INTRODUCING THE TASTE OF PLACE TRAILS
#4 COFFEE & CAKE TRAIL
Robin McKelvie, Award-winning Travel Writer & Broadcaster experiences the Wild About Argyll Coffee & Cake Taste of Place Trail.
“Welcome to our café and welcome to Argyll,” says Niall McAlister Hall, of Beinn An Tuirc Distillers, with a broad smile. “Our café is new, but we’re very Argyll – we’ve loads of homemade goodies for you, as well as Argyll Roasters Coffee and Tiree Tea. If you like coffee and cake you’ve come to the right place.”
Niall is right. I have come to the right place. The aroma of fresh coffee fills the air and my tastebuds are tingling at the homemade sweet goodies that tempt behind Niall. I’ve also come to the right region too - Argyll. If you appreciate proper coffee (and tea) and see café culture as a route to Nirvana, Argyll’s new Coffee & Cake taste trail is for you; a glorious antidote to the High Street chains. Settle into a comfy chair now with your favourite mug and savour this deeply satisfying trail.
As with all great foodie experiences, at the heart of this new trail is excellent local produce. Argyll Coffee Roasters’ Tighnabruaich roastery is open for tours and a coffee ‘cupping’ experience. Look out for their new Coffee Bar at Hayshed Gallery at Carry Farm – savour their roasts and pick up bags to take home. Across Loch Fyne and Campbell Coffee hand-roast in small batches on a 10kg Golden Roaster in deeply historic Inveraray. Their Duke – a medium dark blend wrapped in blackcurrants, cherries and redcurrant with a dark chocolate finish – is named after the Duke of Argyll, who resides at Inveraray Castle.
By the Atlantic Ocean great things are brewing too at Hinba Coffee Roasters. They conjure up their speciality coffee on the Isle of Seil, one of the seriously scenic Slate Islands. Catch the wee boat over and enjoy their wares, or check out their gorgeous new café in Oban. I like their ‘pure air, pure taste, pure Hebridean’ ethos and passion, embodied in the owners, Fergus McCoss and Vanessa Achilles.
Tea on Tiree
Over on Tiree it’s all about the tea. At Tiree Tea the heart and spirit is Hebridean. They concoct a range of teas and herbal infusions inspired by the big skies, ocean air and aromas around them as they infuse ‘the island in a cup’. Their Machair infusion takes me back to the wildflower-kissed isles of Argyll. Superb teas hail from the Isle of Kerrera too. SEA TEA founder Rowan Glen is a horticulture graduate, knowledge she has combined with her lifelong passion for the island’s abundant local nature. She only uses organic botanics, with a tang of dulce and other healthy seaweeds in the deliciously distinctive teas.
Fuel up on fun days out
Robin McKelvie enjoying Scotland's Adventure Coast
If you prefer your coffee and cakes takeaway you’re in luck and not just because this universally scenic region sports myriad spectacular venues for chill time. But also as there are a swathes of superb options to go. Coast Coffee hail from my mum’s hometown of Dunoon. As well as great coffee down by the water they also serve up ever changing specials, such as their take on the Vietnamese classic Chicken Banh Mi.
The newly refurbished Dunoon Burgh Hall meanwhile tempts with an airy new café. Enjoy fresh coffee, teas, homemade cakes, soup and sandwiches; vegetarian, gluten and dairy free options too. Just around the coast at The Shore Café at Kilmun a warm welcome awaits from owners Susan and Paul, who set up shop here in 2019. How about tucking into Argyll smoked salmon in a Black of Dunoon’s baker's roll, or one of their signature pancakes?
The Cowal Peninsula is a hotbed of activity on the Coffee & Cake Taste Trail. Coming soon is the Glen Caladh tea plantation near Tighnabruaich, the brainchild of the dynamic Islay Roberts and Duncan Henderson. They chose their spot partly due to the acidity of the local soil, which is ideal for growing premium, organic tea. Five West in Tighnabruaich is at the heart of the local community, holding a whole host of events. All their espresso coffees use the FIVE WEST ROAST - a blend of Brazilian Capim Branco, Columbian Finca La Cecilia and Peruvian Las Naranjas Organic beans, expertly conjured up by Argyll Coffee Roasters.
The Blairmore on Cowal is an ideal cycle stop. Far more too with lashings of local produce and homebaking. The impressive team here – the previous, much missed operators at Benmore Botanic Gardens - have refurbished what was the Blairmore Gallery and have done a superb job of it. It’s a glorious waterside spot and offers a tantalising taste of the ‘doon the watter’ days when the paddle steamer Waverley steams in.
The innovative Cakes in a Call Box near Dalmally are very Argyll – just help yourself to their delicious cakes that beckon in one of those old red phone boxes and pay in their honesty box. Their gluten free brownies are so good we diverted both ways on a drive to and from Oban! Northern Lights Cakery is an independent boutique bakery set in a lush Argyll forest overlooking the Isle of Bute. Owner Kate Jackson parachuted in here from Cape Town - I’m glad she did. Locally grown or foraged flowers, as well as fresh fruits through the seasons, light up their foodie produce. How about putting together a box to be sent to friends and family too?
