Barbican

7. Euphorium Bakery – Islington

8. Bea’s of Bloomsbury – Bloomsbury

9. Candy Cakes – Covent Garden

10. Maison Bertaux – Soho

SOME of the praise for Artisan Roast on review website Qype.

Steven Sutterby, Edinburgh: “The best coffee in Edinburgh, blender and bean supplier, caffeine extraordinaire.”

Sam Mackay, Edinburgh: “Best coffee in Edinburgh hands down!”

Edin71, Glasgow: “Easily the best coffee in Edinburgh. AR is about the only place in Scotland that understands that the milk preparation is as important as the quality of the beans. I promise you’ll spit out your first big chain coffee after tasting this.”

Tidal_Storm, Edinburgh: “Excellent coffee, the best in Edinburgh in my opinion. The coffee was velvety smooooth and creamy yet it still retained a nice depth of flavour. Presentation also 5 star.”

ScotlandsAttractions, Edinburgh: “Best coffee in Edinburgh. Fact. The white chocolate and lemongrass hot chocolate is pretty delightful too.”

JustClaire, Edinburgh: “Amazing coffee!”

Derek27, Edinburgh: “Great atmosphere, wonderful hospitality and a taste of original blend coffee to die for!! Artisan Roast is the one and only place that delivers quality coffee that thrills the mind into unending ecstasy! For those of you blind sided by the sugary and creamy artificial “coffee” of Starbucks, give your taste buds the true gift of Artisan Roast’s coffee.”

FlatWhite, Edinburgh: “Artisan Roast is without question the ‘founding father’ of good coffee in Edinburgh. Here, they know their beans; they know the intricacies of the right grind, the right temp, the perfect pour and how to get the milk just right. And that’s not just for espressos – if filter coffee is more your thing, then you’re in for a taste sensation here.”

No mugs . .

Top 5 Edinburgh cafes:

1. Artisan Roast, 57 Broughton Street

2. Peter’s Yard, Quartermile

3. Luca of Musselburgh, Musselburgh

4. Edinburgh Larder, 15 Blackfriars Street

5. Kilmanjaro Coffee, 104 Nicolson Street