First up, I’m grateful to my almost 100 subscribers to my blog and that’s why I’d like to invite you to participate in helping me choose my coffee brand.
So, I’ve been think a while about my coffee brand. Trust me it’s taking me several hours and I’ve been back and forth with the tried and tested and the newish.
Looking through how I think about coffee and communicate about coffee, three words come to me LOVE, PASSION, ESCAPE.
FOR LOVE, ❤️ this usually starts with infatuation, where you want to know more and justify your infatuation and whether it resides in LOVE. For coffee, this was the start of my journey. I wanted to know why my taste buds where experiencing this delight.
FOR PASSION, 🧡 this was the next phase as the organ of the word relates to suffering. It was the point of no compromise in getting the best coffee possible. First with buying the best gadgets and then with only visiting certain cafes and if you were pulled into a commercial chain to drink coffee, yes, I would prefer water rather than compromise and let my taste buds suffer.
For ESCAPE, ✈️ it was the drink of the escapist, as the drinker escapes from reality into the surreal of new taste experiences, evident on their tongues. THIS is why my first coffee shop 12 years ago, was called ESCAPE CAFFE. To escape with your taste buds required flight and I love wings but also pay homage to the Italians – hence CAFFE (coffee in Italian) and not CAFE (French) and also an espresso cup.
So how much do you love your #coffee dream? 🤔 Here’s a quick 🎥 #video, where I share my thoughts and daily routine when I had a cafe 11 years ago in Cape Town, South Africa.
In summary, when you have a dream, go for it as you might learn a few things about your life and aspirations and even lose weight – well I stood up for about 5-6 hours a day serving customers and chatting too. Plus, and I hesitate to add, I’m not a biologist BUT I think the excitement of running your cafe or chasing your dream might have a positive impact on your physical, mental and spiritual health too.
Before I go and perhaps I’m getting a bit philosophical here, I sincerely believe that when you chase your dreams, not forgetting the stress of getting customers, the enjoyment will out last the pain points. In fact 4 years after I sold my cafe I was still on a high of chasing my dreams. I’m not sure why BUT perhaps a study needs to be done. As I quest for another coffee dream, this euphoria feeling I must say is addictive but in a good way.
Yes, you read that right and before you get the geography books, Riyadh is the capital city of Saudi Arabia (aka KSA). About a year ago, I started a job there as a Director of a Think Tank, which I did for 9 months – now why wouldn’t you take a job entitled Director of Think and where you are asked to think about how to change the world leveraging AI and robotics to solve healthcare and environmental problems – well, I did. If you want to know more, check my LinkedIn profile here for all the other serious stuff I talk about.
Before I delve into coffee, you’d be amazed to learn that KSA has got fantastic scenery, with the famous “edge of the world” a few hours outside Riyadh, a must go see. Here I am at another location.
As this is about coffee and love, you’d be amazed to know that the coffee scene is thriving in the heart of Arabia – after all, the Arabs named the best coffee variety “arabica” after themselves. Reportedly, the Saudi population spent an estimated US$300m in cafes alone in the first half of 2021 – now, that’s a lot of coffee – US$1.6m per day in a city of over 8m people – you could have lots of fun with these facts. Before I move on, I should add that Saudi Arabia have their own coffee culture too. After all, the first officially recognised coffee shop in the World was in Mecca. Now, here’s a summary of what I saw for myself based on what I should say “third wave” coffee;
there’s a coffee shop almost on every corner or shop cluster
people queue for coffee shops even at 10pm at night
people go to cafes to drink coffee even at midnight and beyond
the La Marzocco distributor must be happy as these machines are in the majority of coffee shops
there are many speciality coffee shops, serving hard to get Yemeni coffee
Saudi’s love Ethiopian coffee, importing three times more than the UAE (industry insight)
Even one of the local chains pays a great attention to detail in preparation
Yes, cold coffees are very popular, after all in the summer, 45C is normal for weeks
I visited one of the largest coffee shops in the World
So, here’s a quick summary of my coffee shop experience – drink on….
