Every coffee lover knows the difference between a good cup and a bad cup. The bad will give you the shake you need to wake up but ultimately won’t satisfy you, while the good is like a nice warm hug at dawn. This contrast is at the heart of the so-called Third Wave of Coffee – a movement which treats our old friend not as a commodity but as an art requiring care and attention. Every stage of production is held under intense scrutiny, from when the nurtured plant is harvested and processed to the eventual brew which fills our coffee shops with its soothing aromas. In short we’re coffee mad.
Inspired by the current trend, two university graduates in Edinburgh decided to open their own shop. Dave Law and Tom Hyde felt there was a gap in the market, and a trip to London in 2010 exposed them to its thriving independent coffee scene. The brews were high quality. Food was fresh, tasty and locally sourced. The shops themselves were beautifully designed. Returning to Edinburgh the two coffee lovers knew exactly what they wanted.
They needed the perfect space though and in October 2011 they found it – a former university office on South College Street. Over the next three months they transformed the rather drab offices into a spacious and eccentric café. It’s hard to describe, but if you can imagine a place stuck halfway in a time warp you might have a pretty good idea what to expect.
So it was that in September 2012 Brew Lab opened its doors. Serving single-origin filter, espresso and cold brew coffees it wasn’t long before the space was filling up with customers. Here was a place where milk and sugar were not required. Where each cup was the result of a precise brewing process designed to bring out the singular flavour of every bean. Their’s was a direct response then to chains like Costa and Starbucks, whose motto is to create an identical coffee no matter where the beans have come from. Now we’ve spent our share of time at Starbucks, having long sprawling chats over endless cappuccinos, but we’d never say the coffee itself was memorable. At Brew Lab you get a taste of perfection.
A good example of this is how they make an espresso. For a start it is sourced from Has Bean Coffee, a speciality roaster that is in close contact with farmers in Africa and Central and Southern America. When it reaches Brew Lab they use a special piece of kit to ensure high quality – the VA388 Black Eagle from Victoria Arduino. All the barista has to do is set the weight of the liquid in the cup and the mighty machine does the rest.
As for their filter coffee precise measurements are aspired to which require a more hands-on approach. The barista will weigh out 18g of coffee and heat 300ml of water to 98 degrees Celsius. When two minutes have passed they are mixed together at the desirable temperature of 95 degrees Celsius. That Dave and Tom have been so willing to share these details with the public is encouraging – it shows they are committed to transparency as well as quality.
They even go a step further. One might say a leap. In Brew Lab’s basement they offer a series of training courses wherein anyone can learn their methods. There are espresso and filter brewing masterclasses, as well as private barista training. Their head barista will also visit other cafes, bars and restaurants to train their staff. You can find out what else they offer on their website. Suffice to say they’ve pulled out all the stops.
With a second Brew Lab now catering to Edinburgh’s West End, Tom and Dave are showing no signs of slowing down. The same could be said for the Third Wave. What was once more of an American movement is taking root all over Europe. It’s an exciting thing to write about at this stage as there are still so many possibilities and ways it could go. Brew Lab has every intention of extending their sphere of influence, but even if it was to grow no further the people of Edinburgh will remember their dedication to great coffee.