Out on the Argyll isles the Dutch Bakery on Lismore conjures up delicious sweet treats. You can pick them up in a brace of telephone boxes with their honesty boxes. Fresh apricot and hazelnut crumble anyone? You’re spoilt for choice on where to enjoy your takeaway with a sweep of isles and mainland hills vaulting all around. The super cute Wee Box Limited meanwhile in Port Ellen on Islay serves up wraps, toasties and paninis from an upcycled horse box.
Want to sit down somewhere cosy to savour your coffee and cake? Oban’s Food from Argyll Café at the Pier sends your tastebuds sweeping around bountiful Argyll. Enjoy Argyll coffee, meats and homebaking. It’s impossible not to take something away from their shop too. Sink into a leather sofa and enjoy sea views at Oban Chocolate Company as you tuck into the homemade chocolates. They’ve great coffee and make their own marshmallows too. Just inland, Inverawe Fisheries have a top notch tearoom. My girls were delighted when they asked where the delicious salmon and trout were smoked. The waitress smiled and said, “Right here, you can smell the smoke on our lovely walks”. Afterwards we bashed around a wee loch and we could. And then bought some to take home.
Into Kintyre we come to Glenbarr, which has it all with a café, well-stocked store and a garden centre; B&B accommodation too. Tuck into swathes of local produce, homemade goodies and Argyll Coffee Roasters brews. Down at Southend Muneroy is a tearoom that I reckon has the best scones in Kintyre; mean brownies too. Over on Cowal The Blairmore is an ideal cycle stop. Far more too with lashings of local produce and homebaking. Lucy’s Ardfern has recently expanded. You can still sit in at their home in Ardfern and enjoy locally smoked trout sandwiches, but they also now have two units in Kilmartin with their superb homebaking to the fore.
Into the isles on Bute Mount Stuart is one of the grandest places to enjoy coffee and cake in Scotland. I was back this spring and we ate our fresh sandwiches (I had rich, melt in the mouth Bute-smoked salmon) and homebaking as we strolled around the ground taking in the epic main house. Helmi’s in the island capital of Rothesay is a brilliant café with a rich Syrian heritage. Book ahead as their delicate cakes are seriously popular – we just squeezed in on our most recent visit.
Into the Hebrides Islay sports Ardnahoe, a brand new distillery. Enjoy a brew and a cake with sweeping views out across to the Paps of Jura. Just to the north on Colonsay, Colonsay House offers cakes and cookies, plus produce from their organic kitchen garden, not to mention their glorious grounds, some of the finest gardens in the Hebrides. The Colonsay Pantry has a shop and a cafe where not just most of, but all of the cakes and baking, are homemade. Aisling's Kitchen at the Cobbled Cow on the beach-swept Isle of Tiree is another café that takes local produce seriously. How about an Aisling-made sausage roll using Ruaig pork and Tiree eggs?
On to Mull we have an isle brimming with Coffee & Cake trail followers. You’ll find the wares of the Island Bakery all over Argyll, but I love nipping into their shop to delve into their range. Impressively when I was last in they told me they are powered by local renewable energy. Sit inside or out at the Little Bespoke Bakery and enjoy bakes, bites and brews. Their focus is on ‘homemade, wholesome and yummy food’. You can pick from the cake counter and sip a speciality tea. Lochbuie Larder meanwhile tempts at the Old Post Office, offering locally sourced beef, venison, pork, lamb, plus locally grown fruit and vegetables.
Coffee & Cake to Stay
Relaxing with a coffee and cake anywhere on this taste trail is a joy, but how about staying over too? On the mainland I’ve been a huge fan of Loch Melfort Hotel for years. There can be few more spectacular spots in the world for afternoon tea as you gaze out over a rich blanket of isles and hills; the Atlantic sparkling back in welcome. Talking to the proprietor, Calum Ross, with this view in the background, the sound Argyll provenance beams out: “With afternoon tea you’re tasting Argyll with local beef, Isle of Mull cheddar and organic free range eggs. Like so many businesses in this part of the world we always strive to source locally.”
On Coll, a remarkable isle boasting over 20 beaches, Tigh na Mara Guest House offers homemade quiches, cakes and cream scones, whether you are staying or not. Their packed lunches are very handy takeaway, but I’d recommend spending a few nights here to really slip into Coll coffee and cake time. Time spent eating coffee and cake in Argyll is always time well spent.
More local sourcing passion bursts from Julie Oliphant, owner of the Coll Hotel. “We’re known for local lobster and lamb, but we also offer freshly brewed 'bean to cup' speciality coffee or tea, served with our homemade bake of the day. You can takeaway or just relax in our waterfront garden overlooking the ocean.” I’ve done just that, savouring a coffee and slice of cake with the Argyll hills and isles adding a spirit-soaring backdrop. It’s a typically sublime taste trail experience in Argyll, a unique corner of Scotland that is hard to beat for its passionately sourced and warmly crafted coffee and cakes.