British Isles Coffee

Coffee Review: Artisan Coffee. Corner of Leith Walk and Balfour. Edinburgh.

Artisan Coffee is designed to overflow. On sunny days when the key shaped interior, consisting of half a dozen seating areas are occupied, customers can languish outside under the dapple shade of trees at the corner of Leith Walk and Balfour Street upon a dozen or more tables and chairs. 

Then, when the long Scottish nights and the soft but drenching rain arrives on the slog to year-end, Artisan offers a warm lantern-cosy caffeinated flavoured privacy to the weary (and inevitably damp) traveller. 

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Aesthetically, the café follows the boutique economy of space that is prevalent in Edinburgh, where the present flows like a river around the unforgettable boulders and the cherished ruins of the past. Leith is a prime example of this, a port area that fought for its independence from Edinburgh since 1128 and finally won it in 1833 only to be reabsorbed by city-osmosis in 1920. Ranked by Time Out in 2021 as one of the top five places to live in the world, it is a beautiful area where the modern and the old knit together to form an oddly inspiring tapestry, with independent and franchised businesses, occupying all available nooks and crannies, provided by the buildings that have stood here for centuries.

Leith is a spirited place of shadowy corners lit by lights above doors and premises where waitrons navigate unique angles and bends, unexpected stairs and low ceilings. Patrons seek out those beautiful places in the corners where they can hide and survey the world. While lacking in the nook department and more leaning towards a Parisian Cafe, the spirit of filling in available spaces is nevertheless prevalent at Artisan. Artwork available for purchase bedeck the walls, offering painted works and photography across a variety of genres including landscapes, political references and boutique imagery. 


Roasted by Sons of Amazon, a stylish take on the biker focussed television show with the great soundtrack, the coffees are smooth, considered and served hot enough to drink but not hot enough to cause physical burns. Loyalty cards are available and recommended. Sandwiches and a range of cakes, brownies and basic tasties are made fresh to go with the coffees (notice the plural). 

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Open from 8am sharp to a late closing of 7pm, seven days a week the cafe attracts the reliable characters. In a corner, the huddled couple conducting first date interviews following extensive conversations on Tinder and WhatsApp. In the other corner the lunchtime-evening-time-day-time couple of girlfriends speaking at double pace and double volume. Between them the ever-present solitary gentleman, starved for conversation and without a keel, soaking in the ambient society while enjoying a welcome brew. The readers, so involved in their novels that every so often they sit bold upright, realizing they’re not where they expected. The remote workers and digital nomads, drinking up the Wi-Fi, plugged into the abundant wall sockets and surviving exclusively on the provisions coming from the counters and of course the regulars, filling up the usual chairs, as dependable to navigate as tree stumps in a path. 

Music is light and well chosen for the time of day. Fairly more energetic in the mornings and moving to jazzy relaxation before closing. For those not involved in the music scene, these would be classed as easy-jazz, easy-listening, easy-wake-up and easy-easy, which are all official terms for coffee house music used by all experienced journalists. 


One hopes that the owners of Artisan Coffee, saw the nostalgic and film noir value of a cafe on the corner of a pedestrian dominated Leith Walk. The location, which makes it almost impossible not to notice during the walk down, tickles the nostalgic brain cells and as you walk up to those doors, you can imagine saxophone music or at very least, the deep, velvety smooth voice of a black and white film narrator. 

“In the dark winter afternoons, the single door entrance with its glass front, mists up. Meanwhile silhouettes of raincoated walkers, brandishing umbrellas fall across it, cast by the streetlamp outside. Nearer to Christmas the more colourful this display becomes, with lights coming from neighbouring shops, supplying comforting arrays of mottled blues, reds, gold and green.” 


Easy to find and open all week, if you find yourself in Edinburgh and want to escape Auld Reekie, head down Leith Walk and you’ll find friendly customer service, good coffee and a great location at Artisan Coffee. It can become a firm and regular favourite. Of course, sometimes the overflow overflows because everyone who comes here, tends to come here again.