A New Coffee Shop in Dubai Mall: Hoof

Welcome

It seems like things just seem to get better with specialty coffee in Dubai. Back in 2020, during the height of the pandemic, people were asking me why I was moving to Dubai. Now, if I had said I was moving for the coffee, they would have laughed… but fast forward to 2022 and this could have been quite a credible decision.

I recall a few years ago I had a sort of “best coffee in a mall” award, which started with Caffe Del Doge in Cairo in 2008 (yes, 14 years ago) and which was subsequently won by cafes in Dubai, firstly with Common Ground, Mall of the Emirates. In fact my last post was a great contender, with not just a coffee shop but a roastery too. So, here we are with another contender, a coffee shop located in the largest shopping mall in the World, Dubai Mall.

Recently opened in Dubai Mall is Hoof, located in the very fancy Fashion Avenue on the top floor of Dubai Mall. A digression – Fashion Avenue is the part of Dubai Mall that has all the high end fashion designers like Dior, Gucci, Rolex, Prada, Cartier and Hermes just in case you want some guide posts.

Back to the coffee – I heard about Hoof whilst scanning through instagram during my trip to Marrakech and although I knew it was opening I didn’t even know it was live. So the very next day, after I arrived back in Dubai, I went to try it out and shamelessly I have to confess, I went thrice in 10 days. After all it is just around the corner from where I live.

As you enter, it is like an escape as the decor reminds me of a cave with what even looks like cave material – whatever that means – but it means stone. You can tell by the aesthetics that a lot of thought was given into designing this space, with the selection of the wood for the furniture, the arrangement of the place and the ambience. Their espresso machine is a Black Eagle and they usually play jazz.

They have a very minimalist look with a menu to go with it too. A small selection of breakfast items, served all day, together with desserts, puddings (very British ) and of course coffee, hailing from Sharjah’s premier roaster, Archers – known for sourcing fine coffees. For filter you can select a coffee scoring at 88-89 (very good) or 90+ (excellent) with a price variation of $8 to $16. On my first visit, I tried their 88+ coffees (Rwanda I think)

Beautifully served with attention to detail

On my second trip, I went for breakfast with a friend and I had their shakshouka, (eggs cooked in a tomato stew) which I rarely order, as my wife loves me making this for her almost every Saturday but this was just right – not too watery, and delicately flavoured.

I started this with their cortado. Usually when I go out in the morning, I have my coffee first but at home it is always after my meal.

The rabbit latteart

On my last visit, my wife and I went for dessert and I had the coconut pudding and she the chocolate fondant, which I see was very popular. Naturally, I finished it off with some filter coffee.

Hoof is a real “cove” of a place, where you can drink coffee like an ESCAPIST, so when you are visiting Dubai Mall and want to escape from the hustle and bustle of the shoppers, head over to the Fashion Avenue third level and visit Hoof and I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

Before I sign off, we asked why the name Hoof, and we were told that the owner loves horses and hence the “hoof” of the horse. I hope his horses appreciate this gesture.

I was at Bacha Coffee, Marrakech

The drink of the escapist

I often refer to coffee as the DRINK OF THE ESCAPIST because it’s a drink that you can drink almost anywhere in the World BUT more so, it inspires you for adventure, where you visit a new city and want to learn about their coffee history to. So, here I was in Marrakech, just last week and after painstakingly looking for specialty coffee, I found this recommendation in the Timeout guide to 16 things to do in Marrakech.

La Mamounia – a beautiful hotel

As a coffee snob (what my family call me), I was a bit sceptical – after all Morocco café culture ironically literally orbits around Moroccan mint green tea. Yes, there are many places calling themselves cafes, but don’t expect to be served wonderful coffee that delights your taste buds – trust me, just order tea. Nevertheless, there was one exception, BACHA Coffee, situated in the the spectacular Dar el Bacha Palace, which means “house of the Pasha”. A place steeped in coffee history, built in 1910, where dignitaries such as Winston Churchill and Frank Roosevelt (past leaders of the UK and America for history agnostics) and even the famous Charlie Chaplin used to meet to drink…. Coffee and discuss ideas – the drink of the escapist and idealists.

In any case, after the second world war it was closed and only reopened in 2019 after years of restoration. It has now reclaimed its place as a stalwart of Marrakech attractions. To enter the palace, you have to pay 10 Moroccan dirham (I hear complaints) but this is only $1.

