Whether it's a greasy spoon for your all-day breakfast or a big settee, a big mug and a pretty pattern on top of your flat white in a rentakit coffee shop, cafes are ten a penny across the country. But what if you want something different? What if you want something cool? Barry Didcock gives you the low-down on where to look


Kirk Ports, North Berwick

If you visit North Berwick and don’t visit Steampunk then you’ve missed one of the seaside town’s main attractions and certainly one of its coolest. Situated in an old warehouse opposite Old St Andrew’s Church, the café has its own roastery (you can watch the steampunkers at work on their vintage coffee roaster) and a simple menu which runs to soups, sandwiches, salads and of course cakes. The only drawback is that despite Steampunk’s substantial upstairs seating area and an outside patio it’s quite often rammed – that aside, there’s nothing not to like. And if you’re in Edinburgh and you want to sample the wares before you take a trip out along the east coast, Steampunk baristas can usually be found at the Stockbridge Sunday Farmers’ Market selling espressos in their snazzy yellow VW Kombi, re-purposed to become a mobile café.


Thistle Street, Aberdeen

Founded in 2013 and funded by a Kickstarter campaign, Foodstory is kitted out with furniture that was either built from salvaged wood or donated by well-wishers – see the Monington & Weston piano, which anyone’s free to play – and delivers top-notch vegan and vegetarian food alongside the ubiquitous flat whites, espressos, cakes and pastries. That’s not to say they don’t take any of those other things seriously, though. There’s also a shop selling homemade wholemeal breads and, true to its communitarian roots, Foodstory’s upstairs space hosts everything from DJs and small-scale gigs to yoga sessions and life drawing classes. Not at the same time, obviously. Foodstory 2, a new café at Aberdeen University’s Kings College campus, has just opened and has a strictly zero packaging rule – so if you want your coffee to go, you have to bring your own cup.

Papercup Coffee Company

Great Western Road, Glasgow

Although eschewing anything as trite or obvious as a mission statement this West End favourite declares that “Not all coffee is equal” and backs up that implicit boast with a deserved reputation for serving up some of the best coffee Glasgow has to offer. Bean-wise the emphasis is on quality and seasonality and just around the corner on Belmont Lane is the Papercup roastery, where you can watch the roasting process in action and also sample the results. The main café menu suits all tastes, from those who simply want a bacon roll to the more adventurous who fancy an open sourdough sandwich with avocado, strawberries and halloumi.

Velocity Café & Bicycle Workshop

Crown Avenue, Inverness

It used to be bookshops that had cafés attached but a growing number of bike-related cafés are springing up. Edinburgh’s uber-hip Ronde is just one example, but this Inverness venture was among the first. Founded in 2012 as an outdoors-based social enterprise project aiming to promote the health benefits of cycling, Velocity now has its own premises where visitors can enjoy a variety of vegetarian and vegan dishes. You don’t have to arrive on two wheels, either, though if you do there’s a bike maintenance space should your crank need a little TLC or your derailleur require some lube. There’s late night opening on Thursdays and on those days the café regularly hosts spoken word evenings or acoustic music sessions.

Artisan Roast

Broughton Street, Edinburgh

The ground zero of Scotland’s cool, 21st century café culture, Artisan Roast’s Broughton Street premises opened in 2007 and the company now have two more cafés in the capital – in Bruntsfield and in Stockbridge – as well as one on Gibson Street in Glasgow. The Broughton Street café is snug, as is the Bruntsfield one (it originally opened as a pop-up venture only) so if it’s space for you and your 15 inch MacBook Pro that you’re looking for, head for the more spacious Stockbridge premises. You’ll find great coffee in all of them, though, so if you know your washed Moges Mengesha from your blended Sumatran Janszoon, this is the place for you. On the eats front, savouries are limited in the Edinburgh venues though there’s the usual array of cakes and pastries. If people-watching is your thing, Broughton Street is the best, though.

