Glasgow coffee shops and cafés
Stepping into this overly trendy caffeine haven can sometimes feel a bit like stepping into some kind of elaborate hipster parody. But sneer not, because they do java – like much else in their wonderfully simple operation – with sacks of substance and integrity.The coffee is all bought direct from farmers, selected on the basis of seasonal freshness, roasted in-house twice or three times weekly with serious skill and diligence, and served in a no-fuss manner to rival the big chains. Forget fancy syrups, toppings and suchlike, just pick your beans, your type of brew and your preferred number of shots, and voilà.
Another of those extremely stylish continental coffee shops definitely not native to, but increasingly common in Glasgow, Papercup first started brewing in 2012 after taking over the premises of much-missed old vintage clothes shops the Rusty Zip on Great Western Road. The back of the shop is given over to some impressive roasting machinery, where they roast their own beans. Proprietor Adriano Mattenoi spent 12 years honing his skills as a barista and businessman, from running a university coffee cart to opening several coffee bars in Sydney, before making Papercup his first venture back on home turf.
If Tinderbox still feels on-trend today, after the best part of two decades, it must have felt positively futuristic when it opened in 1998. Boasting surely one of the best locations for a coffee shop anywhere in the city, Tinderbox buzzes from the early morning until 11pm at night (it’s one of the only dedicated cafés in the city to stay open so late). The coffee is good, if – like much else at Tinderbox – perhaps a little overpriced. Despite that, it remains a café with its finger on the pulse and thriving for it.
At this much-lauded West End café-deli, they not only sell food for snacking on the premises or to take home, they also roast green coffee beans in-house with their very own Petroncini roaster. That means Kember & Jones coffee is unique. For the record, their signature espresso blend is a combination of BSCA Brazilian Fazenda Cachoeira 100% Bourbon, Costa Rican Finca de Licho and Guatemalan Finca El Bosque. Drop that casually into the conversation next time you're there with a friend.
This is not just a café of course but a creative hub for music and events down in the south of the city at the edge of Queen's Park. There are gigs, there is food, there are some contemporary design features to watch out for and the coffee is supplied by local speciality coffee roasters Dear Green which makes for a reliable cup of decent brew.
Beyond George Square, then just beyond the High Street, you find this very particular café named for Doctor James McCune Smith, an African American intellectual and abolitionist who studied at the University of Glasgow at the dawn of the Victorian era. The food here is great while the coffee is lauded as among the best in the city and the whole experience can be an education.
Sonny & Vito’s rich, hand-roasted coffee comes from Union of London, so it's certainly a good blend. They know what they're doing too, so expect a pretty much perfect coffee served with a big old smile. Nab a seat outside if you can.
A fruit and veg business that has been around for decades, Roots & Fruits has expanded over the years and its mini-empire on Great Western Road now has a fruit and veg shop, an adjacent foodstore and a flower shop just one door down. Diversifying yet further a few café tables were added in the foodstore part and given the care and attention lavished on the produce in this venue, the café menu is dependably good – including the coffee of course. Sit in or sit out and watch the West Enders go by.
Essentially Cottonrake is a superior, modern bakery in a busy West End site with some seating if you want to stop in for a hot drink and some patisserie or a savoury snack. It also features very fine coffee as its supplier is Glasgow's Dear Green Coffee Roasters who source from sustainable farms where a fair price is paid for the beans. An equally big plus is that staff at Cottonrake know how to make a decent cup.
With cafés ten-a-penny in and around Byres Road, Avenue G has done exceptionally well to not just survive but thrive since opening in 2011. They even added a second outlet on Great Western Road near St Georges Cross in 2014, in a pocket of the West End that has also welcomed their New York coffeehouse chic shtick with open arms. Coffee-making is elevated to little short of an art form by well-trained baristas, who’ll happily offer advice on just the right roast and brew for you.
Don’t come to Tchai-Ovna looking for a boring builder’s brew – it’s all about teas from China, Japan, Vietnam, Nepal and elsewhere here. With redevelopment looming, the threat of closure sadly always seems to hang over Tchai-Ovna, as it does all of the cool little independent businesses on Otago Lane. There’s a community campaign dedicated to defending it. If you’re charmed by your visit – and if you go in with an open mind, you definitely will be – then lend them your support.
You have to wonder what a premises like Offshore’s would be worth to a big chain coffee shop. Curving around the corner of Gibson Street and Westbank Quadrant overlooking the River Kelvin through massive floor-to-ceiling windows, with the university at the top of the hill bringing in a steady stream of students, it’s perhaps the best spot for a café in all of Glasgow. There’s no denying the place could probably use a little cosmetic sprucing up sometime soon. Other than that, it’s as pleasant, unfussy and unhurried a place to have a coffee as you’ll find in the city.
For a few years TriBeCa was Glasgow's individual wee slice of New York City: a Big Apple-style kitchen up the West End. A new owner came along in 2013 however with big plans and now there are a few TriBeCa branches around town but this Dumbarton Road venue was the original. The coffee is made from their own proprietary blend of beans, delivering Cuban coffee, New York-style in Scotland.
The Hyndland Fox opened its doors in summer 2014, in the space formerly occupied by Peckham’s deli, whose owners are behind this venture. Since then those doors have barely stopped swinging from early until late. Open until midnight seven days a week, it’s typical of a new generation of laid-back drinking and dining establishments that doesn’t strictly define itself as a café nor a bar nor a restaurant, but a little of each all at once. With its white exterior and big windows overhung with smart stripy canopies, it’s super-sharp looking.
Kelvingrove may be best known as the site of the eponymous Art Gallery and Museum but it's also an attractive park it own right with a river running through. Tucked away in its south-east corner, by La Belle Place, you find An Clachan. An attractive little café next to a children's play area, it sources its coffee from a micro-roastery outside Glasgow which has an all-round ethical approach to its business, using fully traceable and sustainable green beans.
Situated in a boxy little old standalone workshop building down the cutely cobbled Eton Lane, Pena looks fantastic and just a little bit surreal. Factor in the building’s history as a music recording and rehearsal studio – where Glasgow bands from Snow Patrol to Frightened Rabbit have all honed their chops – and you’ve got one of the coolest coffee shops in town. Prices seem ludicrously low: just £4 for a toastie and coffee. The latter is made with discerningly selected beans roasted by Workshop Coffee in London.
Shawlands is a suburb of Glasgow, around 3.5km south of the Clyde and although it's sort of halfway between Pollok Country Park and the National Stadium, it's not part of the city that would usually attract visitors. That said, if you do find yourself down that way don't miss Eat Café, an award-winning little place on Kilmarnock Road. It's a contemporary space of the kind you would expect in the city centre while the cooking is noteworthy from its excellent brunches through light meals and snacks to dinner.
Anything and everything arts-related happens at the Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA) on Sauchiehall Street but it's hungry work, engaging with all those aesthetics, so the premises have a café bar too in the shape of Saramago. It's on the floor level of a modest atrium space – like an interior courtyard – and it's vegan. This means snacks like dolmades with tahini and mint dip; a sandwich with tofu sausage, tomato and chilli jam perhaps; a salad like butterbean and red quinoa. This is Scotland however so one of the heftier main courses is vegan haggis fritters with chips, pickles and tartare sauce.