Cross the bridge to Skye and drive north towards Portree, the largest town on the island. Wind along the main road, past a landscape of heather and sheep. The Cuillin, the enormous mountain range which dominates the landscape, rises ahead. This stretch of road is modern Skye—tiny crofting cottages and traditional pubs sit side by side with holiday homes and incongruous, glass-wrapped new builds.
At Sligachan, take a left off the main road and head west, following signs for the Talisker distillery, the twists and turns becoming ever more dramatic as the road rises into the mountains. At the sign for Carbost take a sharp left and dip into the glen that contains Loch Harport and, at the end of a one-lane road, the enormous white Talisker distillery.
The air smells malty and tourists are everywhere, but whisky isn’t the only reason to visit this tiny village. Across the car park from the distillery, perched on the edge of the loch, is Caora Dhubh Coffee Company. Pronounced Coo-ra Doo, and meaning Black Sheep in Scottish Gaelic, Caora Dhubh is a takeaway coffee shop and the brainchild of Skye native Jamie Fletcher.
While working as a design engineer for GE, Fletcher developed a taste for coffee on his many visits to Edinburgh. After the oil downturn led to cutbacks, he looked into opening a coffee shop on his grandmother’s land next to the distillery. However, he was a little too late: “When I was looking through planning permission, Carbost Pier Limited had just got permission to put some kind of food outlet here. So I scrambled to get a business plan ready and pitched to them.” He kitted out the tiny space, one half of a building also housing a public shower and bathrooms, and opened in early March.
Specialty coffee has taken a relatively long time to reach this part of the world, but the scene in Scotland has flourished in the last few years. Starting in the cultural and population centers of Edinburgh and Glasgow, where today nearly every street has its own quality cafe, it has slowly crept out towards the corners of the country. Now it’s here, in the small town of Carbost on the isle of Skye.
Fletcher spends the early morning cleaning the public showers and bathrooms that adjoin his cafe, part of the deal when he won the lease. He opens at 9, ready to greet the first of the visitors who come from all over the world to visit the Talisker distillery. The size of his space means that seating is impossible, save for a bench outside and some picnic tables near the loch, so every drink is made to-go.
For the moment, Caora Dhubh serves only espresso-based drinks from a white, three-group La Marzocco Linea FB70. Fletcher chose to work with Artisan Roast, a roaster in Edinburgh and one of the originators of the specialty coffee scene in Scotland, due to his fondness for their Janzoon blend and his affinity for their graphic design (Artisan Roast’s design team also developed the website and graphics for Caora Dhubh).
His use of the darker Janszoon blend is also customer focused. “I reckon 99 percent of people are here for a coffee, not a delicately roasted coffee, so the Janszoon works for both of those markets,” he says. That doesn’t mean, however, that coffee aficionados don’t exist on the island. The handful of Australian residents in particular seem to have taken to Caora Dhubh—one couple drives nearly an hour for a cup of coffee.
The local interest has been surprising to Fletcher, although as spring moves into summer and the tourist season heats up, that will probably change—as with most tourist spots, the locals tend to stay away during peak season. He also has to close on Sundays, a legislative holdover from an earlier, more traditional era. Although, as he notes somewhat ruefully, the distillery and local pub are exempt from this rule, it does give him a day off to rest, and to explore his breathtaking home.
Drive back up out of Carbost and, after winding along the rising road, stop and look back down the glen—the loch stretches out below, small white houses dotted among the heather, sheep grazing wherever they see fit. Caora Dhubh is down there somewhere, on the banks of the loch, ready to introduce Scotland’s coffee scene to visitors from all over the world.
Fionn Pooler is a journalist based in Aberdeen, Scotland, and the publisher of The Pourover. This is Fionn Pooler’s first feature for Sprudge.