Getting a Good Cup of Coffee in Dubai: RAW Coffee Company

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When you think of Dubai, you may think of Toobuy and many moons ago, when I thought about opening up a speciality coffee shop somewhere in the World, I thought about Dubai. Well, why not – they had big shopping malls, flashy cars, the best paid expatriates with tons of perks, a growing coffee lifestyle market, the highest amount of 5 starts hotels with the highest occupancy rates in the World at that time and even now the tallest building in the World, BUT they didn’t have good coffee.

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Sure, all the major coffee chains from the UK and the US are there but still, not good coffee. So, I thought, let’s break the bean and start something special. In any case, as you know, I chose Cape Town to pursue my dream (I sold Escape Caffe in February this year) but I’m glad to report that someone else beat me to it a few years back, RAW Coffee – at this moment, the only speciality coffee operator in Dubai, focusing on sourcing fair trade and organic coffees and roasted locally in Dubai – located at Warehouse 10, Al Manara, al Quoz – in an industrial complex of the very busy Shaykh Zayed Road.

I like what they’ve done with the place to make it feel more authentic – first of all it’s in a converted warehouse – as you enter on the left, there’s the La Marzocco Strada machine to make espresso based coffee and other gadgets as well as a brew bar with an Uber boiler to help make pour-over coffee.

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On the right they have a “green” living wall and some chairs. Walking through to the back, on the left hand side of the warehouse/shop, there’s a glass enclave featuring not one, but three coffee roasters – so they import and roast all their coffees (When the proprietor, Kim started, she only had one Probat, now she’s expanded to another two, a giant 18kg Coffee Tool roaster and a smaller Dietrich sample roaster).

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I think the main reason for this is that they also supply some restaurants – a list of their customers is on their website. Dotted around on the ground floor to add more authenticity are heaps of green coffee sacks. Right at the back of the shop, there are some stairs to a small sitting and workshop area at the top, overlooking the rest of the shop. You can sit and drink coffee from a very authentic solid wood table or relax on some bean bags. In any case, if there’s more than 4 of you, I would recommended sitting upstairs and chilling out.

Now, to the coffee. Upon entry, I ordered a flat white as I usually do to test out their milk frothing and latte art skills. I noticed that another customer was very impressed with the latte art as he kept looking at it and I silently thought “Erm! I know this is new to you, but eventually you’re going to have to drink it”.

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Lots more people, mainly expatriates, shuffled in briefly to buy bags of coffee. For my second test – I usually order a pour over to test the roasters skill with the bean and have to confess, I thought the coffee a little too darkly roasted for me – it was good with milk but as a pour over, pure black, slightly bitter with no delicate notes picked up. I quizzed the barista present as to how he prepared my coffee and in conclusion the water was too hot (over 92C) and the dimensions (20g with 200ml water) way too high. He apologises profusely and my cousin, accompanying me for his first speciality latte (he is used to chain style coffee) bought two 500g bags of coffee for me to take back to Vienna, so that appeased the barista somewhat.

I would have loved to have met Kim but it was Friday afternoon and I guess her time off.

In any case, to the best of my knowledge, if you want a speciality coffee experience in glitzy and flashy glass skyscrapers Dubai, I recommend you escape into RAW coffee.

Visit them online at www.rawcoffeecompany.com to order coffee and get directions to where they are. They’re open 7 days a week; offer barista courses and sell all types of equipment for the very keen home barista.

 

 

Argh! the Coffee Pirates – A New Coffeeshop in Vienna

It seems Vienna might be following, albeit slowly, the trend highlighted by London, whereby after the hosting of the World Barista Championships (WBC) , an explosion of new age/third wave coffee shops evolve. So, here we are at Coffee Pirates, located at 17 Spitalgasse in the 9th district of Vienna, where University Students aplenty gather together with trendy middle class apartments. There is no shortage of ambition here, with proprietors going for gusto with a Kees van der Westen Spirit Duette espresso machine, third wave gadgets like aeropress and Hario V60s and soon to be installed, a Diedrich IR-2 coffee roasting machine, all under one roof, Wow! Now that’s what I call home.

Newly opened, so somewhat undiscovered yet, Coffee Pirates are open during the week and on Saturdays too (great for me, as they are located nowhere near where I work). They also serve sandwiches, cakes, muffins and snacks, similar to your NY Style/London café.

The interior contrast very widely with the exterior, with beige wood floors and walls and other homely touches to make you feel relaxed, not to mention the very friendly owners

 

– here’s Werner smiling as he makes my cappuccino on his very flash machine.

