I got back not too long ago from a fantastic holiday in Dubai, made better spending time with loved ones and of course with many good cups of coffee. It seems like the specialty coffee bug has really hit Dubai in a massive way. although much smaller than London in size and population, the Dubai coffee scene reminds now of what I discovered in London about 6-7 years back – it was no longer possible to visit London and try out all the good coffee shops in 1 or 2 days because back then the good coffee shops had grown from 1-2 (Flat White on Berwick Street and Fernandez and Wells on Beak Street, all in Soho) to several. Leaving me with the task of visiting pockets of London just to sample good coffee – enter Dubai in the Summer of 2018. Cafes are no longer harbouring in the most popular malls, but more neighbourhood ones and just little spots on the street, especially in Jumeirah (home of the Burj al Arab and the famous wave like Jumeirah Beach Hotel as well as many mansions), where I couldn’t even visit the 4-5 there – after all, there’s so much coffee I can take in 1-2 hours. It’s good for the locals and by that I don’t mean people living in Dubai or Jumeirah but the local Emirati, who are actually the driving force behind this mushrooming of specialty coffee in Dubai, as they own most of them and have now gone into roasting (my next post insha’allah).
%Arabica @ City Centre Mall, Mirdif
So, let’s start with the first contender. Part of the growing in popularity, Arabica Brand and located in a mall, nowhere near the hustle and bustle of Dubai – about 10 minutes drive from the airport and in a very residential part of the city. It was my first stop because for the first part of the holiday we resided with my cousin who lives in Mirdif.
It’s like an Italian style cafe, no place to really sit, you order at the till, just get your coffee, drink it or take it away, but of course their dedication to detail in brewing is top with their slayer espresso machines
Although I think for coffee freaks like me, the idea of Arabica’s extensive coffee menu is impressive, ranging from different types of espresso drinks (hot or cold) with a choice of two type of beans and a long list of coffees going to 90+ (i.e. the top notch coffee can cost almost $20 or more) for filter brew, I think this is a bit avant grade for the typical UAE customer. I witnessed the barista asking a customer what type of beans she wanted with her cold latte and she kept just saying a cold Spanish latte, and witnessing the very customer friendly barista still insisting, I had to interject and say “just give her the house blend “.
For coffee geeks like me, I ordered a Chemex selecting their house filter single origin from Ethiopia.
If you are not in hurry and want something different, then having coffee through the chemex method, which takes about 5-7 minutes, is a good option. Fruity and easy to drink and even if it was hot outside, the air-conditioned mall made you forget about it.
Depresso – the feeling you get when you haven’t had coffee
Hearing about this spot on instagram, where else nowadays, it was first on my list whilst I had access to a car. Not too far from the famous Burj al-Arab, you could easily drive past this coffee spot, especially on a Friday afternoon when its boiling hot outside, but as soon as you enter, with hanging plants, black interior you can smell the coffee (no pun intended).
One thing I noticed about the cafes I visited was the commonality of Synesso or Slayer Espresso machines in all except one. Obviously the Synesso distributor in Dubai is getting well paid. Okay, so I ordered a flat white, akin a bit to a cortado given the size of the cup and from the prep I could tell that the head barista, Neil, was keen on late art;
A short but an enjoyable experience and before I departed I asked Neil for other recommendations and he mentioned Chemex Lab (didn’t visit), Nostalgia (see below). Apparently, Depresso gets busy when the locals are back from holidays in early September and during the cooler months (November to April).
%Arabica, The Dubai Mall – Various Visits
I blogged about this a while back – see here but in short this is where you go for coffee when you are in the largest mall in the World. As I follow three of their more famous baristi on instagram (one of them was a finalist at the 2017 UAE latte art championships) and that’s the one I met on my first visit – Dhan Ghale. We had met before and as soon as I walked in, he recognised me and told his colleagues that I was one of their best customers, although I only pop in a bout 3-4 times a year. As it was after 9pm, I decided to trust Dhan’s recommendation to try one of their 90+ coffee, an Ethiopian Kemgin, using the Chemex method again.
As he prepped I gathered that the beans had been lightly roasted and was brewed at a temperature below 90C – a shop secret but I haven’t divulged the exact temperature. I think it’s been a while since I had a 90+ coffee – at least one made for me. It was nice – what else can I say, smooth and gentle, delicate aromas with bergamot like tea flavours – perhaps my smile tells it all.
We had just been up the tallest building in the World – Burj Khalifa and I needed coffee, so on my second visit, I had their single origin for my daily flat white – this time made by another keen latte artist, Prakash, hailing from Nepal. Initially, he seemed a bit nervous as when I entered some of the staff recognised me from two days earlier and greeted me, but Prakash was true to his art – he took time to brew my coffee and of course to pour it out.
On my third and last visit, which was actually my last Dubai coffee stop over before flying back to Vienna, I had another Chemex Ethiopian single origin coffee – this time made by Charles from Ghana, who was being teased by Jay not to mess up the prep for me – no pressure but he handled it well.
In conclusion , %Arabica was my go to place for coffee during my trip as I went 4 times in 11 days.
Salt by Grind Coffee (Burgers and Coffee), La Mer
One day, we thought we are in Dubai and we haven’t seen the beach, so let’s go early, before mid-day – ouch ! it was a tryst hot and sweaty experience – the humidity was unbearable and only my daughter and I braved it – my wife and son taking refuge in a fully air conditioned Japanese beach restaurant. Nevertheless, on one of my previous visits I had these really tasty burger sliders (mini-burgers) at a place called Salt and as I wanted my family to have the same experience, we trekked there – about 5 minutes in the very hot and humid weather, which seemed like a ghost town compared to when I came during the cooler climes (February). As we entered, the kind staff handed us refrigerated face cloths so that we could wipe ourselves down and cool of all at once. Again, when I came in February there was a long queue, which meant it took us about 30 minutes before we ate, but on this occasion we were one of only two customers. We placed our order and waited for about 5-6 minutes – perhaps you are wondering why I am talking so much about food, which I love too BUT there’s a coffee story too, but of course.