I’m starting with probably my favourite. You may easily get distracted by the impressive muriel but the coffee on offer is also quite impressive. First up, you can order their normal selection of coffees, which range from espresso based, cold brew and filter too, BUT upon close inspection at the till, you will be ecstatic to learn that they offer Cup of Excellence (CoE) coffees too. Yes, CoE are highly rated by world experts and naturally these coffees cost a lot more but if you want to treat yourself, you can pick up a really special coffee for about $65 for a 250g bag of coffee.
I, on the other hand, opted a for a special Yemeni coffee for about $24 for a 250g. Also on offer is food but the main reason that Brew 92 is one of my faves is the quality of coffee on offer and their attention to selecting coffees and preparation.
Another one of my faves, recommended by my former colleague, as it’s his fave is Camel Step. They have a few locations but I only went to one – it was after dinner and I really wanted my after dinner coffee, so I opted for a V60 Ethiopian. To continue the experience at home, I bought a bag of coffee for my travels and to take back with me. Wow! I really enjoyed brewing this coffee at my hotel room every night during Ramadhan and upon my return to Dubai, where I shared it with my friend, Naveed. In short, the coffee was roasted in a way that really showed their attention to detail in their selection process and their roasting profile.
A bit difficult to pronounce but before I arrived in Riyadh, this was top of my list as a friend of mine had visited and said I had to go there. It was a bit far from my hotel but worth the wait and I’m grateful for my friend who took us there at night. As I entered, I couldn’t believe the size of the place, not to mention the number of La Marzocco espresso machines they had, including the latest, LEVA – see below.
It was like a factory. I’m sure if they were in the middle of any major city like London or NYC, they would be able to serve an espresso based drink very quickly with a lot of baristi to work the machines like clockwork. Watch video below to grasp the size of this place.
As soon as you pass the la marzocco gallery, you can spot a very large Loring coffee roaster to your right – definitely the biggest coffee roasting machine I’ve seen in my life. As you walk to the back, there’s tons of tools galore, right from the entrance on your left, all the way to the back with la marzocco linea machines, brewing gadgets and of course coffee. There’s also a little sitting area at the top. Again, definitely the largest coffee space I’ve ever been and a must if you visit Riyadh.
Now, this is unusual for me, as I hardly ever feature a coffee chain BUT this was my go to every morning or at lunch time, as one of their shops was located within my work vicinity at the digital city. Of course, the first time I went, I was skeptical but once I tasted the depth of the coffee flavours packed with cocoa, berry, caramel and a long lasting finish, not to mention exquisitely poured latte art, I thought, “this is actually good”. It is no wonder that I went there often not just for my daily cortado or flat white fix even in 45C but to hang out with my former colleagues too – and yes they too used a La Marzocco Strada machine. I have to say, 8OZ may be my fave coffee chain in the World to date.
Located at the bottom of the Panorama Mall, I first heard about the place from Dubai as the owner of this space called HUNA (it means here in Arabic), also owns one of my fave cafes in Dubai, Qahwaty. However for Brew Bar, he invited Huda, who was already famous in Saudi for developing a unique secret recipe for her home made cold brew coffee. Ahmed invited Huda to open up a cafe in Riyadh, serving coffee from Cypher of Dubai as well as other roasters. What you have here, is an unusual arty and intimate spot, stacked with Arabic literature, coffee, history and self help books. I went a few times and met friends here because I knew that the coffee would be good.
Newly opened in June 2021 but with a keen attention to detail, is this new spot, near the new King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD). My friend took me here as I was craving specialty coffee all day and we just beat the crowd, as literally once we entered, a queue of about 10 people formed. Now, I knew that people queued for coffee in Riyadh but at that time of the day I was lucky that I didn’t have to, as I was literally “coffee” starved.
Other spots I visited and worth mentioning
Very well respected with coffee lovers and winner of some awards is Elixir. They’ve got many locations too and I bought a really good but rare to find Democratic Republic of Congo arabica coffee here, which I brewed at home to the delight of my taste buds.
Situated opposite the very popular U-Walk, is Equal, where they serve Sulalat coffee, have a selfie mirror that attracts instagrammers and cool decor (top of the page).