They’ve also got a chalk board wall by the toilets and of course I had to write something

so, pop by & escape into a coffee hub that stands out in Vienna.

The Best Coffee Shop in Vienna ?

A pretty bold statement to make, especially in a city that prides itself as containing a selection of the best coffee houses in Europe. Steeped in history, especially in coffee history, Vienna, Austria’s capital city has long been synonymous with coffee, BUT times have moved on. I may sound critical, but I must admit that when I first criticised the Viennese coffee culture way back in 2008, I got my letter published – WHY ? Because I felt and still feel that drinking coffee in the 21st Century should be about flavour, service and innovation and the editor of Conde Nast Traveller agreed. Moreover, having lived in Vienna for over 8 years until 2009, I never found any coffee shop, new or old serving properly brewed espresso. When I questioned them, they looked at me like what do you know – we are in Vienna and we know coffee – Well! No! you don’t if you don’t clean your group heads, extract 30ml of coffee in 10 seconds, etc. There were the odd exceptions like the Mocca Club (one of my first posts in 2007), but that shut down and the other was the local La Marzocco distributor (who confessed to me that Austria doesn’t know & appreciate espresso).

So, on hearing that Vienna would be hosting the World Barista Championships (WBC) in June 2012, I was nervous for the city – where would all the coffee tourists go to sample finely crafted espresso drinks and third wave style coffee.

Nevertheless, in late May 2012, I had to visit Vienna again and prior to my visit I contacted the Speciality Association of Europe (SCAE) for where to grab a really good coffee and they only had recommendation, Caffe Couture. Situated in the 9th District off Vienna, not far from the University and the Austrian MINT (where they make money), Caffe Couture, located on 9 Garnisongasse, can easily be missed, as there’s no signage annoucing its location. However, for coffee buffs like me, as I was walking by, I heard the sound of milk being frothed, looked into an auspicioulsy white decored shop and BANG, noticed a La Marzocco Strada (probably the most expensive espresso machine in the World and probably the most advanced) – OK! this must be it. Further along the left-hand side, I noticed more gadgetry, a brew bar, complete with an Uber boiler, Hario V60 station and an aeropress – I’ve arrived in a coffee shop in Vienna that’s taking coffee brewing to the 21st Century, Phew!.

 

Owned by former Austria barista champion and current coffee tasting champion, Georg Branny, Caffe Couture is probably, for me, the best coffee shop in  Vienna. His attention to detail, pure focus on espresso brewing techniques, as well as his quest to offer Cup of Excellence Coffee, brewed on a proper brew station, Georg is so sure of himself and his quality that he doesn’t have  a listed price for coffee – Yes! you read that right – there’s no published price for espresso coffee of any kind, so you can walk in there, order a cappuccino, and walk out without paying, but trust me, as soon as you taste what you have, you’ll turn right around and dig into your pockets – because the coffee you have just sipped is unlike any cup of coffee you’ll taste in Vienna, complete with exquisite latte art – his partner is also a latte art champion.

I was so excited, that I had an espresso macchiato and a V60 Cup of Excellence coffee – Finca La Picona from the Honduras/Nicaraguan border, prepared on the brew bar using the V60, served in a classy Bodum double-walled clear glass cup.

The next day, I took my mum for a cappuccino. With regards to taste profile, the coffee has been carefully selected to highlight cocoa notes when mixed with milk and hints of berries/cocoa when drank as a pure espresso. Georg, a pleasant and unassuming character with a friendly and warm smile, is trying to get the Viennese into the third wave culture of coffee by sourcing Cup of Excellence coffees from his bespoke coffee roaster, with the hope that more and more people will begin to order them, so I wish him luck and I’m very happy that Vienna has a place like this to treasure.

Needless to say, I was very happy to learn that the WBC after party was held at Caffe Couture – where else? and that Caffe Couture have just started coffee classes – now all the good stuff happens, just when I leave….

So, when in Wien (German spelling for Vienna), please, please visit Caffe Couture, if you like your espresso drinks to be prepared well.

 

@ Taylor St Baristas – Canary Wharf

Have you ever….

Been to a coffee shop that has two 3 group espresso machines

Been to a coffee shop that has a 2 group Synesso Cyncra espresso machine just for guest espresso

Been to a coffee shop where the staff interact with one another like they’re one happy family that they make you feel at home

Been to a coffee shop where the loyalty card rewards you for your custom by giving you your fifth cup free

WELL ! I have and lucky me and you could be just as lucky too, so just head down to Taylor St Baristas on the South Colonnade in grand Canary Wharf, London, the seventh branch of the company.

