'We want to keep the Brazilian spirit' Santu are bringing fairly traded coffee and bossa nova to Edinburgh's Canongate

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We’re currently at the beginning of coffee’s fourth wave.

The third wave is generally considered to include artisan cafes and roasters that opened in the last decade or two. They promote the consumer experience and potential complexity of this drink. (It’s in this period that the ubiquitous flat white was born).

The incoming wave still has a focus on this, but there’s also additional importance placed on traceability, sustainability and Fair Trade practices.

Customers want to know much more.

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Coffee business, Santu, is riding this espresso tsunami, fuelled by Edinburgers who want their caffeine perk to be ethical, as well as tasting excellent.

They’ve just opened the Santu Coffee Bar at 126 Canongate - a rust-coloured Old Town 17th-century building, which used to be a complex for the William Younger Brewery.

“We think it's nice to be continuing the brewing tradition, albeit a different kind of brew”, says Santu’s owner, Washington Vieira, 39.

Their story is an authentic one - they’re entrepreneurs with heart.

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Santu Coffee BarSantu Coffee Bar
Santu Coffee Bar

“We moved to Edinburgh and set up Santu three years ago. My wife, Erin, and I met in New York when we were both living there (I am originally from Brazil and she’s from Newcastle)”, says Washington. “I grew up on a coffee farm and always wanted to get back to coffee, so we decided to go and live in Espirito Santo - a really beautiful mountainous region in Brazil where they grow the most amazing speciality coffee - and get to know the process properly”.

During their 18 months on the Tozi Farm in the lush Caxixe Valley, this couple, who are assisted by their rescue dog, Panda, befriended future suppliers and found out how inequitable the coffee business can be.

“There are so many layers of people between the farmer and the eventual drinker, all of them taking a cut, so it drives the price down for the farmer and up for the customer. You lose any hope of transparency because it's impossible to know where it really comes from”, says Washington. “We realised we could do it differently because of our relationships with these amazing farmers. They put their coffee on the ship in Espirito Santo, we take it off and roast it here in Edinburgh. The coffee is world class but at a much more reasonable price, the farmer gets paid up to double what anyone else would pay him, and we can tell you precisely where the bean came from and who grew it”.

If you’re buying whole beans or ground coffee from their website, you can choose from four varieties, including Santu Coffee 1 Adelfo Casagrande (with a flavour profile of “citrus fruits, bright and vivid”), or Santu Coffee 3, which is sourced from father and daughter team, Jose and Jacqueline Schiavo (“honey process, red fruits, sweet and complex”), among others. They also offer this coffee wholesale to businesses that include Edinburgh’s MILK cafe, Fhior, The Eco Larder and The Lookout.

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Santu sign on the CanongateSantu sign on the Canongate
Santu sign on the Canongate

In Santu Coffee Bar, they’ll mainly be serving espresso-based drinks made from Coffee 1, and Coffee 2 will be on filter.

As well as the Canongate outlet, they’ve got plans for the future.

“We want to scale up the operation, do training sessions and classes for the public”, says Washington.

Santu Coffee Bar will feature beans that have been roasted here, but also coffee that’s come directly from Brazil, without a pit stop at a roastery.

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Washington and Erin of SantuWashington and Erin of Santu
Washington and Erin of Santu

As Washington says; “The exciting thing is that normally our farmers ship us big containers of green beans to roast here, but for this bar we'll also get our favourite farmers to roast small batches over in Brazil and FedEx them to us so we can offer real coffee fanatics something super special they'd never get - award-winning specialty coffee, roasted that week by the farmers themselves in Espirito Santo”.

As well as the classes, they’re hoping to eventually have a second coffee bar.

However, for now, you can visit the brand new Canongate branch, with its toucan sign hanging above the door. This place is unique in Edinburgh in that it features a standing bar - Italian style - so you can chat to the barista, while preparing to bionically tackle a power walk up Arthur’s Seat or Castlehill.

“There’s a long tiled bar and a standing table, and of course a super-duper fancy Italian espresso machine from Storm”, says Washington, who also points out that there will be breakfast tea and hot chocolate (for coffee philistines). “But we want to keep the Brazilian spirit too, so there'll be lots of dark wood and plants, bossa nova on the stereo, and we've commissioned a beautiful mural on one wall that celebrates all our favourite animals from Espirito Santo”.

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For those who don’t fancy a hot coffee in the summertime, they’re also excited about their Nitro machine, which serves cold brew that’s “thick and lightly carbonated, almost like a Guinness”. And, there’s only one food item on the menu - “it’s the best thing”, says Washington - and that’s pastel de nata from Leith baker, Casa Amiga, though the pastry choice may vary daily.

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