Yes, I know that the name doesn’t sound very creative, but if you happen to visit U-Walk, which hosts some international restaurant brands, and you are craving coffee, then here’s my to-go- spot – I usually avoid chains. For coffee machine enthusiasts, you’ll be glad to see that they’ve got one of the most advanced espresso machines ever made, the San Marco OPERA along with other cool gadgets for brewing coffee.They also roast onsite and have ample seating area.
Another coffee spot that roasts it’s own coffee, with a great selection of coffee to take home.
I never got to visit this shop as it recently opened but the owner is a World Ibrik Turkish coffee champion and she will offer Turkish coffee as well as Third wave coffee too.
This list is by far not exhaustive and I’m sure since I was last in Riyadh (October 2021), more high end, speciality coffee shops have opened, where queues are forming even at midnight, but I’ve tried to give you a summary, so that when you are craving speciality coffee, you have options.
To find the locations, check instagram and google maps.
As promised from my last post, where I mentioned “how often do you walk into a cafe and a champion offers to make you coffee”… well it happened to me twice and here, I was served by Champions – yes that’s the plural of champion – Michaela Ruazol-Recera, UAE Barista Champion and Mon Alpas, UAE Latte Art Champion. Scrolling through Instagram, I couldn’t believe when I saw on Goldbox Roastery (one of my faves) page that both champions would be at their roastery serving coffee. I promptly informed Naveed and off we went.
To be honest I was surprised that upon arriving around 1pm, that there wasn’t a queue – definitely if this was in London, Melbourne or New York, there would have been a long queue BUT I wasn’t complaining – more time to talk to the champions and enjoy my coffee. We even had a front row seat as Michaela explained the special process of her winning coffee, la Esperanza Mandela, stored in barrels for 30 hours – which was served – listen below;
Fresh from competing at the World Barista Championship and the UAE Barista Championship, which she won again, Michaela seemed excited about trying to innovate the coffee industry and during the week I was there, it was also being served at her cafe, Typica in Jumeirah (yes, I went there a few days later to have it – let’s just say it tasted like vanilla ice cream). BUT we’re not finished yet.
Yes, that looks amazing but have you heard of “distilled milk”? Well, I recall Naveed mentioning it to me but I had never tasted it before – in short, it’s milk that is frozen and then in this case defrosted with 50% of the water removed making it a lot creamier and sweeter. This isn’t an easy feat as I have tried to froth cream before – yes, many years ago during my inexperienced wide eye years and no, it didn’t work. So, all I can say is “hat’s off” (English colloquialism for well done) to Mon Alpas for not only frothing the milk but pouring such wonderful latte art.
So, we had our coffee prep and brewed on the this wonderful Modbar by the UAE Barista champion and had our milk for our cortado prep and poured by the UAE National Latteeart champion – how often do you get to experience or say that ? Online Dubai.
The taste ???
Well, here’s my reaction – need I say more.
Okay just a little – sublime in that usually when I’ve had any kind of macerated or anaberoic coffee, it’s been filtered and you can experience this unusual fruity caramel taste but in a milk based espresso coffee, it was Wow! sometimes words are not needed – just enjoy the experience.
And I’m not finished – I so enjoyed the experience that I asked for the cappuccino version – yes, it had more milk but also more coffee….. Yummy!
Needless to say It was great meeting Barbara Croce, owner of Gold Box too as she was in Dubai for a few days, so I got to talk coffee geek stuff too.
Feeling jealous ? Don’t be, because this coffee will be made available at Typica if not now, then very soon as Michaela can’t wait to INSPIRE others with her new creation.
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.
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.
Welcome to Part 2 of this myth busting series about Freshly Roasted Coffee… the real test, which relates to how does coffee roasted several months ago, taste. Even though coffee can still smell fantastic, does it taste good too? Have you always been told that after 3-4 weeks of a coffee being roasted it won’t taste nice? A side note – did you know that according to the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), 80% of our taste is reliant on our smell ? Well 🤔 here’s a video debunking that myth as I now prepare and taste a coffee roasted 4 months ago, an Ethiopian coffee roasted for Mokha 1450 – a cafe in Dubai, which I was gifted by its proprietor , Garfield.