I had never been to a coffee shop owned by Taylor St Baristas (run by 3 siblings originating from a small town in Australia) before and this was one of two firsts, as it was also my first time in Canary Wharf (sorry! but it’s like the Dubai part of London) – all newish, well cut roads, clean with well groomed gentlemen and ladies walking about in a hurry, that is, until they walk into Taylor St Baristas. Ah! yes “finely crafted coffee for serious coffee drinkers”. Although only opened since early December 2011, it’s as if there was a petition by the inhabitants of Canary Wharf to only allow a serious coffee shop within their midst and they got one, making the shop one of the busiest coffee shop in London. Subsequently, the suits and posh skirts of Canary Wharf don’t seem that bothered waiting for a good cup of coffee, with millions of dosh to make back at work – that’s a great achievement because at my caffe in Cape Town, take-out customers tend to be in very much of a hurry, even though we position the espresso machine in a way that they can see that making a good espresso takes time. So, I was pleasantly surprised to see the high flyers of London wait for a great cup of coffee. However, I do have to add, that common to their other busy spots (I went to 3, Canary Wharf, New Street and looked inside 125 Old Broad Street) Taylor St Baristas have scored a point with quick delivery service by (i) using at least 2 three group machines per shop, complimented with top of the range grinders (Mazzer Robur E, Anfim Super Camiano) in the ones I visited and (ii) having a dedicated staff member to take orders from customers whilst they queue, as opposed to waiting for them to get to the till to place their orders and wait even longer. Well! it has to be said, if you do sell more than 500 cups of coffee a day (and I have a sneaky feeling it’s much more than that), it’s great that the waiting time for the good stuff is reduced as much as possible, so thumbs up to Taylor St Baristas.

At Canary Wharf, space is at a minimum, because the shop is geared to serve the best – meaning that space has been allocated for staff to focus on preparing coffee, food and serving csutomers and for displaying a tantalising display of snacks, sandwiches, cakes and pastries. Plus, the inside space has been designed to make the decor more authentic than the surroundings outside with paintings, dark wood, writings on the espresso machine, hanging lights and blackboards and seventies style chairs.

I visited their Canary Wharf branch twice in 3 days and was lucky to have had both my flat whites made by Andrew Tolley (one of the owners).

Is this news ? Well, I thought so, as Andrew Tolley is also one of the UKs Barista Competition judges. Taylor St Baristas have a  bespoke Rogue Blend (roasted by Union Hand Roasted), but also offer coffee from the UKs top roasters, namely Square Mile Coffee and Has Bean. I had one guest espresso (roasted by Has Bean) prepared by Andrew using their Synesso machine at Canary Wharf and had another one roasted by Square Mile at their newly opened 8th coffee shop, about 10 minutes walk away at the Royal Exchange, where I met Laura Tolley (the second of three siblings that own Taylor St Baristas). I also stopped very briefly to meet older brother Nick Tolley at their New Street branch (opposite Liverpool Street Station), where I was tasted a very unusual aromatic filter brewed coffee – can’t remember the name, but I think it was roasted by Has Bean.

I still believe that in order for you to serve the best you need to serve it with heart and that’s why for me, Taylor St Baristas is one of the best coffee shop experiences I’ve ever had. They are really expanding fast, already on their 8th shop and are probably the highest quality “chain” like cafe in the World to by knowledge, with Andrew, the coffeegeek part of the team, visiting if not all, the vast majority of the shops everyday to ensure that quality is never compromised. I wish them the best of luck.

Find out more about them, their shops and their services at http://www.taylor-st.com/

London Coffee Scene 2011: Summary, PART II

 The West End (Covent Garden, Soho, Fitzrovia)

And we start with the place with the best gadget, Yep ! the La Marzocco Strada OR Notes Music & Coffee, located at 31 St Martin’s Lane, Covent Garden, almost opposite Trafalgar Square from the Charing Cross End (Londoners will know where I mean). I’d heard that there was a cafe which had been first off the mark to buy and install the most up to date and probably most expensive espresso machine in the World when reading through my tweeter feeds, so a mental note was made to head down here for coffee. Not being a totally mad gadget man in general, but when it comes to coffee, I’m a victim, so after having being treated to lunch on a sunny day at Jamie Oliver’s Italian Restaurant in Covent Garden by my brother, we headed down the road to Notes Music & Coffee. From the outside, you are tempted by the lovely array of sandwiches and cakes, BUT I knew that I was here for one thing, an espresso on a Strada machine. Doesn’t it look beautiful…

