Coffee Quest

26 May

coffee quest

I have just completed a small but quite satisfying quest, which took me all over Glasgow. A month or two ago I was having coffee with a friend in the Glad Cafe, near where I live on the south side of Glasgow, and I saw some little loyalty cards. Never one to pass up the chance of something free, I picked one up and discovered that it wasn’t for the Glad Cafe itself, but for ten different independent coffee shops, all of which use Dear Green coffee, roasted in Glasgow.

People who succeed in collecting stamps from all ten are entitled to claim a free coffee at any of the cafes on the list, but it would clearly involve a lot of effort. At this point I suppose people either shrug and put the card back, or decide to go for it. I chose to take up the challenge, and my not particularly hazardous quest was born. I discovered some gems, had some less positive experiences, and drank a lot of curdled soya milk. Here are my impressions in order of visit:

Glad Cafe

Where it all started, and a place I’m very familiar with. Situated on Pollokshaws Road, opposite Queens Park, ‘The Glad’ serves decent coffee and great cake, but the service is sometimes slow. It’s a bit of an arts and music venue on the side, and rather “right on”, but not too aggressively. I like it, and often pop in just to get a loaf of the gorgeous Crossmyloof bread to take away. This is actually the most far-flung of all the cafes on the list, from the city centre at least, so it was handy that it’s one of my locals.

Laboratorio Espresso

A wee gem hidden away on West Nile Street, behind Forever 21. It is very Italian in the best way. It reminded me a little of the coffee shop where my Italian niece works, where men drop by in the morning to have their espresso in two gulps before going to work. I had an espresso and it was perfect, not bitter at all. There were little Italian snacklets to buy, just the right size to accompany an espresso, and newspapers lying about to read. My favourite of the new cafes I tried, and the one I now keep recommending to people.

Avenue G

In the west end to do some research at Glasgow University library, and just a little too hungry to wait for lunch, I took the opportunity to tick another coffee shop off my list. I had an americano (I think – I didn’t take notes) and a slice of carrot cake that came with a deliciously boozy chocolate sauce. The place was stuffed but I was pointed to a seat on their tiny balcony. It’s easy to see why it’s so popular. The coffee was good, the cake was good, the service was too, and the place smelt of bacon and chocolate – a wonderful brunch time aroma. I was at the branch on Byres Road, but they also have one on Great Western Road.


It was at this point that I started making an effort to work through the list instead of just relying on happenstance, which could take a lifetime. I arranged with my friend Ann to take a trip to the West End on what turned out to be a horrific day of weather. Papercup is on Great Western Road, not too far from Kelvinbridge underground. It is very far from Gartnavel, where we ended up walking to afterwards, but that’s another story. Papercup wasn’t really worth the effort, I’m afraid. The stripped back look has been taken so far that you would think the place was derelict if there hadn’t been staff at the counter. They had some nice little cakes and colourful macaroons, but the coffee was only ok, and I think this was one of the places where the soya milk curdled, making the coffee taste black when I take it white. I don’t think I’ll be back.


Anyone who has scrolled down will realise that there are 11 coffee shops on this list, not ten, and this relates to the scribbled out entry on the loyalty card. I got it into my head that Riverhill Coffee Bar was directly opposite Central Station, and when I didn’t see it there, assumed it had closed. In fact it’s a block further along Gordon Street, and has been open all the time, but labouring under this misapprehension, and sad that I wouldn’t be able to complete my card, I decided to substitute another independent coffee shop I been meaning to go to.

I have often passed Tapa on the bus and seen its claim to have “the best coffee on Glasgow by a country mile” so one pleasant day I walked down beyond Queens Park to try it out. The claim is a bit exaggerated, but the coffee was good, and there was a wide choice. I had a cafetiere of something interesting and wondered why I had never been before. It’s not that far from where I live.

Riverhill Coffee Bar

Of course, immediately after scoring it off the list, I discovered the real location of Riverhill. In need of a quick coffee, I popped in and discovered that at least one of my friends already knew about it, since he was sitting on one of the few available chairs. (This is a bit of a theme with the independent cafes – not much seating at all.) I had an espresso and a nice crackly biscuit, but nearly got charged for something completely different by the friendly guy on the till. Paying when you order might be safer. The coffee and biscuit were good, but I did feel a little cramped, and certainly couldn’t have done much work on my laptop there. Even so, I’m glad it’s not really closed.

McCune Smith

Off to the east end for the next one, with a friend who lives round the corner from this cafe but had never been. Another horrible day, raining sideways, but it was good to go back to my old stomping ground and see how much the High Street area has been improved. There was some great graffiti art covering the whole sides of buildings, and I would have taken some pictures, but I wanted to get out of the rain.

