Crathes Castle Courtyard Cafe

For someone who just over two years ago knew virtually nothing about Aberdeen, it is still surprising to hear visitors to the city call the area a lovely hiking destination. Indeed, as discussed in some previous posts, there are a few nice walks to be done within Aberdeen itself; but the rural Aberdeenshire can offer some respite from the urban hustle and bustle – and that only a short drive away from the city.

It was one Sunday afternoon when I decided to finally get to know my surroundings and go for a spin when I ended up in Crathes and its castle; it was a short visit as there was not much to see (if, like me, you’re not big on museums), but at least I learnt there was a number of walks that you could do around the estate; and because I do enjoy a walk, I returned a week later, all suited and booted.

Off a map near the ticket office I picked a medium-length trail through the forest, which was truly enjoyable and passed all too quickly – and yet, it was long enough for me to develop some appetite, so before heading off for my second walk I decided to refuel at the Castle’s Courtyard Cafe.

Mocha at Courtyard Cafe
Mocha at Courtyard Cafe

As you would expect from a Trust-funded lunch place (or maybe that’s just my own recollection of similar public venues, like the coffee shop at Edinburgh Castle), the cafe resembled a school canteen: an open space diner with wooden tables and chairs (and a few sofas here and there), a drinks and sandwiches fridge and a long counter on which one would slide their tray, picking up a cake here, a scone there, before reaching the till to ask for the coffee and pay their dues. Although not a big fan of scones, I decided it was proper to crown the day’s exercise with a traditional British treat, so I topped it off with clotted cream and jam; coffee-wise I went for a mocha, of course, pleased to see it on the rather extensive drinks menu.

However, once I received my drink I realised this mocha was not made in a way I had encountered anywhere else – other than when making one at home. The flat surface, thin consistency and lack of milk froth all looked like a bad omen – but, surprisingly, the coffee itself tasted OK… probably because I did feel like having a cup of hot cocoa.

Turn a clock back a bit to when I had stood in the queue for the till and watched a family order a round of hot chocolates – that is when I realised the cafe had a whole urn of pre made cocoa on stand-by (probably smoothing out the process during busy family events and weekends); and although I was occupied looking for change at the time my mocha was prepared, the speed at which it arrived, the look of it (with darker circle in the middle where a shot of espresso would have been poured in) and the unmistakeable hot cocoa taste seemingly confirmed it.

To be honest, there was nothing particularly wrong with the drink; but I still struggle scoring it highly, as little actual skill went into making it – and the price would definitely suggest the opposite. On the other hand, the cafe is a much needed refuge from hunger and rain at any point during a touristy visit to the estate (since north-east weather can be so unpredictable), and one would expect some of the profits from the sales to go towards restoration and maintenance of this beautiful area.

Following that short stopover, I did continue my exploration of the surrounding forest, and there’s still a few trails for me to discover. Rest assured, I will certainly be back – and, regardless of how I believe a proper mocha should be made, I will probably end up having another one of those when I visit next time.

Mocha: £2.95

Verdict justification: Nice tasting coffee, but with little finesse. Fit-for-purpose during a walking visit to the Crathes Estate.

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