The Coffee Apothecary

Udny, Aberdeenshire

Located in a grand converted post office and founded by a husband and wife team whose interest in coffee was sparked by a three-year round the world trip, The Coffee Apothecary has brought high-end barista culture to rural Aberdeenshire. The coffee, small batch speciality brews, is supplied by Edinburgh’s Artisan Roast (see above) and the teas are sourced from Eteaket, also Edinburgh-based. The food, however, is mostly sourced locally – in fact much of it comes from the farm run by Alfie Marr just three miles away. The jams are home-made, the eggs are organic and the lemonade comes from Fraserburgh. Everything is made from scratch, there are multiple vegetarian options and the fact that craft beer behemoth BrewDog are headquartered in nearby Ellon doesn’t go unrecognised.

Milk at Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop

Hawthornvale, Edinburgh

Cutely, Edinburgh’s Sculpture Workshop and its accompanying café face away from the road and towards the cycle path which borders the large arts complex, making Milk a favourite haunt of Lycra-clad cyclists as well as the boiler-suited artists. Not that it’s one or the other here: there’s plenty of passing foot traffic and even the odd tourist finds their way here. As well as the large, light inside space there’s an outside seating area complete with bike racks and when you’ve finished your coffee or your meal, you can wander the courtyard and, if there’s an exhibition on, look at some art. The breakfast burritos alone make it worth the trip but the coffee’s pretty good too, and the café also has occasional evening dining sessions and pop-up food events.

Slaughterhouse Coffee

Marine Terrace North, Cromarty

Located in a shed right next to the Cromarty Ferry slipway and with wooden cable reels for tables and packing crates for seats, Slaughterhouse Coffee is one of Scotland’s most eccentric cafés as well as one of its coolest. There are cakes and snacks to be had but it’s the coffee that’s the thing – and as you enjoy it you can sit and look across the firth, watch the coming and goings of the Cromarty to Nigg ferry and chat to the café’s Australian owner Tony Vandkye, whose Vandyke Brothers brew you’re probably drinking.

Café Strange Brew

Pollokshaws Road, Glasgow

Popularly reckoned to be Glasgow’s best brunch spot, Café Strange Brew moved to larger premises last year but queues out of the door are still not an unusual sight. Favourites include The Stornoway Stack – poached eggs and black pudding on toasted sourdough – and the ubiquitous “smashed” avocado (served with a poached egg and a chilli hollandaise). The coffee isn’t bad either, nor the décor, which includes a wall of beautiful white tenement tiles discovered during renovations and given pride of place in the new venue. And if you’re lucky, you might find yourself brunching next to comedian Kevin Bridges who has been known to pop in from time to time.

Cocoa Mountain

Balnakeil Craft Village, Durness

Located in a squat complex of buildings once used as part of the UK’s early warning system for nuclear attack and now re-purposed for use by artists and business start-ups, Cocoa Mountain is essentially a chocolatier with a café attached. It’s the brainchild of Paul Maden, formerly an economist, who started making chocolates at home with his partner James Findlay before the pair moved to this remote spot in Scotland’s north-west to do it full-time as a business. And what a business – thanks to their growing reputation they have online orders from all over the world and last year opened a second café in Dornoch. On the premises they’ll do you an excellent Fair Trade Mountain Mocha but you’d be mad not to have hot chocolate instead – in fact why not use it to wash down one of their chilli and lemongrass truffles?

Down The Hatch

Port Edgar Marina, South Queensferry

A hidden gem located in the sprawling Port Edgar marina, this Canadian-run café is well worth seeking out. The pun-tastic name and unprepossessing exterior might not look like they promise much but there’s a real charm to this friendly and unassuming café-cum-eaterie. The Sunday breakfasts come served in a sizzling skillet and you’re quite likely to be eating next to a bunch of welly boot-clad, Helly Hansen-wearing yachtsmen who have just climbed on shore from their four berther. And if cleats, clocks, ship’s compasses and nautical almanacs are your thing, take time to also wander round the Bosun’s Locker, the fascinating chandlery housed in the huge warehouse opposite.

Caora Dhubh

Carbost, Isle of Skye

Another place taking its coffee and tea from Edinburgh outfits Artisan Roast and Eteaket, this café on the banks of Loch Harport and close by the Talisker Distillery deserves a place on the cool list for its website alone. But the chic, modern, wooden-clad exterior, the gluten-free Brownies, the stunning scenery and the fact that Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite once popped in for a coffee cement the deal. The name Caora Dhubh, by the way, means black sheep in Gaelic.