The entrance to the palace

As you make your way through the palace, feel free to take pictures like I did, you will eventually get to the café, situated in the left-hand corner. Prior to entering, you will notice a coffee room, with walls lined with 40+ selection of coffee from around the world comprising of single origins, blends and new coffee growing countries (I.e., Rwanda) for you to buy as well as other luxury items.

Choose one

A word of advice, go into the reception of the coffee shop and reserve a table first as there will be a waiting list if you go in the kid-afternoon. After which, wander around the palace. I didn’t do that and was told I may have to wait for about 30-40 minutes (I don’t remember ever queuing for coffee in any city before). Luckily, I didn’t have to wait too long as I met a fellow coffee geek, Abigail (world traveler) who offered to share her table with me. She then entrusted me to order coffee as she could detect my coffee geekiness.

You’ll also be spoilt for choice inside with a full menu, delectable cakes and over 40 coffees to choose from in a classic French colonial setting BUT don’t expect any caffe lattes or cappuccinos here, as all coffees are pour over, served in a very generous decanter – enough for 3 cups at least. I ordered lemon cake and coffees from Yemen and Rwanda.

Pouring coffee

I find that you can never go wrong with coffee from Rwanda – it was fruity, with medium acidity, whilst the Yemeni coffee got better as it cooled down with hints of berries and chocolate.

The interior

After relaxing for about 1-2 hours, I went to the coffee shop to buy the Yemeni coffee, because it is quite rare. I miscalculated or misheard the shop attendant and when he presented the bill of US$85 for 250g, I was a bit shocked, but proceeded in any case. I added unbleached V60 filter bags, as it will supposedly give me a cleaner unadulterated taste.

Would I go back ? Yes of course, probably for a meal and of course more coffee when I visit Marrakech again.

Highly recommended for coffee enthusiasts and novices alike, who want to drink coffee like an escapist in a Palace like setting.

Visit their website to learn more and if you can’t make it to Marrakech, you can visit their other shops in Paris and Singapore or order online.

Coterra: A Hidden Dubai Coffee Spot

Always out for a scent (pun intended) of coffee adventure, I asked my fellow coffee geek, Naveed, for this favourite new coffee spots in Dubai and I was presented with two options, and I chose Coterra, located in Umm Ramool, near the airport and closet to me as I had run out of espresso coffee and needed coffee quick – and no, I’m not an addict – I just like or should I say, love coffee. I was even surprised that a coffee shop existed in this part of the bustling city that Dubai is and to be honest, had to check google maps twice to make sure I wasn’t headed in the wrong direction – confession … on my way there, I took the wrong turning.

So, upon arriving you are greeted with this Muriel of colours – in fact it reminds me of something you might find in another part of the World, like in South America. Okay, let’s go in.

Upon entering, it was like a hidden gem indeed. I was greeted with a brew bar to my right accompanied with a complimentary cup of Arabic coffee by, I presume the cafe manager and to my left I spotted not one but two Giesen coffee roasters covered in their brand colours of green of course – I hasten to add, Giesen is a fave with serious coffee roasters.

As I walked further into the cafe to take some pictures, I also noted what looked like a sensory lab… decked with a coffee tasting chart – the wheel of fortune for all coffee sensory nerds.

Already looking impressed, I noticed a gentleman walking up to me and I did this thing that my wife always rolls her eyes – yes, having travelled extensively in Africa, I try and spot accents as a way to connect with people and I instantly picked up head barista, Mickey’s, as being from Kenya. After exchanging greetings (Karibu is welcome in Swahili) adding that I had been to Kenya several times and to the famous Coffee Research Institite in Ruiru, just outside Nairobi, Mickey had this look that if I could read minds, could be summed up as “oh, this guy knows and loves coffee” , so he presented me with a few options for tasting their coffee over my two hour stay.

First up, was a Costa Rican coffee for my daily cortado. I must confess, I was highly skeptical as my previous memories of Costa Rican coffee is that they tend to be on the higher acidity side, not bad for filter but as an espresso, I didn’t really want to drink something that might remind me of orange juice and milk – the two just don’t mix, literally.

Looks good doesn’t it? My skepticism disappeared after the first sip, as my tongue was washed with subtle fruit with hints of caramel and berries, but not over bearing. Of course, I then quizzed Mickey about how he had brewed my coffee, to which he explained the process adopted using their Dalla Corte “zero barista” espresso machine. So, here’s a short diversion for the coffee geeks.

