As you drive north from the center of the Scottish city of Aberdeen, the palette of color in your surroundings quickly changes. The grey granite of the city begins to fall away, replaced by intensely hued green fields dotted with sheep. The roads narrow and begin to wind, offering up distant glimpses of the North Sea.
Follow a certain set of these country roads and you’ll arrive in Udny, a parish comprised of a number of modest towns. Amongst these clusters of homes, in a building that previously served as a post office, is one of Scotland’s most far-flung specialty coffee bars: The Coffee Apothecary.
Jonny Aspden and his wife, Ali Aspden, are co-owners of the Apothecary. Their obvious love for the craft of coffee began to flower during a three-year, round-the-world adventure, during which they visited coffee bars across Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. “It was living in Melbourne and living with a guy who owned a cafe, who now has seven of them, that inspired us about having a cafe,” Jonny Aspden tells me. “It showed us that cafes can be awesome and great places, not just plastic tablecloths and an urn.”
Initially, the couple planned to continue their nomadic lifestyle. However, when the Mosshead Post Office in Udny became available, inspiration struck. In May of 2014, the couple returned to the countryside where Jonny Aspden grew up with plans to create a cafe experience all their own.
Together, they stripped the former post office down to its shell before rebuilding it into The Coffee Apothecary, a space for quality coffee and food, with a focus on being ethical and local. The food menu is crafted using fresh ingredients sourced from within only a 10-mile radius of the cafe. During my visit, numerous local suppliers popped in to drop off deliveries of meats and vegetables to be showcased in the upcoming weekend menu. And though it’s impossible to grow local coffee in the chilly Scottish climate, their choice to work with Edinburgh-based roaster Artisan Roast ensures that their beverage menu stays closely linked to Scotland.
The shop’s La Marzocco FB70 is used to pull shots of their house “Cobblestone Blend”, comprised of two Latin American coffees which change seasonally. Two single-origin filter coffees are also offered in seasonal rotation. To ensure efficient and consistent filter preparation, two Marco SP9 brewers are used, along with a customer’s choice of Kalita Wave or a French press for by-the-cup brews.
Other menu offerings, such as the iced espresso tonic or their single-origin tasting boards, are not usually seen on small cafe menus in this part of Scotland. Jonny Aspden admits that it has taken time for the local clientele to embrace the more progressive style of coffee they are serving. However, the couple’s zeal and persistence has piqued curiosity, and they find more people taking time to talk about, and appreciate, the inherent flavors of the coffee itself.
In areas this small there is an undeniable sense of community, and Jonny and Ali Aspden hope to become an integral part of it. The old post office was fundamental for the surrounding communities. The Aspdens hope that in its new form as a cafe, the building will continue to be important in a different way: a place for locals to meet, socialize, and experience specialty coffee in all of its sensory diversity. As I sat there, enjoying a berry-rich Ethiopian brew, a continuous busy buzz of customers and families of all ages came and went. Those who live in the area are clearly starting to embrace what Jonny and Ali Aspden are offering.
Continued community engagement is allowing Jonny Aspden to plan future ways to continue to spread his passion for coffee. “The more that people around here are getting involved in the different coffees we have and the very idea that they all taste very different, we have been asked more and more to do tasting evenings.”
Though rural specialty shops like this one are still rare, its growing popularity is a positive sign—perhaps other small towns could use a place like this, to meet and connect over a new shared love of a quality cup.
Claire Wallace is a freelance journalist and coffee professional based in Edinburgh, Scotland. Read more Claire Wallace on Sprudge.