The photo for this article was provided by the interviewee.
Laboratorio Espresso, which opened in October 2013, has won many coffee shop awards. I have been interested in this cafe after following them on Instagram for a while and I decided to reach out to learn a bit more about the cafe and what goes on behind the scenes. Both founders, Scot and Scott, kindly took time to respond to my questions. Their answers are below.
Could you tell me a bit about Laboratorio Espresso and why you both decided to start the cafe?
We opened Laboratorio Espresso in October 2013 although had been planning it from early 2012 when we identified that Glasgow lacked high quality independent coffee in the city centre. Having been to other major European cities like Milan we saw how ingrained in the life of the city espresso bars are and frequented by a mix of people who live and work in the city centre, giving the bars a unique and friendly feel. It was something that we knew would work in Glasgow and our customers reflect this alongside the tourists who have found us listed as one of the top 50 coffee shops in the world or have been recommended to go by people they meet as they explore the city.
What is the first thing you do when you arrive in the cafe in the morning?
The first thing we do when opening in the morning is turn the La Marzocco (main coffee machine) on. It takes 20 minutes to reach temperature before we can even think about pulling the first shots of coffee as we dial in the coffee – it is all about doing things right and making sure that we start off the day as we mean to go on – making the perfect espresso.
We have an opening procedure which lists all the other more practical tasks we need to do before customers arrive. We have outdoor tables and chairs that need to be set up, making sure our fresh products (cakes, pastries etc) are out on display, preparing the Moccamaster for batch brew etc.
When you are working, what tasks take up most of your time?
Dialling in the coffee in the morning takes up most of our time. Coffee weight, time, and wet dose all contribute to ensure it tastes great. This can be anything from 10-20 minutes but until we’ve done it you won’t get a coffee – some things in life take time and need to be right from the off. This is one of them.
I have read that you once offered exclusively Aeropress coffees as your filter option. What was the motivation behind this decision?
We used to offer Aeropress as an alternative mainly for the better flavour and shorter time compared to other filter methods. However now we offer batch brew using the Moccamaster which is, in our opinion is better than the Aeropress or other methods.
I have noticed on Instagram that you feature coffees from around the world on rotation, such as coffees from The Barn and La Cabra. Why do you prefer to offer a different range of coffees versus the same ones?
There are some amazing coffee roasters across Europe and many we have visited, built up great relationships with and want to be partnered with Laboratorio Espresso. This allows us to bring to Glasgow coffees from different continents and farmers and roasted by some of the world’s best coffee roasters. Coffee is seasonal, so we should reflect this in what we sell and work with our roasting partners to bring for our house espresso filter and guest options the best coffee that is out there and make sure that customers can buy coffee beans to use at home.
Tasting new coffees is great, it’s what gets us as baristas excited and something we want to share with our customers and expand their understanding of what great coffee can be.
What tasks have to be done after you serve your last coffee, before the cafe closes?
After we close all coffee equipment has to be thoroughly cleaned from the grinders to coffee machine and milk jugs. We have a closing procedure which lists what tasks to be completed to make sure the espresso bar is ready for the next day allowing for those opening up to focus on making sure the coffee is right.
What advice would you have for someone who is interested in starting a career in speciality coffee?
Our advice is read as many books and articles on coffee as you can, visit many independent coffee shops to taste great coffee, see what they do well but importantly what they aren’t doing well, go to some of the Coffee Festivals - they will return after COVID and make use of the virtual festivals, events and talks that are currently happening. If you are serious about a career in coffee, you’ll meet a lot of like-minded people who are all totally committed to a great industry and willing to help you.
What would you say is the most special part of the Scottish speciality coffee scene?
The most special part of the Scottish coffee scene for me is visiting other independent coffee shops as everyone has different coffee to taste, everyone is at different stages of their independent coffee journey and the offer is quite diverse both in the coffees they have available but their food offer. We are a bit unique in that we do very limited food – we are quite singularly focused on the one thing – making great coffee.
Why did you decide to focus more on the coffee than the food? Was this decision inspired by the style of Italian espresso bars?
From the very start we decided that our focus would be purely coffee - it was what we were passionate about doing well and for the size and style of operation we wanted. We wanted to do one thing well - coffee, we wanted to have a particular size of unit that create a dynamic of people coming and going -a very different kind of vibe and environment from a mainstream coffee shop like Costa or Starbucks and also very different from every other cafe in the city.
We wanted a small, beautifully designed space that did great coffee.
What is your favourite snack to have with a cup of coffee?
Hazelnut cannoli – a little taste of Italy even on a wet Glasgow day
What coffee(s) are you drinking at the moment?
An Ethiopian from the Barn.
What is your favourite method of preparing coffee?
At home the Moka Pot – the original Italian classic – totally reliable, simple, easy to use and affordable to buy for anyone.
You can learn about Laboratorio Espresso on their Instagram page @labespr. Solo Coffee Blog, who I profiled in an earlier interview, has an excellent article on Laboratrio Espresso on their blog.