McCune Smith is a strange place, like a cross between an eighteenth century coffee house and the tenement flat of someone you don’t know very well. A trip to the toilet involved going through an unmarked door and then choosing between a further three unmarked doors. It also charges west end prices in an east end location, which was a surprise, and shows how much the area is going up. The coffee was good (though the soya milk curdled) and there was a good choice on the menu. The staff were extremely helpful, even swiping my Swiipi card for me, repeatedly, when it wouldn’t work.

Dr James McCune Smith, by the way, was the first black man to study medicine at the University of Glasgow, back when it used to be located near High Street, so I learnt something while I was there.

Siempre Bicycle Cafe

The low point of my quest. I’m glad I didn’t make a special trip to this cafe on Dumbarton Road, because it would have added to my annoyance. Instead, I just popped in on my way to a friend’s house, and ordered an espresso – but didn’t drink it. It was that bad. I took two sips, and the second was only to confirm that it really was as bad as all that. All the seating was at long benches, which isn’t great if you’re not feeling sociable, and the place is covered in bikes, bits of bikes, and books about bikes. I don’t like bikes (nasty accident as a child) and I don’t like bad coffee. I won’t be back.

Artisan Roast


The end was in sight now, so I arranged with a west end friend to try out this cool student dive on Gibson Street. (There was cool graffiti on the way once again, and this time I did stop to take a photo.) The ambience was great, with quirky tables and nice little nooks, and cushions made out of coffee sacks. In fact, all the coffee-related stuff made me think I might be in for a treat. I asked for a recommendation, took it, and didn’t baulk at the somewhat elevated price. However, the service was very slow (my friend had to chase hers up and still didn’t get it for a good 15 minutes) and the coffee, when it came, was rather bitter and served in a glass jug. Maybe that fits nicely with the quirkiness, but it’s a terrible way to serve coffee. Cafetiere to cold jug, jug to cold cup, and my coffee was tepid before I even started it, and stone cold long before the end. Cool coffee is not cool, Artisan Roast – not in my book, anyway.

All That Is Coffee

Another dud , I’m afraid. This cafe is in the achingly hip bit of central Glasgow behind Argyle Street, where if you throw a music technician he’ll probably hit a graphic design studio. It is based in a…something. I couldn’t really tell what it was or did, even after bypassing security and wandering round the building in search of the toilet. The building plan was full of cool and ironic non-literal descriptions, so that was no help. My best guess is that it’s some kind of design college, but who knows? It’s that kind of area, even the shops won’t say what they’re selling. If you have to ask, you’re not hip enough.

Normally I would feel very out of place, but in fact I had just bought new, bright blue over-ear headphones so I put them on like armour and listened to OMD – unironically.

As for the coffee, it was OK, but when I asked for a recommendation the woman looked at me as if I was mad and said, “I don’t know how you like your coffee.” Not confidence-inspiring. I had had enough of curdled soya milk, and it was 40p extra anyway (Really ? These days?) so I helped myself from the communal milk jug, examined the design work (Earrings the size of golf balls, made of unworked ores. Why?), listened to my music and got out of there, retreating to the cool-but-not-confusing Parnie Street by way of Mr Ben’s vintage clothing shop.

Veldt Deli

Last one! And a good one. Ann, who should get at least half a free coffee for her efforts, came with me again to Great Western Road, this time the other side of Kelvinbridge, to try out this South African themed cafe. The decor is stripped back but not excessively, and although there was one big bench, there were also a couple of tables. There was South African food on the menu and on the shelves to take home. I had an unpronounceable type of pasty and a lovely coconut and vanilla cake. The coffee was good, the soya only very slightly uncooperative, and the prices were reasonable too.

I don’t know if I’m the only one who has ever finished this coffee quest, but there some confusion at Veldt about the free coffee, whether it was the tenth one or the one after the tenth. The wording on the card seemed to imply the latter so I chose to return to my favourite for another espresso at the Laboratorio. It was very strong, but still good, and there was just room to squeeze in me and my multi-lingual friends for a confusing conversation about comparative grammar. ‘Cause that’s just how I roll.

So if you’re looking for a new coffee shop, here they are in order from best to worst. But don’t take my word for it, pick up a card and go questing yourself.

  1. Laboratorio Espresso
  2. Avenue G
  3. Glad Cafe
  4. Riverhill
  5. Tapa
  6. McCune Smith
  7. Veldt Deli
  8. Papercup
  9. Artisan Roast
  10. All That Is Coffee
  11. Siempre Bicycle Cafe

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