In summary, the espresso machine is built with a Digital Flow Regulation (DFR) using an exclusive and patented technology that allows you to digitally control the quantity of water whilst you extract an espresso – this is important because this is where aromas and flavours are developed. By being able to regulate the flow, you can vary acidity, sweetness and body according to the requests of your customers, leading them toward a new concept of tasting. For just one type of coffee variety, more tastings are possible, different from one another. (courtesy Dalla Corte)

So, what does that mean ? In short Mickey was able to manipulate the coffee and reduce the acidity whilst brewing my coffee, WOW! I love learning new stuff about coffee.

Before I left, I had an espresso on the house and an exquisite Colombian coffee, brewed on the Hario V60.

I was also lucky enough to meet with the pleasant owner, Mohamed, who gave me his card and explained the name behind the brand – CO for coffee and TERRA(latin for land), so “coffee land”. He also mentioned that his partner is from Nepal.

I left with two bags of coffee roasted for espresso, one, their Space Blend and the other, can you believe it? Costa Rican, roasted for espresso.

In short, if you are on the way to the airport and want a quick good tasting coffee before you fly, then make this your last stop. Otherwise, it isn’t that far from downtown Dubai – say 10 minutes drive. As of now I’m still enjoying their coffees.

Coterra are located at 18 9th street, Umm Ramool, Dubai – use google maps

Drinking Coffee with Champions: Mariam Erin

Mariam Erin and I

A few weeks back I decided to re-visit my favourite coffee spots in Dubai and Espresso Lab was of course on the list. This time however, I went to TEL.Roastery (i.e. their roastery) and when I got there, who greeted me with a smile, Mariam Erin – the current UAE Cup Brewers Cup Champion – she won the award for making the best filter coffee – I was lucky enough to watch her compete earlier in the year. So, imagine my delight when I entered and saw her and even more so, when she offered to make me coffee – how could I say no to that.

The champ in action

On the brew was a special – it’s always special at Espresso Lab – coffee from Panama – a Geisha of course. Her recipe was 16g using 240ml of water with a brewing time of approximately 2 minutes.

The smell was unbelievably fruity with citrus high notes, which made my eyes and tongue water and so was the taste.

Then she offered to make me a cortado – again I could’t resist using an Ethiopian Hambela bean. Again another fab experience.

I have to say that only is Mariam great at making coffee, but she makes it with ease in a cool and collected manner. I recall that when I watched her on her way to be crowned champion, she spoke very clearly and articulated her passion, drawing you into the experience of the coffee she selected whilst brewing the coffee. I have to add too that she’s a great artist – check her on instagram.

All in all, I could say was, Thank God, as how often do you walk into a cafe and a champion offers to make you not one but two cups of coffee – well it happened again, but to read about that, wait for the next post.

Dubai Coffee: Welcome Barn Berlin

Imagine my surprise when I heard a few weeks back that the famous Barn Berlin, Best Independent Coffee Shop in Europe 2018″ AND “Best Specialty Coffee Roaster in Europe & Middle East 2019″were opening their first international outlet not in another major city in Europe, but all the way in the Middle East, in Dubai. I was on the one hand a bit surprised but I was thinking ….. perhaps when Ralf visited Dubai he was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the coffee culture in Dubai and thought “hey! I need to share my coffee philosophy in this city. 🤔”

I never got the time to ask him why but I was honoured that upon their opening in mid October, Ralf was there not just to welcome me and my friends but also to make one of their special coffees on the V60 – lucky me.

Hario V60

Set in a very European setting I have to say, Barn Berlin Dubai is located in Kazzan Park, opposite the glitzy City Walk. Yes, across the road there are lights representing the essence of Dubai but there’s a calming ambience in the park that hosts Barn Berlin Dubai.

The shop itself is quite small – again typical of a quintessence European coffee shop and as you enter on the right you are greeted with the Brew Bar, which houses a La Marzocco 2 group linea espresso machine and a set of Hario V60s at the ready

Let the brewing begin

As you look to your left there’s an open view bakery kitchen, where recipes from Barn Berlin and Ralf’s family bake on site German style pastries and cakes. So what you might miss from the roastery has definitely been made up with a live German bakery kitchen…..

On display across the cafe are bags of coffee “roasted in Berlin” and you have a pick from filter, espresso and highly prized filter based coffee – yes, think Hacidenda Esmeralda from the famed Panamanian coffee estate and Anaberoic fermented Yemeni coffee – yes they may cost a bit more than your average coffee but trust me Dubai’s coffee hunters buy them as soon as they arrive from Berlin.

I’ve already been twice since they opened – first to be served coffee by Ralf and second with my wife, who loved the tea (yes, she doesn’t usually take coffee, but she liked the German style carrot cake).

Almond and chocolate oder carrot cake?

