When you think of Scotland, what’s the first city that comes to mind? Okay fine, what about the second? After that? Aberdeen is Scotland’s third largest city, but even with a population of nearly 200,000 and two prestigious universities it can often feel a world away from Edinburgh and Glasgow just a couple of hours to the south.
For one thing, it’s very far north—the city shares a latitude with Sitka, Alaska, and is much further north than both Edmonton and Calgary—and its location hunkered on the shores of the North Sea gives it a wild, windy, and unpredictable climate. When the sun does shine, however, Aberdeen’s granite buildings glitter silver, leading to its nickname “the silver city with the golden sands.”
Good coffee has taken its time to reach the city—again, very far north—but the last few years has seen an increase in the number of specialty cafes popping up around town.
While once it was a major fishing, textile, and shipbuilding hub, Aberdeen is today known as the capital of North Sea oil and gas. Coffee is of course often (apocryphally) said to be the second-most traded commodity after oil, so the next time you’re in far northeast Scotland be on the lookout for these coffee shops serving the other black gold.
What began as a tiny Kickstarted cafe back in 2013 has grown into a mini-chain of sorts including a coffee hut at the beach, a zero-waste cafe near the university in Old Aberdeen, and most recently a satellite location in Edinburgh.
Foodstory’s flagship cafe on Thistle Street in the west end is a rambling, atmospheric space with big windows along the front and a collage of mismatched furniture dotted about. A hulking reclaimed wood bar runs along the back wall, which is covered in chalkboards denoting the food and coffee options.
Pride of place on the bar is a La Marzocco Linea PB, providing espresso-based drinks with assistance from Victoria Arduino and Mazzer grinders while non-spro options include Moccamaster drip brewers as well as an assortment of manual brew methods. A Mahlkönig EK43 is on hand ready to grind the coffee, which comes from a variety of Scotland’s best roasters including Dear Green and Obadiah Coffee.
There’s an extensive plant-based menu from morning till night, while upstairs an event space hosts everything from yoga to second-hand clothes sales to reggae dance parties.
The Cult of Coffee
Just a couple of blocks north of Foodstory on Esslemont Ave, the Cult of Coffee focuses less on food and more on cake alongside the coffee. The occult-inspired logos adorning the windows and the symbols decorating the bar’s subway tile facade offer nods to the cafe’s name, but other than that it’s all pretty much as expected—anyone hoping for be-robed baristas, pentagrams, and candlelit interiors will come away disappointed.
The cafe’s corner location means there are four huge windows illuminating the space, which is dominated by a line of booths down one wall, a wood-burning stove against the other, and in the middle a big floating shelf that holds retail coffee and brewing equipment. Behind that, towards the back of the cafe, is the bar which is itself dominated by an array of glass domes displaying the latest cake options.
Against the back wall is the espresso setup, a La Marzocco Linea PB with a Mahlkönig E80s and Mazzer Luigi Spa grinders for company, while Hario V60 and Moccamaster drip brews are available, ground via a Mahlkönig EK43. Coffee is provided by Ediburgh’s Artisan Roast, although there is always a rotating selection of guest roasters available from across the UK.
One of the newer cafes on this list, Figment Coffee was started in 2018 by Neil Glover who was looking for a change after a career in oil and gas. Having spent a lot of time in Texas for work, Glover was inspired by the state’s specialty coffee scene and vowed to bring a slice back to northeast Scotland.
The result is a big, airy, minimalist space that wouldn’t feel out of place across the pond. What was formerly a Blockbuster Video has been transformed, with exposed steel beams and painted brick offset by lots of slatted blonde wood and low-hanging, intimate lighting. Coffee is roasted in-house on a Diedrich IR-12, and then brewed on a Synesso MVP Hydra three-group or a Wilbur Curtis Gold Cup, depending on your preference, with support from Mahlkönig EK43 and Peak grinders.
The other thing Glover wanted to bring back to Scotland was a proper American brunch, so Figment also offers a seasonally-changing range of morning fare as well as guest pop-ups from local food trucks, while an extended evening food and wine menu is in the works.
Definitely the newest cafe on this list, Mount opened its doors on Upperkirkgate in the heart of Aberdeen in October 2022. Founded by two avid hillwalkers and inspired by a mission to create “an outdoor experience, inside,” Mount is also a self-styled lifestyle store and offers a thoughtfully-designed interior full of goods from local makers.
The space revolves around a central bar clad in vertical wooden strips set between white block pillars. Seating takes the form of simple tables which line the right hand wall, stools along the front window (which has an amazing view of Marischal College, pictured at the top of this article), and a comfy sofa setup semi-secretly tucked around the back of the bar.
Coffee is provided by local roaster Long Walk Coffee and brewed using a custom-painted green La Marzocco Linea and a Compak grinder. For those with a sweet tooth there’s an ever-changing array of baked goods arriving from local partner baker Just One More.
The Coffee Apothecary
Okay so this one technically isn’t in Aberdeen, but just a short (and glorious) drive north brings you to the tiny village of Udny and the north-east’s hidden gem, the Coffee Apothecary.
Actually it might not be a hidden gem anymore—it’s been featured on Sprudge and has become a must-stop for cyclists and anyone else visiting the area. The cafe’s rural setting and welcoming atmosphere belies a modern approach to coffee and food presented by its husband-and-wife team.
Coffee is provided by Artisan Roast (for the time being, more details to come) and prepared using a by-now-ubiquitous La Marzocco Linea PB or, for those looking for something different, a Marco SP9 automated pour-over. All this is supported by Ceado E37T and Mahlkönig EK43 grinders. The locally sourced, seasonal food menu ranges from hearty breakfasts to more refined evening fare, and there’s plenty of cake offerings for those who visit in the afternoons.
The Coffee Apothecary has become so popular that there’s now a second location in the comparatively bustling town of Ellon to the east, and the owners were able to crowdfund a brand-new roastery that is beginning to take shape behind the Udny cafe.