My recipe was
15g of freshly ground coffee
225ml of 95C hot filtered water (I use 95C with a ceramic V60 because the ceramic will extract some of the heat – another tip from an expert)
Pour for 50g and then the remaining 175g
Timed pour around 3 minutes max
Have you encountered any other coffee myths that you would like to bust?
Have you always been told that after coffee has been roasted, it is only good for about 3-4 weeks and that it will being to smell rancid and the you might as well throw it away or serve it to your guests who don’t really care about good coffee ?
Yes, we know that coffee is roasted from fresh berries and that like all fresh things they won’t last long BUT once roasted is there something we might have missed… some chemical or perhaps biological process that we are not privy too that may just about bust that myth.
To be honest this test that you will now see on this video was just something I came across with three coffees this year. Prior to my experience which I share here with a friend and fellow coffee geek, Naveed (see his blog https://theneedforcoffee.com …) I must confess I would usually not drink coffee after it has been roasted 4 weeks prior to my consumption – I hasten to add that I don’t usually buy coffee in bulk but in small batches as and when I need to drink it – which as you know if at least three times a day. However, of late, I have tended to have a lot of coffee in my house (as if that was ever a bad thing) and on this occasion, I got a bit crazy buying too much that I could drink within a reasonable “roast date” time so I found myself trying to drink lots of coffee before my self imposed 4 week Roast date.
However, as I share with you on this video, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that for three coffees, not only was the smell pleasant for my nostrils but as you will find out in Part 2, pleasant to drink too. Okay, I have to do a song and dance (my wife’s expression) here, because one of them is my filter roast – the drink of the escapist – featuring Uganda and Burundi, which I have to confess I didn’t like upon its delivery – roasted 2 days before. I then decided to leave it and try and brew it a few weeks later…
Have you had the same experience before ?
What do you think may explain this wonderful phenomenon ?
So, this is the final part of my series on my fave coffee spots in Dubai and I finish with a bang @typica.uae run by @coffee_limitless (aka Michaela) two times #uaebaristachampion (2018 and just last week 2021) not to mention she got into the semi finals of the recently held @specialtycoffeeassociation #wbc2021 in Milan 👍🏽 Sure, you can be served great #coffee sourced from very special farms across the world 🌍 and I usually opt for a special filter brew but if there’s one drink I’ll recommend, 😌 it’s the champion 🏆 aptly named as the winning drink Michaela served when she won the uae barista trophy in 2018. If you scroll to the second page of this post, one of her barista @hartgomezatienza explains the drink in detail but in short it’s a whirl of flavors in your mouth from pronounced orange to watermelon and a hint of coffee cream, literally a party 💃🏽 in my mouth.
If that’s not enough, as I was about to leave @jason_galinea . told me that they still have some of the beans (Mandela) used by Michaela at the WBC & I was like wow, 😮 I’m away but I pray upon my return Inshallah I’ll taste it before it runs 🏃🏾 out. My only competition are the Dubai based coffee geeks like @sanaveed90 reading this.
Thanks to the team for another wonderful experience. . .
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.
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
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).
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.
I don’t know about you but coffee inspires me. Following my recent stint as a director of a think tank where I was responsible for generating ideas to impact our world, leading a research agenda and launching an infectious diseases index, I’ve been thinking about creating a space ( with coffee of course) where I can empower people to be confident to share their ideas to impact our world.
We can use the concept of the @unitednations sustainable development goals @the.sdgs along themes of health, AI and sustainability to highlight challenges where we invite innovative design thinking principles to solve them. To encourage people to generate and share their ideas, we would need sponsors to fund these ideas, perhaps through a hackaton where the need are selected to be funded. Let me know your thoughts and if you live in Dubai perhaps we can meet too. Alternatively I can launch a weekly or monthly zoom style brainstorming session.
So are you ready to change the world one cup of great coffee at a time? .