The photo for this article was provided by the interviewee.
One of the cafes on my “to-go” list is Lowdown Coffee, based in Edinburgh. This cafe is situated in a basement, sporting a minimalist aesthetic inspired by Japan. Lowdown caught my eye on Instagram due to their aesthetic and I wanted to learn a bit more about the cafe. Seeing as I cannot visit right now, I thought I’d reach out to the founder, Paul, to ask a few questions. Below is the chat we had about Lowdown, offering pour-overs in a cafe, and coffee.
Could you tell me a bit about why you started Lowdown?
Edinburgh has a thriving coffee scene, there’s something for everyone and standards are higher than most cities.
Edinburgh’s a small city and there’s great camaraderie between the cafes that are passionate about specialty coffee. Whether that’s knowledge, experiences or ideas that are freely shared or simply cafes supporting each other as customers; quality coffee can be found in Edinburgh. Many cafes have moved into roasting their own coffee, this should bring further understanding and produce well made drinks. The quantity of cafes brewing great coffee has raised both the coffee expectations of the city and the level of demand.
In terms of Lowdown, I wanted to bring something new in terms of layout and workflow that suited the progression of the coffee farming/roasting/brewing. It’s quite a polished aesthetic but balanced by informality of no counter between staff and customers. The open space is social, it produces more interaction and focus on what we do.
What are the first things you do in the morning before you open up the shop?
I have little to do with the day-to-day coffee service anymore; 30 mins is spent checking the espresso and filter recipe by taste and some tools to measure the extraction. We keep it simple with only one espresso and one filter option each day but only run the coffees for a week, this allows us to keep on top of dial-ins and reduces waste.
How do you choose what coffees to offer on your retail shelf?
One point of difference is offering coffees from outstanding European (and beyond) roasters. In addition to everything being seasonal and single origin, each coffee has something unique in terms of origin, processing or even the roaster themselves.
It’s a privilege to work and learn from these roasters and we spend quite a bit of time curating our retail so there’s something for all tastes.
Who is involved in deciding which coffees to serve on bar?
The longest rested espresso is generally used first, ideally we want it to rest a month before brewing but some coffees need more and some less. So espresso is picked by what’s tasting the best of what we have in stock. Filter is pretty selfish, as a team, we pick a coffee we would want to drink as a customer.
I read on Instagram that your take-away filter coffee is brewed by hand. What equipment do you use for hand-brewing? Why do you use this equipment?
We have never been a big takeaway cafe or got on well with batch brew, so all filters are brewed by Kalita Wave. We find it very consistent with lots of complexity and forgiving during busy periods or switching between baristas.
We do have V60s but the reliability of the Kalita Wave in a commercial environment wins for us. The flat bottom of the Kalita means the water is in contact with coffee longer and produces more consistent brews. We have a go-to recipe and can probably get a new coffee tasting great with only about 50 grams of waste, this is important when working with £60/kg roasted coffee.
What is the most interesting reaction you have seen from someone to whom you have served a pour-over coffee?
There’s so many to remember but if there’s one stand out flavour then that usually gets the most reaction. A recent anaerobic from DAK Coffee Roasters was so spicy it was confused with a herbal tea.
Lowdown Coffee has quite a minimalist aesthetic from what I’ve seen. Could you talk more about what this aesthetic means to you?
The interior can be polarising but we love it. We wanted to create a calming space that considered all the details but didn’t look overdone. There’s definitely some Japanese influence with its simplicity and the layout still works 6 years on.
What do you think are the main skills a good barista needs to have?
A genuine enjoyment to serve customers and interest in the industry. Training and experience will develop your palate and understanding of coffee.
What advice would you have for someone who is interested in coffee who wants to start a career in the industry?
Maybe look at some of the courses available on the SCA’s Coffee Skills Program? Coffee festivals give you a chance to taste lots of coffee for very little expense.
What is your favourite hand-brewing device?
I’m not really fussed on the brewer, a V60 probably does a better job of the coffees I like, but I sometimes don’t have the patience it needs when brewing at home.
If you could have any snack with your coffee, what would it be and why?
Espresso and a good bar of chocolate off the top of my head. I’d drink a filter on its own.
What coffee(s) are you drinking at the minute?
Freak & Unique Thermal Shock Geisha by Hundred House is wild.
You can learn more about Lowdown Coffee on their Instagram @lowdown.coffee or on their website at www.lowdown.coffee.