As the weather gets cooler by Dubai standards (25C is great trust me), it’s a great place to have coffee in the park – there’s a lot more seating in the park and outside the shop than inside. You can sip great roasted coffee, eat German recipe treats and look at the tallest building in the World – now how’s that for the DRINK OF THE ESCAPIST.

For more info see https://thebarn.de/pages/the-barn-dubai

I was @ OR Coffee Roastery, Brussels

This is like part two of my previous post, when I visited Brussels to attend the ICO SDG Coffee Symposium. Prior to visiting for the day, I obviously checked out the speciality coffee scene in Brussels and although few came up, the one called OR Roastery stood out. In any case from what I could deduce from the map, there was one centrally located but I wasn’t sure if it would be near the symposium. As I had not been to Brussels in like ages (my memory puts me visiting there around 1987 and that was a long time ago) I was looking forward to visiting again, albeit for a day.

Although there was coffee during the coffee break, my fussy palate was not satisfied with what was on offer. Having arrived late and after spending my lunch break networking with the coffee aristocrats, I decided that during the next coffee break, I would wander not too far to look for OR Coffee and wow! It was like God wanted me to visit, because would you believe it, right outside the Sofitel Hotel where the afternoon sessions were taking place, was the OR Coffee shop I was looking for – located on the corner of Place Jourdan and Rue de Cornet.

As I walked in, it had that air of Anglo-Saxon and by that I mean you could be in London,  New York or perhaps Australia, with green tiles, wood and exposed brick and copper pipes overhead – a relaxed atmosphere, with displays of their coffees, gadgets, etc. to the right hand side – see pic at the top. It was quietish but not empty. In fact it was a bit too relaxed for me as I was eager not to miss any of the sessions and waiting about 10 minutes for my coffee, made me a bit impatient even though I was second in the queue but I didn’t know that people sitting down were still waiting for their coffee. In short, don’t come here rushing for coffee, at least not at 3pm in the afternoon, but I’m sure that they can handle crowds during rush hour. In any case, it gave me the opportunity to walk around to stretch my legs and soak up the atmosphere, browsing their menu, which reminded me more of a London cafe especially when I saw their cakes, cheesecake, red velvet, etc – oh! how I wished I had come here for lunch instead. Walking over to their coffees, I was pleasantly surprised , after having just mentioned to someone that I haven’t seen Tanzanian coffee for years, to see a Tanzanian espresso blend, which I grabbed very quickly with a smile.

 

Eventually I got my coffee, brewed on a  La Marzocco GB5, served by amiable staff a flat white, with two shots, using their house blend – just what I needed.

 

I did some more research on OR Roastery, which you can view here

In short, they are the first specialty coffee power house of Belgium – they roast, they teach you how to roast, set up a coffee business, provide coffee to your office, have a few locations and more.

Upon my return home I was happy to have purchase their Tanzanian Espresso Blend.

The bag says rhubarb and high acidity, but for me it was the aftertaste even with milk, coating the outside of your tongue with a berry like acidity – delicious and something I haven’t had in a while – tempting for me to order for delivery to Vienna in the not so distant future.

So, in summary, if you visit Brussels, try and visit OR coffee along with the other speciality coffee shops you may find on your list.

 

 

 

I was @ Colonna and Smalls: One of the Best Cafes in the UK

I know that my title sounds a bit daring, committing myself to using labels like “best….” but life is too short and when you have these wonderful experiences God throws at you, don’t restrict yourself to holding back and waiting for some other moment that may never come. So, after my philosophical rant, what do I mean ? I don’t think I’ve been this excited about visiting a cafe since Prufrock – see here. A bit of background – as holiday planner in charge; I was asked to find a nice English city to visit with other family members this past summer and initially we thought about Cornwall and what sprung to my mind was cornish pasties (if you’re not English, these are like a specialty short crust pastry pies filled with meat or veggies) and scones with clotted cream ( a cream typical of only this part of England), but whilst I had no aversion to these classical English cuisine gems, I thought if we’re are going to a place for three days, where will I get a great cup of coffee from. After some searching together with some cute boutique hotels, I wasn’t impressed – sorry Cornwall. So, I thought where else would I love to go, Bath – we’ve always wanted to go there, so why not now and suddenly like a flash I recalled that one of the cafes that I’ve always wanted to go in the UK, but never got the chance, was located there – Colonna & Smalls. Sold to the coffee lover!