Josh, the barista, was busy and introducing myself briefly, I asked if I could take a picture of this lovely machine….. Warning ! coffee geek inside. So, I snapped away and then obviously asked for a Strada made espresso, which he made, using Square Miles’s Capao, extracted at 93 C – a bit bright for me with such a bean, which I believe is best extracted at a higher temp to highlight the nutty caramel toffee flavours. From one coffee expert to a geek, Josh kindly declined to accept payment. There ! I had had my first LM Strada coffee, yipee !

Flat White & Milk Bar, Soho

Well ! How could I not resist, another almost “must-go destination” for coffee in London, Flat White – where it all began (for me in any case). Needless to say, I had a flat white and I was very pleasantly surprised to see that Cameron, owner and barsita, was still pouring latte art, about 5 years since opening – now ! how’s that for consistency and commitment. A note to the pretenders – the major downfall of start ups, is a lack of consistency and for charming brands, the invisibility of the owner/charismatic face of the biz. Thumbs up to Cameron. Still on that consistency thing, Flat White, still serve take away flatties with a latte heart

And yes, it was still delicious and yes, Flat White are the only cafe that Sqaure Mile Coffee create a blend for.

I actually finished my London tour, hours before my flight back to Cape Town with a visit to Flat White’s sister (why don;t they say brother ?) shop, Milk Bar on Bateman Street in Soho, where I had a fantastic espresso experience. I mean, who takes 5-7 minutes to make you an espresso ? The chief barista (I forgot his name, shame on me) at Milk Bar does, especially if he sees someone come into the cafe, order espresso and then ask him how long he’s doing the pre-infusion for, whilst admiring the Robur E Mazzer Grinder (the daddy of all daddy grinders). The first shot, which he didn’t want me to drink, went right through my tongue like a rocket, with a nutty like taste and the second, kind off filled my mouth, wrapping itself around the edge of my tongue and then coming back in – wow ! No pic, as I was struggling with last minute shopping, but nevertheless, a great culinary experience.

Kaffeine, 66 Great Titchfield Street, Fitzrovia

Last but not least, it was a trip I had been planning even before I packed my suitcases for my trip, a trip to Kaffeine, 66 Great Titchfield Street, London W1, winner of Europe’s best independent coffee shop and more recently, winner of Britain’s best sandwich and coffee shop.

I think I should mention this up front as it’s been on my mind but what is with Aussies and coffee and why are they ruling the London coffee scene ? I can only stand by and admire and wish they would come to Cape Town and help me out with converting the masses to a great brew, but lucky London. OK ! I digress, we are at Kaffeine, my first priority on my last leg in London, which I visited on Saturday morning in the area known in London as Fitzrovia, which means the space in between Regent’s Park and Oxford Street, parallel to Great Portland Street – a quick geography lesson for non-Londoners.

I really loved the simplicity and yet high quality finish of Kaffeine, which incidentally is small and cozy and was quiet when we arrived around 11am, but I was told on a normal day, 570 cups are the norm and on a quiet day, 200+ (Oh London ! should I have opened my cafe in you ?). As you enter Kaffeine, you are tempted by delights like strawberry friands (another great Aussie invention) and yes I was tempted and asked for one to go with my flat white.

I brought an old University friend with me and asked him to try a cappuccino – “wow ! coffee can taste like this, now I know why you are so crazy about coffee Lameen” was his reply after his first sip.

Kaffeine have a Synesso Cyncra, use a Robur E (but of course) and Square Mile Coffee and are led by top barista Cathy, who kindly gave us complimentary coffees, spotting the coffee geek in me. The staff were very attentive and one promised to visit Cape Town very soon – so watch this space if he does, as I might offer him a temp job, before he heads back to London. Go Kaffeine Go and well done on all your achievements. Can’t wait to visit again.

And there you have it….

That’s all I can say and well done London, Londoners for appreciating great coffee and I’m sorry, but I have to say this, Aussies for helping out with the quality, et al.

