The photo for this article was provided by the interviewee.
A multi-roaster cafe based on Easter Road in Edinburgh, Little Fitzroy is a slice of the Australian Fitzroy coffee culture here in Scotland. I have followed Little Fitzroy on Instagram for a while and had a few questions about their cafe. Cathryn, the owner of the cafe, kindly reached out and answered my questions. You can read our conversation below.
For my readers, can you tell us a bit about your role at Little Fitzroy?
I operate my Little Cafe in the inner East (Abbeyhill) of Edinburgh and have since opening over two years ago. My role has changed from being the only employee, for the first year or so to now, where there's seven of us! My role has become more managerial and less hands-on. So being a massive control freak (as I am) has meant that I've had to adapt quickly to be able to train and trust others to represent the cafe to a constantly high standard.
I set up in the morning (early hours) and, hopefully, get everything in place for a great day of showing off some of Scotland's best roasteries. Spending more time doing admin and not physically making coffee is a change of pace for me. Honestly, I miss being as focussed on one thing (the cup of coffee in hand) at a time; rather than keeping a lot of plates spinning in the air.
Why did you decide to open Little Fitzroy? What is the origin of the name?
Simply put, I wanted there to be somewhere to get a good cup of coffee in my neighbourhood. Not that there weren't many wonderful cafes in the area with amazing food, drink, and ambience. But I always thought that not being able to get a good cup of coffee early in the morning was always something that was lacking in Scotland. I'm pretty proud to look at my morning custom and think that I've provided something that other people were looking for too.
I'm from Melbourne, Australia, a place with a pretty notorious taste for coffee. With a really vibrant and specifically enthusiastic cafe culture, you can get the most amazing cup of coffee before the sun rises and know that the highest degree of care has been taken from sourcing, roasting, extracting, preparing to presenting. The coffee community in Melbourne is somewhere I'm proud to have come from, offering such support and passionate skill sharing.
I'm from a small inner-North Suburb called Fitzroy (known for coffee, food, drink and arts culture). I wanted to be able to bring a bit of it to my neighbourhood of Abbeyhill. A Little bit.
I noticed that you offer coffees on rotation from a number of roasters, from Obadiah to Cairngorm. How do you choose which coffees to offer in your cafes?
We have a pretty high rotation of whatever our favourite coffee from our favourite roasteries available. One of the privileges of being a multi-roaster cafe is all the amazing coffee you get to try. We are spoiled in Edinburgh with so many Specialty Roasteries per capita - my aim is to be able to show off all the amazing roasteries Scotland has to offer (we sometimes sneak a few in from England to see if anyone will notice). It's difficult to choose what to have on the espresso and filter bars, when the selection is of such a high standard. We try to have both a people-pleasing coffee (with depth of body and richness) as well as something a little brighter on at any one time. Something that sings through milk (whatever milk you fancy), but has a sharpness and freshness when drunk black.
The trick is always changing. I never want anyone (especially my baristas) to get bored of something we're serving. If you can have a different coffee each day - and still get great joy from it - then what more could you wish for?
What is the first thing you do when you arrive in the cafe in the morning?
The first thing I do when I get into the cafe (at 5am) in the morning is move the mop bucket away from the door.... I expect you want something more in depth than that.
In a more romanticised description, I switch on the espresso machine - the sooner it's ready the sooner I can dial in whatever amazing coffees I've got on for that day. The rotation is so frequent that it is sometimes a fun surprise for me in the morning.
What tasks take up most of your time as a cafe owner?
Most of my time is spent interacting with customers and coffee. If it was ever anything else I don't think that I'd enjoy the work as much anymore. I started working in cafes because of my interest in coffee and I love that I get to share that with people. I get such satisfaction from locals and enthusiasts finding joy in what I enjoy about coffee; learning and teaching new things, widening horizons and experiences and encouraging more transparency and understanding of what is in their daily cup of coffee.
Making the industry less cliquey and more accessible really is its own reward. There isn't much better than sharing something new with a customer and them loving it the same way I do.
I hear a lot of baristas talk about the "dial in" in the morning. What does this mean? How long does it take to dial in a coffee?
Dialling in is another of the early morning joys of being a barista. Essentially, it's checking and adjusting the recipe for the coffee you're serving that day (and readjusting through the day). By calibrating the dose of coffee you're using, the time which it takes to pour, and the final amount of coffee you yield at the end you are making sure that you're extracting the best aspects of that coffee to produce the most appealing tasting final cup—whether it be with milk, as an espresso, or filter.
It can be highly technical, and we are always learning more and more about how to dial in more effectively. It's a constant learning process and one of the privileges of working with so many amazing coffees from various roasteries is that we get so much experience in the theory and practice of the process. It's also such a gosh darn satisfying way to start the day.
Every step you take to improve or alter how you make coffee at home is a form of dialling in.
To what extent is your dial in process affected by using different coffees?
The sheer variation of coffee; origins, processes, roast profiles, styles, etc, we get to work with means we're always kept of our toes. You can have starter rules for how you deal with different types of coffee, but at the end of the day, the process of going through all the eventualities to get the best out of it is always nuanced and so rewarding. There are a lot of tools and technologies you can use to assist in this process, but it really does come down to 'how does it taste?'
What advice do you have for someone who is thinking about pursuing a career in speciality coffee who does not know where to start?
For those who are wanting to get more involved in the coffee scene I always suggest that you talk to your barista. Chances are they love talking about coffee and have buckets of advice of where to start—ours sure do. Work on how you make coffee at home. Talk to people about this. Expanding your lexicon and how confident you are at describing flavour and the steps you go through to make coffee is so integral to communicating your process to colleagues and customers.
Keep a notebook; write down the flavours of the coffees you try. Write down the recipes of the coffee you make. Contrast, compare and always research how you can improve on your coffee-making game.
What is your favourite method to brew coffee?
I love a good Chemex. Something about the high acidity and its ability to showcase the most subtle dynamics of coffee is delightful.
If you could sum up the Scottish speciality coffee scene in one word (or a few words), which word(s) would you use?
Supportive. We're so lucky to have such a culture of support and growing together. It's kinda why it's such a great and varied scene.
What is your favourite snack to have with a cup of coffee, if any?
Bagel and Shmear. Perfect combo with any coffee.
You can learn more about Little Fitzroy on Instagram at @littlefitzroy.