Before visiting, what did I know about Colonna and Smalls ? Owned by Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood, two times UK barista champion, I had many times about his contribution to the UK coffee science, having read about him many times, mentioned by the coffee celebrities many times over. when my brother visited many months ago, he asked me “where should I go for coffee” and I only had one answer; “Colonna and Smalls”. Before visiting I sent Maxwell a tweet and he replied very quickly mentioning that he was looking forward to me visiting.

We got into Bath on a late Sunday afternoon and I found out that their shop was already closed. I found another cafe, ordered my flat white, which was nice and asked them where else they would recommend – there was only one answer and they were like”that’s another type of level” even though I knew that on Monday my first visit would be Colonna & Smalls. And so it was.

As you enter, it’s like you’ve waiting many years to enter this emporium – a homage to coffee. I’m not going to go into details about the decor, but just the experience; I had to ask this at the back of my mind “do people in Bath know how lucky they are to have this cafe in their city?”. As you walk to the back of the shop, there are books authored by Maxwell, his UK barista championship trophies and other trophies awarded to his staff, who are also well decorated (see their website for more, UK latte art champion, etc).


As you walk towards the brightly lit back of the shop, where all the action is located – there’s this oozing calm and air of professionalism, rarely found in other cafes – they are not here just to sell coffee but to make sure you have a great experience too.

Now the techie part.

First I noticed that all their coffee beans were pre-weighed in little metal looking bowls


Then I noticed that there was no “typical” espresso grinder in place. What’s going on?

The Mahl Konig EK43 – something I have only really seen at cafes when they grind for filter coffee.

I must confess, it was until I got back to Vienna and delved into the story of the EK43 in James Hoffmann book about his blog,  did I know about the issue concerning using the EK43 for grinding for espresso. It was really talked up and propagated a few years back by espresso/coffee guru Ben Kaminsky and even Prufrock were very excited about it, read here

In summary the debate says that using the EK43 (not built for grinding for espresso but ideally for spices and perhaps for filter coffee) not only minimises waste because you grind per cup but also that it grinds very evenly with little differentiation in grind size – this means that you can even lower the amount of coffee you use – they use about 16.5g as opposed to the industry average of 18-20g (I usually ask) which should result in a better tasting espresso. After all, most coffee aficionado fell in love with coffee through the espresso. In any case, there’s a few top cafes who were converted to do this avant garde way of grinding and hence brewing coffee and of course Maxwell is one of them.

Second, it was great to actually meet Maxwell himself. Usually when you visit emporiums of coffee, the owner or main driver is always not around, tending to some other business or on holiday – the one exception was Cameron of Flat White many moons ago. He was very welcoming and we talked about coffee (of course), their philosophy – they usually offer about three coffees per brew type; filter and espresso, where you can be guided by taste profiles. They try and source the best coffee that fits their preferences, so for example, surprise surprise for me, they roast for capsules – yes, you read that right. You can buy nespresso capsules roasted by one of the finest coffee roasters in the UK – I bought a box of 10 for my brother who has a nespresso machine. As they roast their own coffee in a town outside Bath, they can easily experiment with taste profiles for many styles – visit their “other” website for more about their coffee, see here. If you visit there are quite a lot of their coffees on sale and feel free to ask them for guidance. They even have a booklet on explaining their coffees and brewing methods.

and the coffee….

I opted for a flat white with a fruity profile – well balanced even with the milk, reminded me of hints of toffee like my coffee had evaporated milk added. On my second visit I went for a more “nutty” profile. I was really intrigued by their unique way of making Americanos but sadly I wasn’t able to make it – I thought it best to avoid the wrath of my mum and wife as my plan was to make colonna and smalls my last stop before catching the train back to London, but alas for next time God willing.

One more techie thing – the mod bar. I actually missed this new innovative way of brewing espresso because on my first visit I was so excited to meet with Maxwell, I didn’t go behind the bar to check what type of espresso brewing equipment they were using. On the second visit, as I had more time, I relaxed and had time to chat to the baristi and then I was introduced to the mod bar – short for modular brewing system.


In summary and borrowing from their website, it’s

espresso system consists of one espresso tap and one espresso module

Each Espresso Module controls one tap. Retailers have an opportunity to dial each Espresso Module to fit a different coffee. And they have options galore in how they fit the Modules to their retail set-up.

From what I saw, it looks fabulous – it’s like the next level of brewing espresso, where you can change the profiles using a button or touch screen per group head – state of the art – even though I am aware that the Slayer Espresso machine can do this provided that you are a very talented barista. At Colonna all the baristi have some kind of award so the skills are there but the fact that the mod bar group asked them to test it means something too.

