Edinburgh, Scotland is a city of juxtapositions. On one hand, it is a World Heritage site full of historic architecture, and for tourists can feel at times like visiting the set of Harry Potter; on the other, the city is home to a rising wave of small, progressive businesses, along with one of the world's great fringe arts festivals. In Edinburgh, current and classical Scotland coexist, shaping a city that reflects its past and its present in equal measures.
Steps from Edinburgh's main train station is a set of abandoned 19th century railway arches. In one of these arches sits Baba Budan, a modern cafe sprouting from a slice of city history. Owner Craig Niblock spent the best part of 18 months searching for a site in Edinburgh, aiming to leave his career in banking behind and channel his love for coffee into something tangible. When the arch became available, his decision was made quickly, and Baba Budan opened its doors in mid-April of 2016.
Inside the arch, the décor is a collision of old and new. Although the original stone still emerges in places, Baba Budan is contemporary in design and uses of-the-moment espresso equipment. Perched on the bar is a two-group La Marzocco Linea Classic, used in conjunction with a Nuova Simonelli Mythos One grinder to produce most of their espresso drinks. On my visit, Espresso 2 from Danish roaster The Coffee Collective was on offer, a 60/40 blend of Brazilian and Colombian coffees that made for a sweet and balanced shot. A guest espresso program is constantly rotating, and the offering at the time of writing is a fully washed Colombia Morales, roasted by London-based Ozone Coffee Roasters.
Noticeably absent is a manual pour-over bar, which over the last few years has become a ubiquitous feature in progressive Scottish cafes. In its place sits a two-liter airpot, full of batch brew. On this visit Coffee Collective made an appearance here as well, featuring their Colombia El Desarollo. “Given the size of the shop, I knew we would mainly be a takeaway place, and people don't always want to wait a few minutes for a pour-over coffee,” Niblock explains. “The batch brewer would allow me to hand out samples of filter coffee for people to try so that we could introduce people to interesting filter coffees, and explain what we are trying to achieve.”
Instead of manual pour-over, their priorities for their limited counter space lay elsewhere. Any early morning visitors to Baba Budan are treated not just to the alluring scent of coffee, but also to the smell of freshly fried dough. Each morning at dawn, doughnuts are freshly fried and filled in-house, before being temptingly displayed for their daily visitors. “I wanted to be able to open something with a product that was tasty, photographed well for social media, and was a bit different,” says Niblock of his decision to make his own doughnuts. “I hoped the doughnuts would get the attention of people, and bring them down to also try our coffee.”
Producing three to four different flavors per day in the petite cafe space is no mean feat; the space between the espresso machine and the archway window is reserved for the doughnut filling station, and the fryer fits neatly next to that on the only empty corner of the backbar. For the sake of efficiency, everything has its place.
However, the limits on space may soon be a thing of the past, as Niblock hints at imminent plans for expansion. The availability of a neighboring arch opens up the potential for a dedicated space for doughnut production, allowing for the development of new flavors and gluten-free options. This, in turn, would free up more cafe space for expanded brew bar options and more customer seating. Niblocks' excitement for this upgrade is palpable. The coffee scene is booming here in Edinburgh, fusing old spaces with new ideas in a fusion that feels like an extension of the city itself.
Claire Wallace is a freelance journalist and coffee professional based in Edinburgh, Scotland. This is Claire Wallace's first feature for Sprudge.