Our story started in 2013 when a conversation in the Cairngorm National Park led to the dream of starting a quality focussed coffee shop in Scotland's capital city. An ensuing visit to Edinburgh to visit an empty sandwich shop on Frederick St paved the future for Cairngorm Coffee as we know it now.
Let's cut out the third person malarkey. I'm Robi Lambie, and I've been a part of the shops furniture ever since. In my time tagging along in the Scottish coffee scene I've been honoured do a bunch of cool stuff; from roasting coffee for, and judging the Scottish Aeropress Championships, to being part of a team to launch the currently on hiatus 'Barista Wars'. There's nothing I love more than to build a community around what we do and I think this is something that has been at the core of our business since day one.
Talking of which, let's go back, way back to March 2014 when myself and a team of two opened our doors for the very first time. I was more fresh faced than I am now, and probably a bit more naive. The good news is that this youthful naivety helped me sail through some real inexperience. I'm not ashamed to say I knew very little about coffee at this point, but what I lacked in knowledge I made up for in a longing to learn.
The days were long, mostly because I was identifying problems and spending the evenings solving them, and the takings were slim, but somewhere in between we started to make some friends. Somewhere down the line in that first year we were printed our mountain logo on to t-shirts, sweaters, tote bags and stickers for customers and we were getting more familiar with extraction theory to the point that we could justify upgrading our equipment.
To this point it's a pretty natural coffee shop story and I guess it is, but taking the opportunity to open our second shop gave us a bit of a boost in confidence.
We upped our investment in equipment and increased our hours reading coffee blogs. Our interest in Scandinavian roasters elevated and before long we were spending a wedge to ship Single Origin Kenyan's over from Denmark to use in our Flat Whites. This segment could be best described as Specialty Coffee's glory days in the Scottish Coffee Scene. The Disloyal 7 card kickstarted with some friends of ours to encourage tourists to visit each others cafes, and community coffee cuppings were two a penny.
At this point in 2017 I was realising that my coffee career had been in neat two year segments. Not one to disappoint I started to think about how to commemorate our fourth year and realising that no one could have the same luck three times opted for an alternative route to opening another shop.
I partnered with my Dad to go down the roasting path instead, something that we'd wanted to do together for some time. It had actually been the original ploy for Cairngorm Coffee before starting a cafe as a stop gap and now, having ourselves as first customers, the time felt right to begin our venture. We settled on a 12kg Probat and had it shipped to the Highlands, just 2.9 miles from the dinner table where our story began.
It's worth explaining here that my Dad has owned a cafe since 2005, a good 9 years longer than I have and it absolutely served as my inspiration. His shop, Ralia Cafe, was ahead of its time, opening on the A9 with internet access and computers for customers in a time before the words Specialty and Coffee had been combined.
Once a week I drove up the A9 to roast batches, before travelling back to Edinburgh. There was a pretty blatant issue with this mileage as all of the required kit to quality control the coffee was in our shops in Edinburgh. Many times I roasted coffee blind, returned south, tried the coffee and felt dismayed that it fell short of the standards I expected. It was certainly a return to my earlier loop of try, fail, spend all night reading blogs and try again. Those that have roasted themselves will testify that it's hard to improve as every roaster is different. The information that's available always carries a caveat of 'but see what works for your drum', or airflow, or burners, or humidity, or coffee, or any other of a thousand variables.
Moving the roaster to Edinburgh in 2019 made the clouds part, and clarity in my mind and clarity in my coffee began to merge. Having the two shops in the business had allowed us the time we needed to learn slowly to the point that we felt confident about the quality we could produce. After a long drawn out process we embarked on the scary proposition of selling coffee to other cafes.
The next steps into wholesale have been some of the most rewarding so far. From day one we've wanted to create tangible products to fulfil a creative void left from a childhood playing music and practising graphic design, and this was a welcome new canvas for us to paint on.
We adopted our yellow bags early on that have stuck with us ever since and have proved to be a staple indicator of our brand. It will forever be endearing when cafes want to display our coffee either in their hopper or on their shelves and is something we take great pride in.
It's been a journey to this point, but a fun one and I'm sure there are many more twists to come. If you've made it this far and want to know more, or are setting out on your own journey and want to pick my brain then feel free to shoot me a message using the contact form on our site.