As I left, I fell like a boy being dragged out of a toy shop, but I was after all in Bath to see other things and spend precious time with my family.

One more thing. It was really impressive to watch the barista prepare aeropress. He poured the freshly ground coffee into the aeropress capsule, poured a little bit of water, shook it around vigorously but carefully and as he did it, it bloomed and doubled in height, after which he poured more water, covered it and waited for it to complete the brewing process. I wished I filmed it so you can see what I meant, but it was really impressive.

Highly recommended – If you are looking for a beautiful city to visit in England and enjoy exceptional coffee and more, check them out at

Colonna & Smalls

6 Chapel Row, Bath,  UK.

My next post will be on drinking coffee in Bath – a beautiful city with tons of coffee culture.

Drinking Coffee in Leicester, England


I assume by now you know how to pronounce the word “Leicester”  as LESTER, because if you watch English football, the team that won the premiership, against all odds in what I call the year of the “underdogs” came from this city, which also happens to be the city from where I studied economics at undergraduate level, many moons ago at the University of Leicester. Assumptions aside, on our annual visit to London this summer, I decided to take my family to the city where I attended my first stage of university studies for a day out. As a coffee lover, prior to boarding the train from the gloriously renovated St Pancras train station; it was obvious that I had to research the best places to drink specialty coffee in Leicester, but of course.

 

As we toured my old university, with some of the buildings looking and feeling exactly the same, like the lecture halls and one of the catering halls, I was baffled that the old student union building was completely different, with glass exterior walls and wait for it, a Starbucks. You will be glad to know that I didn’t’ fall into temptation and succumb to satisfy my caffeine pangs for a cup of coffee from Starbucks, but decided to wait for our trip into the old city. I must confess, the pizza I had at the new, well to me at least, student union cafeteria, was one of the best I’ve had, taste and value wise. I had to fight off my wife and kids, who had boringly settled for burgers.

 

In addition, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the library, where I often used to hang out 


(notice, I didn’t say study all the time, but hang out), had been revamped and was opened by none other than Her Royal Highness, the Queen of England.

 

St Martin’s Coffee Roasters – St. Martins Square, 2-6 Saint Martins Walk, Leicester LE1 5DG, UK

 

After visiting the Leicester City Football Club – my son insisted – we headed into town. First stop was St. Martins Coffee, which I’m sure must be the most specialty coffee venue in the city, complete with two floors. As you enter from one side, you are greeted with a La Marzocco Linea and lots of coffee roasted on-site to choose from (more on that below). 


They’ve also got delicious looking English style cakes and other drinks on display for non-coffee drinkers, like specialty teas (well their full name is St Martin’s Tea & Coffee Merchants) and soft drinks. The downstairs is decked with your usual comfy leather sofas, steel and wooden chairs together with some cosy spots on the other side of the stairs too. 


As it was a very sunny and warm day – the summer in England was tops this year – it was about 25C; there was also an abundant of chairs, European style, outside.
Heading upstairs, there are more sitting spaces, but the main focus is the roastery, with lots of sacks stuffed presumably with green beans, waiting to be roasted. 


I met the head roaster (I’ve forgotten his name… sorry!), who just graduated from Leeds University but decided to head back home to Leicester – a very young and impressionable chap – he wasn’t even born when I used to live here and visit this space – which was my favourite Italian restaurant in the city (Joe Rigatoni). He shared with me their philosophy to introduce his city to “real” coffee, not compromising on quality and his expansion plans – in fact they are beginning to grow out of their space and plans are to move the roaster to another space to roast more so that they can accommodate an ever increasing number of customers from the food industry too – great!

To test their milk frothing skills, I ordered a cortado – something I don’t usually do in the middle of the afternoon when its 25C outside, but on this occasion, it had to be done. It went quite well with my lemon drizzle cake. Impressed with their offerings, I took two bags of coffee to test at home on my return to Vienna.

 

I found out later on their website that St. Martins are like the go-to-people for coffee in Leicester – by this I mean, they do everything from barista training to selling and leasing espresso machines. If you want to set up a coffee shop in Leicester or in the midlands, they are your guys. They can even develop a blend for your coffee shop if you want and assist with branding and packaging – wow! They are a small family business committed to serious coffee and if you want to find out more, check their website here http://www.stmartinscoffee.co.uk/

So, I’m going to commit myself and say this is probably the best place to get specialty coffee in Leicester with their focus on sourcing and roasting the best beans they can and just being a cool place to hang out too – it’s quite well located in terms of its location, but as it’s just off the main market, you might need google maps or a well-placed local to guide you.

