Artisan Roast: Master Baristas

Artisan Roast have done the double, and been voted best coffee shop in Edinburgh and Glasgow. We ventured into their world of precision, quirkiness and exquisite facial hair to find out what makes them tick

Feature by Peter Simpson | 06 Jan 2012
  • Artisan coffee

Lukasz Gasiorowski has one hell of a moustache. It's precise, full-bodied, with areas of light and shade and a meticulously-crafted shape. It jumps out at you, but then settles in perfectly. It's almost as though it's a metaphor for Artisan Roast's coffee, but then no-one could put that much effort into a cup, could they?

“When we look at the beans,” he says, “we need to prepare them in a different way on a Thursday compared to a Monday, use different amounts or a slightly different grind. There are changes to the Co2 levels in the coffee we need to watch out for.” Yes, it turns out you can put that much effort into a coffee.

It's that effort and overwhelming focus that have made Artisan Roast your favourite coffee stop in both Edinburgh and Glasgow. That and the fact that their coffee tastes bloody good. Lukasz is the manager of Artisan Roast's original Broughton Street shop, where the company's first roaster sat for several years before the operation was moved to Glasgow. Given that Artisan now roast 600kg of coffee a week, it's probably not a bad thing that the roaster's out of the way. In its place there are coffee sacks for wallpaper, and cafetieres fashioned into light fixtures. Even the wood floor looks as though someone's varnished it with a coat of espresso.

They are the mad professors of the coffee world, hiding out in plain sight, always tweaking and improving on their work. It's clear enough that what Artisan get up to goes beyond the usual corporate wonkspeak of 'passion about coffee'. If the high street chains are 'passionate' then these guys are hiding in the stationery cupboard with the coffee, and don't want to be disturbed.

“We do everything in-house, ourselves,” Lukasz says. “We started out just as a roastery, and we still roast all our own coffees as well as supplying them to other cafes and restaurants. We know where everything has come from, because we source all the beans ourselves. We're always getting notes on each batch, looking at what characteristics different beans have and the best ways to bring out the flavours.” 

Everything here is planned and finessed, down to the finest detail. The coffee machine is a hand-operated 1950s pump-action beast the likes of which you'll never have seen before. I'm informed that it takes between 30 and 32 seconds to extract an espresso, yet I don't see a clock or watch anywhere. Lukasz tells me that new staff, who already have a minimum of a year's professional experience, spend up to two weeks working on milk. Just the milk. Barista Alex chips in to back him up.

“Say you go into a Costa and get a latte,” she says. “It's going to be covered in these big bubbles that look like clouds. That's not what you want. You need little microbubbles that don't immediately separate from the milk, because that way you keep all the flavour in.” The pair nod in agreement, leaving me to gurn and let out the non-commital hum of a man who is a little taken aback and confused. A man who has somehow ended up discussing the optimum size of milk bubbles. 

Lukasz seems to sense my trepidation, and lets out a wry smile. “It doesn't sound that important on its own, but the point we try to make is that it might only be a little thing, but the little things all add up.

"Making coffee for us is about attention to detail, and consistency,” he adds. “Knowing what to look for – the temperature of the water, the size of the grind, the ratios of coffee to milk – is important, but you need to be able to do it over and over again. It's no good making one nice coffee and 20 bad cups.” 

As for the rest of us, the Artisans believe that great coffee isn't out of the reach of our clumsy hands. Lukasz says: “The equipment you can get these days, and the coffees you can buy, mean that anyone can make a nice coffee at home. And even if you don't fancy doing that the coffee scene in Edinburgh is so great that there's plenty of places you can go. Edinburgh has about ten or 12 really top-end coffee places, which for somewhere of this size is amazing.

“We get people in all the time asking for advice on making the stuff at home, and we tell them all the same thing. Pay attention to what you're doing; don't just throw your stove-top coffee pot on first thing in the morning, leave it alone, then expect a good coffee. Take your time, and look out at each stage of the process to make sure you're doing things properly."

These guys take the time to do things properly, and they maintain total control over each stage of your coffee's journey from the plantation to your palate. That's why Artisan Roast do the best coffee around –planning and detail. If they wanted to overthrow the City Chambers or carry out a bank job, I can't imagine they would have too much trouble. They'd probably have planned and done it before any of us had even noticed. And hey, if they do ever decide to go rogue, they've got a man on the team with the perfect 'tache for it.

Artisan Roast, 57 Broughton St, Edinburgh & 15 Gibson St, Glasgow