Drinking Coffee in Dubai

Following on from the tradition in Dubai, where they prefer to buy the best and the biggest, you will be glad to know that when it comes to coffee machines, they have not compromised and have bought the best – La Marzocco. Yes ! probably the best commercial coffee machine in the World. It’s like the top salesman at La Marzocco went to Dubai on holiday and has retired there, with all the machines he or she sold. In the biggest mall outside north America, the Mall of the Emirates, almost all the coffee shops and there are many, have a La Marzocco machine. The only downside, as with many of the good stuff, is that the machine is not being used properly to produce good espresso. In testing the baristas, I may have been a bit unfair, as I only really ordered espressos – the main way to test how good a barista is. I also feel comfortable only drinking espressos or non-milk coffee drinks in the afternoon – after all I was on holiday with the family, and by the time we got out bed, had a lavish breakfast, it was of course after-noon. In any case, most of the cafes tend to follow the American style layout and offerings- dark wooden interior with dim lights, cheesecakes, muffins, etc with the usual offerings of espresso, cappuccino, lattes and smoothies. With so many Starbucks and Costa Cafes there too (largest UK coffee chain), people seem to choose a cafe that they are used to.

There are some that try and differentiate themselves with the decor, like Art Cafe on the second floor of the mall, which interestingly has a pop-art decor with palm like cup seats in bright orange. You also have Barista (dangerous name for a cafe, if it doesn’t serve coffee like a true barista), with some coffee history written on the wall. Actually Barista is India’s second largest coffee chain, but they have recently been bought by the Italian coffee maker, Lavazza – smart move ! Barista also boasted that all their coffees were roasted in Italy and their lattes weren’t bad – I didn’t try their espresso as I had a free voucher for a latte – hmmmm !  There’s also a Dubai coffee chain called Second Cup, which also sell coffee beans to take home, but I wasn’t convinced by the way they were stored, nor by their freshness and so I didn’t enquire. In the mall, they also have Paul – the famous French pattisserie, opening stores in London and getting big in Dubai too. So if you fancy a nice croissant or pain aux raisin with coffee, then head over there too – it’s quite popular because I think people love the cakes. Another French style outfit, Le Pain Quotidien (also on Marylebone High Street, London) serve hearty soup, salads, sandwiches and cakes and of course coffee. However, there was one coffee shop I really wanted to try in the Mall of the Emirates, the Emporio Armani Caffe – designer coffee from Italy. The ambience was dark, more like a night club scene, but the coffee was not as good as the clothes. I think there’s a gap for a really good quality coffee shop offering coffee made with real attention. Anyone want to move to Dubai and set up a coffee shop ?

Outside of the malls, the only place I managed to try for coffee was Dome Cafe (an Australian outfit) and for me, the coffee here was the best, perhaps the strong coffee culture from Australia managed to transport itself to this cafe. Dome Cafe is situated in tourist magnet, Souk Madinat Jumeirah, where there’s lots of restaurants and souvenir style shops to keep you occupied. I’ve heard that there are many other places, like in the Bastakiya district of old Dubai, but with 40C heat outside and no car, I decided to leave that adventure for another trip when I visit again God willing.


Drinking Coffee in London @ Flat White

Flat White Rosetta 

For me, no trip to London, should exclude a coffee stop at Flat White, 17 Berwick Street, Soho, London. On my third trip, I got a bit excited, snapping pictures for my website from the outside, inside, etc Flat White Shopfrontand even went as far as ordering a flat white coffee drink (similar to a caffe latte) and an espresso – I’ve never ordered two types of coffees before at a shop in one go and even the guys behind the bar looked at me strangely, but I thought, “I can’t come here and not order a flat white, and I can’t come here and not order an espresso from the pros” – so I did. I also managed to get a sit in their small, newly refurbished, but very full of ambience coffee shop. I lounged in the corner and snapped away at the beautiful rosetta latte art in my cup at different intervals as I drank it. I think people were looking at me thinking “he is either mad, hasn’t seen a cup of coffee before, or he is a journalist”, but it didn’t matter, I was comfortable and the wonderful staff at Flat White made me feel at home. I had the flat white coffee drink first (wonderful), then a glass of water to refresh my taste buds and then finished off with a sweetish espresso – their coffee comes from Monmouth Coffee. Flat White were recently voted “Independent Coffee shop of the Year for 2007” by ProjectCafe 6, now open everyday and have a website, so check them on www.flat-white.co.uk, where you can listen to music too. Definitely worth a visit.

