The braes ascend like lofty wa's,
The foaming stream deep-roaring fa's,
O'erhung wi' fragrant spreading shaws-
The birks of Aberfeldy.
There’s a lot to like about Aberfeldy. In 1787 our national poet, Rabbie Burns, was so smitten with the gorge and waterfall that sit above the town that he decided to write about them. The Birks Of Aberfeldy - so called due to the preponderance of birch trees in the area, “birks” being the Scots word for birch trees - went on to become one of his most popular poems, and helped to put Aberfeldy on the map.
The beautiful harshness of the 2+ mile walk around the gorge attracts plenty of enthusiastic visitors, and at least one feckless lunatic who thought taking his brother’s dog for a short walk in January as the sun set would be a good idea.
Located in Highland Perthshire 30 miles north-west of Perth, Aberfeldy has charm, and plenty of it. Winding streets, independent shops, a distillery (Dewar’s, since you ask) and a restored Art Deco movie theatre (be still my heart). Right at the centre of all this, on the main square opposite the cinema, sits Habitat Cafe, opened in 2012.
Spread across two shop fronts, it immediately stands out as a focal point for the town. On a random winter Sunday it was lively with customers, and a steady stream ebbed and flowed throughout my time there. For a town of Aberfeldy’s size, and outwith tourist season, this is impressive and encouraging.
The atmosphere inside is distinctly laid back and welcoming, all cosy nooks and crannies, rough-hewn wooden furniture and an approachable, unpretentious air. The decor has a farmhouse-kitchen-in-Country-Living feel, with solid wooden furniture and neutral colours on the walls.
Coffee is supplied by Has Bean, with a house espresso blend named Scalliwags & Rogues as well as rotating single origins which can be prepared a number of ways. From Chemex to Aeropress to V60, the options are myriad but I chose a more unusual method: the Hario Woodneck Drip Pot. Utilising a cloth filter, this brew method results in a clean and balanced cup but with more body than would typically be produced when using a paper filter.
But which coffee to try it out with? Fortuitously Habitat had, alongside a Nicaragua and a Colombia, a Costa Rica El Portrero Geisha that seemed particularly compelling. And so it proved: it was all balance, with jasmine and dark chocolate notes, a rich and silky body and a pleasingly bright finish.
To follow I tried a flat white made with the Scalliwags & Rogues blend. This was also delicious, buttery smooth and caramel sweet with just a hint of toasted almond.
In non-coffee news, there’s a substantial food menu and a tasty selection of baked goods. Tea, if that’s your thing, is also prominent - Habitat won the UK Tea Accolade at the 2016 Beverage Standards Association Awards and offer an extensive selection of the alternate brew.
The staff of Habitat puts the same level of care into each of the drinks they make, and it shows. Enthusiastic and dedicated to their craft, they also make a point of engaging interested customers in conversation about all things coffee.
Quite aside from the delicious and skillfully prepared drinks, it’s the hospitality of Habitat’s staff and the relaxed nature of the cafe itself that makes Aberfeldy a worthy detour, or better yet the focal point of your journey. And definitely check out those birks while you’re there - just try to set off before it gets dark.