Every Starbucks in Edinburgh (A Celestial Cartography)

I should start by apologizing to my friend and frequent traveling partner, Steve Coffed.  I used to give him grief every time he suggested going into a Starbucks, anywhere in the world.  The coffee, I said, is inconsistent from city to city – and nothing to write home about even at its best.  The atmosphere can be sterile, the clientele often a mix of high schoolers, bluetoothing businessmen, and the unfriendly type of medical student.  But shortly after I came to Edinburgh (a city awash in espresso, with enough comfy unpretentious top-notch java joints to give anyone a caffeine headache), something changed: basically, my parents sent me Starbucks gift cards.

What can we send our poor starving postgrad son? they thought, Our son drinking pint after pint of Tennent’s Lager, because it’s only £2.50?  Money?  No, that would send the wrong message, he’ll think he can come home and move right back in … So they settled on Starbucks gift cards, and I settled back into a comfortable middle class lifestyle – at least, that’s what it feels like every time I pass beneath that fish-woman’s spreading tails to wait for a cup with my name on it, or whatever variation of a loosely A-sounding name these Scots come up with, from “Owen” to “Hadrian’s Wall.”  I started to take my Starbucks breaks further afield from the university, trying to see if the world’s biggest and best-known coffee chain could produce any significant change in atmosphere.  A project began to take shape: I would visit and review each Starbucks from New Town to Newington, and share my findings with the world.  [Nota: I’m not the first with this obsession.  See the folks at Every Single Seattle Starbucks.]  I found out that the Starbucks locations scattered across Edinburgh do vary, if sometimes subtly, in atmosphere and clientele – even while some franchises in Edinburgh are within a Frisbee-toss of one another- and even more interesting, my Starbucks survey soon turned into a new way of mapping this strange and diverse city: A Celestial Cartography of Corporate Coffee.  Even if I can offer nothing more than tips on hidden views, rush hours to avoid, and, of course, musings on jams and jellies, I hope something in what follows is of some small value.

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Yer Average Punter’s Gustatorial Guide to One Day in London

If you’re familiar with things like power checking, tax loopholes, and the way a Maserati feels in fourth gear, then you don’t need this guide – you can afford your bad taste.  If you’re a philistine with a tin ear, a corduroy tongue, seasonal allergies, and a general indifference to those moments – a cloud passing long enough to turn a green leaf golden, a certain shiver when all the elements of a night, a flavor, a temperature, a wavelength, Blood Alcohol Content, add to something greater than the sum of those parts – when life becomes, somehow, art, then neither will you have any use for this.  But if ye’r an average punter like me: read on.

Like any cultural capital, London offers an embarrassment of delights for any epicure possessed of a little pocket change and a fluency in bus and subway routes.  So much is this the case with London that one couldn’t squeeze all juice out of this city given a whole lifetime and a busload of Magic Bullets.  There are near-infinite combinations of sights and tastes to take in even in 24 hours, but I’ve decided to put together – actually based on four days of “research” in the city – a sketch of one day balancing an average punter’s pocketbook, comfort, and gastronomical enjoyment in the city.
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Edinburgh’s Beans: A Quick Guide to Coffee Shops in the Uni District

Edinburgh boasts an embarrassment of riches for lovers of single malts and coffee beans alike – the city is crowded with pubs and coffee shops, two or three to a block.  If you’re moving to Edinburgh for the long term, ignore this article: it’s better to stumble and discover these places for yourself.  But if you’re here for a few days and you’ve already made your pilgrimage to the Elephant House, I might be able to help.  These are some of my favorite caffeinated haunts, starting within easy walking distance of the University.  (Expect posts on other neighborhoods, like Marchmont, The Royal Mile, and Newington, to come.)

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