I’m Drinking – Indian Malabar Monsooned

Wow ! I take my hat off to the guys at HR Higgins (79 Duke Street London), i.e I’m impressed. I was sceptical about trying Indian coffee beans for espresso, but I’m sure pleased that I gave in and bought a 250g bag from HR Higgins during my last trip to London – should have bought 2 bags.

Indian Malabar Monsooned 

Quintessentially coffee is one way I describe this wonderful aromatic and crema rich coffee, ideal for espresso. It has the main characteristics of how most people will describe coffee: a lovely aroma – even people that don’t like coffee, love the smell and if you want people to lounge in your cafe, the smell of this bean brewing will do the trick; it has a wonderful dark reddish colour – beautiful for pictures – I took some and will share with you sometime God willing ! it has a sweetish taste that can make you sell espresso to those who think it is just a bitter dark drink; it has wonderful thick crema, the sort that sits on top of your lip like thick double cream. I also carried out some other tests; the sugar test – even with thick brown sugar crystals (I only buy brown demerara sugar) it still took at least 7 seconds before the sugar dropped below the crema cloud to the bottom of the cup.

 Sugar sinking espresso

For example, I put sugar on top of my freshly brewed espresso, got my camera out and still got to take a picture with the sugar just beginning to drop. 

Sugar Gone Espresso 

I also passed it through the after taste test, whereby, even with my regular cappuccino fix in the morning, I was still able to feel the glossy after taste in my mouth for at least an hour after consumption. However, there are some other things you may wish to know about this experience – it is dark roasted by HR Higgins, which naturally contributes to the colour and aroma – this means that for me HR Higgins have roasted the bean right, however, another roaster might roast it a bit lighter or darker, taking away from the experience I had. Also, although when made as an espresso, it is sweetish – hard core espresso and coffee lovers might point to its lack of body (i.e, it doesn’t hit you like perhaps a Kenyan coffee might). I liked it so much as an espresso and for a cappuccino that I didn’t want to sacrifice it for another brewing method, so I can’t tell you how it would taste when brewed for the filter or French Press methods. They always say, if you have fresh roasted coffee, consume it within 2 weeks, but with this bean, it didn’t last a week in my house and that’s just with me drinking it – no ! I’m not selfish, it’s just that my wife doesn’t drink coffee, but she loved the smell of this bean.

Drinking Coffee in London @ Providores

Capuccino @ Providores 

Of course, I can’t go to London and not visit some good cafes. First on my list this time was a restaurant/tapas bar called Providores & Tapa Room, 109 Marylebone High Street in Central London and owned by New Zealanders. It was recommended to me by the editor of Olive Food Magazine (my favourite British food magazine). I was naturally excited as there was somewhere else to try apart from my favourites. After a bit of window shopping down on fashionable Marylebone High Street, I arrived at my destination, only to find a queue coming out. At first I was a bit upset, thinking, I’ve flown 100s miles to get here and I only have about 2 hours to visit coffee shops and I have to queue – then I thought, “hang on a minute” this means I’m onto something good here, as I’ve only seen queues coming out one coffee shop before; Flat White on Berwick Street, London. So I waited patiently and as the waitress came out checking for numbers, I was almost pleased to say, “just for one and I only want coffee” – well it got me in straight away. The Tapa Room (downstairs of the main restaurant) is quite squashed, with a massive communal table with high chairs bang right in the middle of the shop, supported by small French style cafe chairs and tables round the side. I saw that they were using a commercial Gaggia coffee machine. I ordered my cappuccino as it was still before 12pm and it came with some latte art, a slightly skewed rosetta. I took pictures of my coffee and the shop, which I will share with you when I figure out how to upload them onto my blog, took in the ambience, smelt my coffee and drank it all in almost 2 gulps. Ahhhh ! What a lovely cup of coffee – it went down smoothly – the frothed milk was silky smooth and the coffee just blended into my stomach – I did not feel like I’d just drank something heavy, which shows the quality of the coffee preparation. I hear that they sell their organic coffee beans, which apprarently comes from Monmouth Coffee shop.  

