In a world of high-end retail outlets and expensive marketing campaigns, I’ve always held a strong affection for those trying to make their way on a limited budget. Originally hailing from Orkney, an island in the remote north of Scotland, veteran barista Lewis MacKenzie has been making his mark on the Edinburgh coffee scene with his portable bicycle-based coffee pop-up, Bearded Barista. Using a custom-made cargo tricycle that he sourced from Christiania Bikes in Copenhagen, MacKenzie, the eponymous cafe owner, found an ingenious way to carry everything he needs in a simple, self-propelled format. I recently caught up with the Bearded Barista himself, braving the changeable Scottish weather to find out more about his adventures.
Without the presence of a fixed countertop separating himself from his customers, MacKenzie’s coffee bike offers an intimate and unpretentious environment where he can focus on what has made him so popular: a consistently great-tasting product coupled with top-notch customer service. Using single-origin beans sourced from independent Scottish-based microroaster Steampunk Coffee Roasters, his cart is a welcome addition to the Edinburgh scene and can be found at local markets, food festivals, and speciality restaurants. The highlights of these regular events are a weekly fixture every Saturday at Leith Market in the north of the city, and a Sunday afternoon slot at Smith & Gertrude, a high-end cheese and wine bar in Stockbridge, in Edinburgh’s West End.
“It’s all about breaking down boundaries,” MacKenzie tells me. Whilst sporting a beard himself, MacKenzie freely admits that his choice of name is both personal and playful, a nod to a subculture which has so often alienated consumers in the world of specialty coffee. MacKenzie instead focuses his efforts on quality, in a setting where his customers can openly engage with the process, with his open and honest approach encouraging questions about his coffee choices. It’s so far a simple and successful formula for the Bearded Barista: pairing an approachable and lovable host with a consistently great-tasting product, and of course, a well-groomed beard.
Gavin Smart is a freelance photojournalist based in Edinburgh. Read more Gavin Smart on Sprudge.