Gourmet Coffee Bar and Kitchen, Leicester Railway Station

So, after my coffee exploits, we had to make a dash to catch our train. Arriving earlier than usual, I decided to test this little coffee spot with another La Marzocco Linea espresso machine, which I had noticed upon our arrival a few hours earlier. Placed right in front of the station exit and as my wife got distracted buying football magazines for our son, I made a dash for it and ordered an espresso to go. 


Not bad, slightly bright but I’m not sure if the paper cup had anything to do with it, but recommended for your way in or out from Leicester nevertheless.

 

So, there you have it, two coffee spots to check out in this smallish city (population of 330,000 based on 2011 census) – If you don’t know why the English call a place a city, then let me inform you thus – in England any place is automatically called a city if it has a cathedral in it – like a big church with an archbishop, no matter what the population or surface area is. For my postgraduate, I went to an even smaller place, Exeter (population of 124,000) but was baffled when it was referred to as a city and that’s when I learnt that it’s the cathedral that makes a city a city.

So, enough of cities for now, if you are feeling adventurous and want to pop out of London for a day trip – it’s only about an hour by train – then check this city out for some medieval landmarks, shopping that’s cheaper than London, Indian food and of course a good cup of coffee.

Coffee: The rule is, there is no rule


I know that sounds like a paradox and I’m sure some of my followers are like “what is he talking about” For many years, Lameen, that’s my real name – has been saying adhere to the golden rules – measurement, temperature and volume, to name a few. BUT, the main reason I’m writing this, is that occasionally I’ve strutted into a place to dictate how my coffee should be made, and on more than one occasion this year, I’ve been pleasantly stunned by coffee served to me without the rules I hold dear.

Don’t teach an old dog new tricks with Espresso

That’s the pic at the top of the blog. So, after not having espresso for about 5 days, I strutted into the airport lounge and spotting an espresso machine, asked for one naturally. As soon as the barista started making the espresso, I said “la!” i.e. no in Arabic and asked if I could make it. So, I clean the very filthy group head, flush it and ask for the coffee. To my horror, it’s pre-ground espresso, stored in a drawer and although there’s air condition inside, it’s like 40C outside. For a coffee geek like me, my mind is “oh no the moisture, the crazy unstable temperature will affect the coffee, which has already been pre-ground and for how long has it been pre-ground”. Resigned, I’m like, okay, here’s how to tamp. I attempt to tamp with wait for it,  the bottom of the glass, because the tamper is not large enough to cover the porta filter “aargh!” – this means that although some of the coffee will be pressed, the coffee on the border will not. OK!, so I now attempt to make an espresso – flush the group head and place my porta filter inside the group head and brew – what a disaster – the coffee is all over the place and the coffee resembles…. I’d rather pass.

The barista and his colleagues detecting deep disappointment on my face, then resorts to pull an espresso for me – I watch him and the only thing he does differently, which makes me feel happy, is that he cleans and flushes the grouphead before he pulls the shot and guess what – it looked a lot better than my attempt. So, how did he break the rules;

  • he used pre-ground espresso, as opposed to grinding on the spot
  • he didn’t measure the coffee, as opposed to using about 18-22 g for a double
  • he didn’t really tamp, as opposed to the rule of 30 pounds of pressure
  • the espresso machine was really hot – I’d guess close to 100C, as opposed to about 93-94.5 C

And that’s what I could see. So how did it taste. Not bad and above my expectations given the rule breakers. So, to conclude, the rules were broken but a decent shot ensured.

 

Never buy pre-ground coffee

Okay, on this occasion, the coffee was bought for me. Whenever my colleagues travel and buy coffee, they bring it back for me to brew and serve them, which I try and do every Friday when I’m not busy – a rare scenario of late. If ever they ask me “whole beans or ground” I always answer, “whole beans”. On this occasion, a colleague brought me this bag from Kenya, apologising for having not brought back beans. I casually looked at the bag, Java House , Kenyan AA arabica, which looked well presented and was even more taken aback by the tasting notes of grapefruit, blackcurrant and lively. Again, sceptical I brewed it using my french press recipe of 60g to one litre of 95C water. Wow! guess what? There was a bloom on top of the coffee (a sign of fairly fresh coffee) and more importantly of all, I tasted a grapefruit acidity with a hint of blackcurrant. 


Okay, so that rule was broken.

