Feaster Road & Little Fitzroy
Is the UK still a tea dominated country? Asks Charlie Ellis, a confirmed coffee confrere
In the last 15 years or so the UK has undergone something of a coffee revolution, with hundreds of cafes, serving ‘third-wave’, ‘specialty’ or ‘artisan’ coffee, opening up. London had about 50 independent coffee shops in 2010 and more than 500 in 2020!
Such places typically take coffee very seriously, with an emphasis on sourcing high quality coffee beans and precise processing and brewing methods. Rather than coming from Italy, this ‘third wave’ of coffee comes originally from Australia and New Zealand, via the trendier parts of London.
The ubiquity of the flat white demonstrates how far this culture has spread. That spread is often seen as a manifestation of social gentrification. Hipsterfication is certainly part of Leith’s recent evolution, though the area has retained its unique feel.
The spread of ‘serious’ coffee through Leith has been fairly rapid, with highly rated places such as Williams & Johnson (at the rear of the Custom House) and Artisan Roast. However, many places have excellent single origin coffee beans and possess very expensive machines, but the quality of the end product in the cup varies wildly.
Only a proportion of cafes have ‘the art’ to produce consistently high-quality coffee. It is not uncommon to see cafes with all the accoutrements and the stylistic characteristics (bare brick walls etc) yet fail to deliver.What, in my mind, distinguishes between the merely very good places and the truly excellent is the consistency.
Making good espresso is not easy and substantial training is required. The variables involved in ‘dialling in’ (calibrating your equipment to ensure full extraction) espresso make it a constant challenge to produce the goods. In truth, many baristas ‘kill’ the beans they use, with a reverse Midas touch.
Any list of the very elite places in Edinburgh would have to include Little Fitzroy at 46 Easter Road. Strongly influenced by the renowned Melbourne coffee scene, it receives consistently excellent reviews and is also regularly cited by others in the coffee world.
For example Dean James, who has more than a dozen years of experience in the Edinburgh speciality coffee scene, believes that Little Fitzroy is a place where the baristas “really know how to pull good espresso.”
Maintaining a team of good baristas is something that many specialty cafes in Edinburgh struggle to do, many cafes are on the lookout (‘we’re looking for a skilled and experienced barista to join our small friendly team’). Little Fitzroy seems to have been able to pull it off.
This has been borne out by my own experience. In my half a dozen visits what I’ve been served has been truly superb. On a recent visit, the syrupy and rich coffee I was served contained flavours which rolled around my mouth as I made my way down to Leith Links and the quiet, calming Restalrig Railway Path.
On my last visit, Obadiah Coffee’s Kibingo beans were used to produce a stunning piccolo, with bold yet refined flavours containing elements of cranberries and caramel.
A visit to Little Fitzroy also reveals a real sense of comradeship and teamwork among the baristas. There’s a lovely energy to the place. The character of Little Fitzroy is transmitted in their lively and entertaining social media posts. They clearly enjoy their work and remain passionate about providing the best coffee they can.
To do so they use a variety of beans from well renowned Scottish roasters, such as Common, Fortitude and Obadiah. This keeps a nice element of variety in the coffee they serve, but not inconsistency in terms of quality. Quite the opposite.
They are clearly plugged into the wider specialist coffee scene, with some of their baristas participating in the annual Glasgow Coffee Festival. This is evidence that they wish to keep evolving their skills.
The substantial queues that form outside reflect the quality of what they produce. People often baulk at the prices charged for coffee these days - well over three quid in many places. When you are paying good money, quality really should be very high.
This top end of Easter Road has, in recent years, become a real mecca for those seeking ‘artisanal’ food and coffee. A recent Guardian profile pointed out the area is increasingly being styled as ‘Feaster Road’. Hipster perennials such as cinnamon buns and sourdough are to be found in abundance.
The area has clearly changed radically but still retains the social mix that is essential to a place like Leith. Little Fitzroy adds greatly to the brew, serving some of the finest specialty coffee in Scotland. ■
Charlie Ellis is a researcher and EFL teacher who writes on culture, education, politics, sport and coffee
A place where the baristas “really know how to pull good espresso.”