Anyway, I remembered that when I cam last time, I didn’t order coffee but noticed they sold Grind Coffee – a UAE based coffee roaster and had a nice looking La Marzocco Linea (I think the only one I saw in Dubai this time around). So I ordered an espresso.
Easy to drink based on what I think was a medium to light roast and it went down very well after my burgers (yes, I had two sliders, but that’s because that is how they serve it). A bias towards caramel and berries – you see there was a reason we came here – burgers and coffee – my recommendation if you visit the lively La Mer (at least in the cooler months).
In between desert safari, the exhilarating La Perle Show, enjoying our fantastic hotel – Grand Hyatt – beautiful architecture and regular cappuccinos prepared by the breakfast barista and complimentary cheesecake
– yum – I didn’t get to visit any speciality shops until the last couple of days and I went for gusto, visiting two within three hours, either side of lunch.
As recombined by Neil of Depresso, Nostalgia was first on my list after Friday prayers. It is a beautifully designed cafe – almost like a modern French patisserie – look at the display;
I was even beginning to get “nostalgic ” that they won’t be able to make coffee well as many times this much detail to food has resulted in lower than expected coffee prep and taste. After all their logo says “Where art meets chocolate”. So, and I apologise, I went into quizzical mode even though I knew from their Slayer Espresso machine they were sort of committed to coffee.
I walked up to the barista and started asking questions and surprisingly, the waitress behind me started answering them – like “where’s your coffee from and I don’t mean Dubai, I mean the origin” “what brew temperature do you use” – well she didn’t answer the last one but she knew a bit. Their coffee is roasted by a local one, called Grandmother – odd name. In any case I ordered a daily flat white, bought some cakes and bought one of their coffee bags, which are on display almost opposite where the espresso machine is – slightly hidden. A bit pricey – coffee was the equivalent of $6.50 and the delicious looking pistachio lemon slice too. What I was too weak to miss where these cold truffle balls – imagine a cold truffle that when you bite into it, there’s a soft centre – wow! In any case if you love chocolate, cakes, brownies and coffee, then go to Nostalgia – you won’t be disappointed.
Emirati Coffee, Dar Wasl Mall
I had many good coffee experiences but I have saved the best for last. I knew I had to try one more spot and it was between new kids on the block, Alchemy or Emirati Coffee Company – literally on the same road and almost opposite but fate, or should I say God led us to Emirati coffee. Located in a Dar Wasl Mall – a new and very plush mall complete with very expensive looking marble flooring and in all, just beautiful looking shops, which I found out is home to not one but FOUR speciality coffee shops and in a size this small – and I mean small even by European standards, this might be the smallest mall in the World with so many specialty coffee shops.
In any case Emirati, a coffee roaster, who roast at Al Quoz – an industrial estate have a shared space – very innovative – where there are about 4 eateries in one place. so you can order coffee, eat and rink non-coffee drinks in one spot belonging to 4 different brands. Emirate occupy the coffee spot and it gives them the opportunity to share their coffee with visitors to the mall, which will probably be the launch pad for future shops. Upon entering, they have their Slayer Espresso machine (yes another slayer espresso machine) at the far left near the window, flanked by cakes, bites and other bits. Almost opposite the brew bar on the far side, they have shelf for coffee accessories and their coffees for sale. I walked over to the baristi, whom I found out later was the UAE Aeropress champion, just after six months working in coffee – a very modest lady, named Elle and one who could go far.
As I started asking “coffee geek” questions, the head barisiti, Louie Palacio, excited by a coffee enthusiast amongst their midst approached me – after exchanging about coffee (company origin, roasting strategy, history, coffee pricing, customers, etc), we sat down and then it began – it was like Louie said “just sit and let me entertain you with coffee”. One espresso after another (two in total) featuring their single origin and house blend; and then when I thought it was all over – one of the baristi brought another – this time a filter brew, prepared using the Chemex. Louie wanted me to taste their coffees and offer my opinion – the Guatemalan espresso was fruity and the house blend was just right with a balance between chocolate, nuts and a bit of fruit.
By the time the Chemex came I was a bit full of water but the smoothness of the coffee complimented the previous espressos – I offered a taste to my daughter and cousin, so that they could appreciate a different taste of coffee – truly spectacular. Afterwards, Louie came over and I gave him my verdicts on the coffees, which were on the house. I was so excited by the last coffee – an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe (Edido) that I knew that I couldn’t leave the shop without a bag and there’s more of that to come in a later post. As a true coffee enthusiast, Louie recommended one or two of the coffee shops in the mall to try but I was truly caffeinated and didn’t want to spoil my exhilarating taste bud experience and called it a day after 2 espresso, a chemex and a flat white in 3 hours.
I quizzed a few of the baristi during my trip as to why the explosion of specialty coffee in Dubai and especially in the Jumeirah area but there was no clear answer – people fed up with the global chains, people wanting a different experience , people wanting to taste coffee properly – perhaps the neighbourhood feel. when I though about setting ups cafe in Dubai back in 2009, I thought I cannot compete with the coffee chains and I think perhaps I was 8 years ahead. My cousin concluded that by the manner I approach coffee and sound so excited talking about it, I should definitely be working in coffee, but let’s see – don’t give up on the dream.
Whatever the case, it is definitely an exciting time to be drinking coffee in Dubai – a global city for drinking coffee like an escapist – my original logo line.