 

Espresso is always brewed at 9 bar pressure for about 22-25 seconds

So, just this week, after Ramadan, I headed to my fave cafe in Vienna, Balthasar to check out their new espresso machine a Slayer Espresso machine. Otto, the owner, had been telling me for months that it was coming and he was so excited. In fact when I met him on Wednesday, I should have interviewed him as he relayed to me for about 4 minutes what the slayer could do. The gist was that you can brew at different bar pressures and for as long as you want, so I ordered a fruity espresso. In short to get a fruity espresso, it is brewed at 3, then 9 and then 3 bars of pressure over about a minute !!! what ? Usually, espresso is brewed at 9 bars of pressure for about 22-25 seconds with about 18-22 grammes of freshly ground coffee yielding about 25-30ml of espresso.

 So, what has changed ? The whole game with this type of espresso machine – the rule is, there is no rule, because you can now brew espresso how you like, like a recipe ordered to your preference “fruity, nutty, low acidity, high acidity….?” carry on.


 A really fruity cup with over medium acidity.

 

Just one more thing

Well! I’ve got to redeem myself somehow – we can’t just give up on the rules, ion not there’ll be anarchy.

So, as a prelude to my first experience, way back in January this year. I ordered a cappuccino at a top hotel in Zimbabwe (Meikles) because I spotted a La Marzocco GB5 machine, BUT. Watching the barista, I saw he used pre-ground espresso coffee, didn’t flush the group head, didn’t clean the group head, didn’t tamp with any real pressure, didn’t measure the coffee systematically, frothed a foam mountain and didn’t appreciate the kind of machine he was using. So, I stepped in and he was so willing to learn but on this occasion I didn’t touch the machine – I just guided him from across the counter. In the end, I got a good cup, with thick crema and although no latte art was present, it was along the lines.

 

To top it off, the barista was excited by what he had just learned, he was going to access youtube to learn more skills and watch latte art being poured. Yay! a job well done.

So, yes sometimes the rules can be broken and you may succeed but in general, adhere to and know the rules before you tamper (sic) with them.

 

Fashion & Coffee in London

   
 If you follow me regularly on Instagram, then you’ll know that I’m also into fashion. In fact I’ve even toyed with the idea of setting up a purely dedicated blog on fashion but time does not permit. Nevertheless, although I know far more about coffee than I do about fashion, the first career path I wanted to choose after being a pilot, was a men’s fashion designer. I digress a bit, but when I visit London, I find it to be if not the best, then one of the best cities to combine my passions for coffee and fashion.

Before and after treading up and down, checking out the latest fashion and sartorial stuff on offer, I’m always looking for coffee. So, if you visit the epicentre of fashion shopping in London, Oxford Street, during the Retail Sale season there’s plenty of coffee spots. My favourites are:

Workshop Coffee Fitzrovia, located in St Christopher’s Place – located parallel to Oxford Street and near Bond Street Tube Station on the Central and Jubilee Lines. I’ve written about Workshop before but, in essence they are one of the premier London-based coffee roasters with a few locations dotted around London. On offer is great coffee (espresso, filter), teas, hospitality and small bites.

  
Origins at Selfridges – Voted the best store in the World, I’m pleased to report that Selfridges now have a great coffee roaster, originally from the South West End of England, who roast and prepare coffee the artisan way.

  

 They’ve got all the gadgets

  

  And a special blend for both espresso and filter on offer. So, when shopping in the best store in the World, you can also grab a great cup of coffee – life’s good.

Still in the Oxford Street area, walk down or take the tube to Oxford Circus, and head to Carnaby Street to check out the Department of Coffee and Social Affairs spot in Lowndes Place. Delectable cakes, sandwiches, filter coffee and well-pulled espresso shots await the Soho shopper. There’s lots of space downstairs, so you can bring the kids too.

  
At the end of Carnaby Street, by Boots the chemist, turn right onto Kingly Street to be greeted by Soho Grind. Complimentary wi-fi is on offer in a dimly lit, but cosy looking funky coffee spot with seating downstairs too.

  
If it’s raining, then there’s only spot to go to in Central London, Westfield Shopping Centre, located at Shepherds Bush Central Line tube station. There’s tons of the famous shopping brands and in the section called the Village, all the premier brands await you too from Louis Vuitton, Boss, Hacket and Mui Mui. In other parts, there’s  Zara, Top Shop, Apple, as well as a multiplex cinema and huge food court, but where’s the coffee ? Head to the ground floor for Sacred, located next to Apostrophe, also with a La Marzocco Linea. Sacred are stocked with female baristas, who pull a chocolate based espresso shot, which goes well with milk.

   
 So, that’s it from me for 2015, here’s to a more pleasant and fulfilling 2016 with more coffee discoveries on the horizon.

  

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