Buying Coffee in London – Part 2

After a wonderful flat white and espresso at Flat White coffee shop, London (more on that to follow on another post), I made my way to Monmouth Coffee shop, but on my way there, I stumbled across another coffee specialist store, Algerian Coffee Stores on 52 Old Compton Street, in the heart of Soho. They too feature in Hattie Ellis’s book. However, Algerian Coffee Stores have been in the business for 120 years and offer a choice of over 80 coffees – Wow ! that sounds impressive.  You can buy coffee, coffee equipment, a selection of over 120 teas and even drink coffee there too in their smallish but quaint shop. From what I saw, they tend to favour a full roast, i.e. dark to very dark, where you can see the oils on top of the coffee bean. As I was in a rush – had to meet the wife for some shopping – I quickly asked for a recommendation for espresso and bought their Cafe Torino blend of very dark Colombian and full roast Ethiopian. On my return to Vienna, I tried this first out of the 5 bags of coffee from other stores. I think it’s the first time since using my flashy espresso machine that my espresso has been bitter – almost with a tobacco flavour – the espresso is dark but the coffee works better with me for milk based drinks to hide a bit of the bitterness. I also had a bit of a problem with getting the grind right, moving the dial to a finer grind away from my normal setting for espresso, which meant some beans had to be sacrificed to get the right grind for an espresso pour.  I’m sure there’s an expert out there that can explain this unusual (for me) phenomenon. However, I am optimisitc of trying coffee from them again, especially with their history. I also found out from their website that they have 19 blends and what I bought was not the best type for espresso. You can also order coffee and other stuff from Algerian Coffee Stores through their internet shop (www.algcoffee.co.uk)  and I am tempted to try them once more. I suggest that if you have time, you should try them out. 

Buying Coffee in London – Part 1

Just back from an exciting short trip to London, where I found two new places to buy coffee from. Thanks in part to breezing through the back of Hattie Ellis’ book on coffee, “Coffee – Discovering, Exploring, Enjoying“, I made a dash for HR Higgins (Coffee Man) on 79 Duke Street, by the posh end of Oxford Street, near the world famous Selfridges Store. Prior to visiting, I had e-mailed them, to ask about the freshness of their coffee, which they confirmed was roasted fresh by themselves and delivered twice a week to their shop. Their shop looks very traditional, but they do have one of those priced stickers on their coffee bags, which highlights that Her Majesty the Queen of England has given them her blessings, so I’m guessing that they know what they are talking about, having been in the business since 1942. Well ! it was refreshing to speak “bean talk” (a new term from moi on asking about what beans are good for different types of coffee brewing) with the two very helpful shop assistants, trying to catch them out on how well they knew their beans from their beanos (an old English comic). I often find that when you visit some coffee shops, staff don’t know what they are selling, which can be a bit frustrating to people like me wanting to broaden our coffee horizons. So, its refreshing when you meet people who know and can advise you on what to try, and as I am a variety type of man when it comes to food and coffee, I rarely try the same stuff –  Monmouth’s Organic Espresso Blend and Origins of Cape Town’s Organic Sidamo are the exceptions. After a bit of a tug of war, I settled for Indian Malabar, as I have been a bit reluctant to try an Indian arabica. I also wanted something with Costa Rica in it, so I got a Santiago Blend, which is made up of beans from Costa Rica Tarrazu and Colombia Supremo. I’ll let you know what it tastes like God willing !  

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