A generation ago, coffee came out of a jar and was instant. Progress and technology mean it now takes forever. That’s because the jar, spoon and boiling water have been replaced by a tattooed bloke who insists on grinding his beans from the Hindu Kush by the light of a waning moon.
Why all the fuss? It’s just coffee, isn’t it? This week I went on a mission to find out. My challenge was to try every coffee shop in the centre of Edinburgh in a single day.
I began my quest at an old favourite, Wellington Coffee in a basement on George Street. It was a good place to start. The flat white came quickly and was as delicious as always. This place is designed for people who want a quality caffeine hit on the go and it hits the spot.
Next stop was Starbucks, just across the street. It was probably the most average-tasting coffee I had all day but as the queue of tourists in front of me proved, that doesn’t really matter when you are the biggest coffee shop brand in the world.
I’d planned to check out the coffee options in the St James Quarter but getting there involved walking across St Andrews Square where there is, you guessed it, a Costa Coffee. After a quick stop for another flat white, I crossed over to Multrees Walk. Not only does it have a giant Nespresso store but also a branch of Caffe Nero.
By this point, any caffeine craving had been well and truly satisfied so I asked for an extra milky cappuccino and sat fidgeting in the corner. Outside I realised I was walking faster than normal. I guess that’s what happens when you have four coffees in just over an hour. The smart thing at that stage would probably have been to stop, but instead I used my caffeine high to power walk around the St James development.
Inevitably there was another Starbucks but instead I headed for Black Sheep Coffee, a brand created a decade ago by two student flatmates. I’d intended to go for decaf but by this time I was speaking so quickly I’d ordered another flat white before I could stop myself.
What followed was a circuitous route through Rose Street Lane to try to buy time before the next coffee stop, but all too soon I was in another Costa Coffee on Princes Street nursing a decaffeinated latte. Regrettably, due to a mix-up, it was a large version.
I managed only a couple of sips but that was enough to confirm what I’d suspected. I’d only scratched the surface of café culture in Edinburgh but after six coffees, a headache and some heart palpitations, the conclusion was clear, it’s just all coffee.
Where you drink it comes down to what you see as being your tribe. The staff, the décor, the music and the other customers are the big influencers rather than what they do with the coffee beans. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go the loo… again.