London Coffee Scene 2011: Summary, PART I

Wow ! Wow ! That’s what I have to say about the London Coffee Scene in 2011. A few years back, whenever I went to London, I headed straight for SOHO, and to be precise, order a flat white at Flat White on Berwick Street, and stop for an espresso at its sister shop, Milk Bar on Bateman Street, also in Soho. If I wanted a little tasty snack to accompany an espresso or a piccolo, I would go to Fernandez and Wells on Beak Street, Soho. In fact, that’s what I did when I last visited London in July 2009 – head to Soho for great coffee. BUT, in the space of just 18 months, the speciality coffee scene in London has literally mushroomed, so that on my visit in April 2011, I had to carve out London just to check out the coffee scene. First up, I wandered into unknown territory for me, East London and more specifically Clerkenwell. I had lived in London for many years but I had never been to this part of London before – OK! I knew this is where Jamie Oliver’s famous Fifteen Restaurant was located, but that was it. Now to the coffee.

Clerkenwell, East of the Centre of London, Hangout for the Legal Types, etc – Get off at Chancery Lane Tube Station

This has to be the new hot spot for coffee with three choices, Prufrock Coffee, Department of Coffee and Social Affairs (the coolest name) and St Ali UK. I headed first for Prufrock Coffee on Leather Lane, 2009 WBC Champ, Gwilym Davies, spot. This is a must for all serious coffee lovers, with a brew bar hosting almost all forms for brewing coffee (hario woodneck, hario siphon, hario V60, aeropress, espresso machines, uber boiler, prototype grinder, a slow brewer and probably more). I had an espresso and a piccolo on my first trip and on my second (yes ! I had to go twice despite the distance) I had probably one of the best espressos of my life, using Square Mile roasted Colombian Pomorroso arabica beans.

I plan to do a separate post on Prufrock, so the above is just a taster.

Almost opposite Prufrock on Leather Lane too, is Department of Coffee and Social Affairs, which only opened in December 2010.

I went around lunchtime as it was rapidly getting packed with office workers looking for something tasty to eat to accompany their great cup of coffee. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that for a cafe that had only been opened for about 4 months, there were streams of people coming in and out of the Department. Hmmm ! perhaps I should have opened up my cafe in London’s East End and not Cape Town, but better weather and better cost of living in Cape Town won the day. With the lovely display of sandwiches on display, I’m not surprised that people were pouring in for lunch to fill their tummies with these tasty delights;

I met with Chris and sensing that I wasn’t just a normal customer, all the way from South Africa and with a hint of coffee knowledge, he gave me a complimentary piccolo and Spanish anise biscuit.

I really loved the space, which reminded me off my own (they even had the same La Marzocco 3 group linear machine I have at escape caffe), but a little more rugged and with little spaces to work. I really liked their Globe bicycle, pic below.

So, finally, St Ali – UK. If you are an international coffee buff, raise your hands – me, me….. okay I’ve got to keep writing this, you’ll have heard of St Ali, who are one of the most famous coffee establishments in Melbourne, Australia. They are like crazy about coffee – a destination in their own right. So, when I heard they were opening a cafe in London, I kinda went berserk, especially as they were going to be open before my trip. They are located at 27 Clerkenwell Road, almost hidden, but as you enter, there’s a coffee roaster in the window and their signage is lit up, so you’ve got no excuse in missing it.

I really loved their decors, which was a bit similar to mine at escape caffe, with exposed brick, but a bit darker and hence cozier than mine. As you enter, there it is, the famous Slayer Espresso machine (see below) greets you – sort of letting you know that although they serve food, they are serious about coffee. If that wasn’t enough, once you pass the Slayer and wander tot he back of the cafe, they have a gigantic coffee roasting machine.

Also at the back and next to the coffee roaster, there’s a green plant wall and an atrium of about three floors (I promise a pic summary of the London coffee scene later). I met with Baptiste (a French barista who worked at their Melbourne establishment, but has been relocated to London) and Tim Styles, formerly of Intelligentsia and more recently Square Mile Coffee and who has been recruited to oversee their coffee roasting operation. I had a flat white with my brother, looked around and on my second visit, bought their Cult of Done espresso blend. From what I’ve been reading, St Ali is becoming extremely popular with the London fashionista, featuring in Vogue, with queues outside on Sundays and their hiring like crazy already as they prepare to operate from 2 floors, offering both coffee and food.

In summary, head down to this part of London for a great cuppa (very English lingo) and as I observed, all cafes had a Mazzer Robur E grinder, which hints that each one is making hundreds of cups of coffee per day, so expect a queue at busy times.

For PART II, I’ll take you to central London, so watch this space.

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