Tag Archives: %arabica dubai

Dubai Coffee Scene 2018: The Cafes

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, Jumeirah

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.

Nostalgia, Jumeirah

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.

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I was @ %Arabica, Dubai Mall – Dubai


I always knew that using a name like “arabica” for a cafe in an area predominantly occupied by Arabs would be a winner. In fact when I was debating whether to open cafe in Cape Town or Dubai back in 2009, the name I had tried to approach potential investors for Dubai was… “Cafe Arabica”. I thought back then and it has proven now as you will see in a few lines below that people will resonate well with an establishment that recognises their identity and their pace in the World – in this case, the world of coffee. So, now we have here a new brand,  %Arabica, which incidentally is Japanese – with their first coffee shop in Kyoto and now expanding to the Gulf, venturing into the most avant grade venue of the Arab world, Dubai and more specifically in the largest mall in the World, Dubai Mall.

I had already heard of this brand about a year ago, when they liked one of my coffee pics on Instagram and then I found out that they were going to open a coffee shop at the Dubai Mall in May 2016 – this seemed to have been postponed until September 2016 and so I knew that once given the opportunity to visit Dubai again, then I would head there, which is what I did in early February.

Located downstairs, just around the corner from the aquarium in Dubai Mall – thus is important because the mall is huge, and on the way to the Souk, opposite Sacoor Brothers is Arabica%.

As you enter, they’ve tried to escape the typical chain mall coffee shop feeling with cold decor and dotted place with coffee bean sacks, brown communal tables and chairs to give you that kind of authentic feel, alluding to their artisanal vibe – we are serious about coffee and if you are looking for Starbuck, head right back out.


They’ve got the kind of brew bar you would find in serious coffee shops in London, New York or Melbourne; 2 x two group slayer espresso machines, matching 2 group mazzer grinders, uber boiler and all the brew options of chemed, V60, etc.


You are prompted to order with a coffee menu, which impatient customers ignore and just ask for “a Latte”. There menu is impressive – they have their house blends but also some special 90+ beans, which will set you back $20 or more for a cup. However, although I think the is great for coffee lovers like me, it may be wise if they had more experienced staff on hand to explain why this latte or filter brew costs $5 and this one costs upwards of $20. I know “geisha” and 90+ coffees are expensive due to their taste profiles, rarity and relatively low production, but for someone just making the conversion from mass style chains to speciality coffee, they need to know that this isn’t just another gimmick.

On that last point, when I placed my order, I decided to go off the list and ask for a Cortado, coupled with some questions on bean origin. I hasten to add a proviso – if someone like me walks into a speciality coffee shop and see all the gadgets and understand all the coffee language, then my expectations are raised in that I expect the staff to be able to handle some basic questions. I did hesitate however on asking them to adjust the brew and pressure gauges like I usually do at Balthasar (Vienna), but that was only because the place was quite busy – my point about the word “Arabica”. On hearing that I wasn’t the typical customer, the head barista,Yash (who I found out later was formerly of Common Grounds, Mall of Emirates and UAE aeropress champion) decided that he would attend to me. During which time we briefly chatted about their focus and about his background and mine.

Ah! one cortado.

On the clientele, it was predominantly locals, Emiratis, dotted with passer byes and coffee aficionados judging by their orders.

After my cup, I decided to walk over and ask some more questions about their coffee, roast profiles etc (I’m sure if my wife was with me, her eyes would have rolled up, followed by a  sigh), but yet again it was Yash to the rescue. After convincing me to buy their house blend which is dark roasted (I am usually not a fan of dark roasted oily beans) and offering me a 90+ espresso shot, I bought a bag of beans, exchanged instagram addresses and was on my way.

In summary, Arabica is a welcome addition to Dubai Mall, which although gigantic, I’ve managed to become accustomed to getting around it without too much difficulty. I’m loving the concept that people are taking their coffee seriously and that even though their many customers might not know it up front, this is a small step in changing peoples perception of coffee. You no longer have to drive out into industrial complexes to get coffee and for tourists like me who don’t have easy access to road transportation, it is great to know that by using the Dubai Metro to the largest mall in the World, you don’t have to suffer with chain coffee but can get a good cuppa, even up till midnight – yes! they close at midnight – now this has to be one of the very few places in the World you can get speciality coffee at close to midnight. The jury might still be out on my “best coffee shop in a mall” award, recently given to Common Grounds (Mall of Emirates – see here), but I think Arabica could be a good contender and will fall in second for now. Nevertheless they are planning a massive expansion in 2017, with new shops planned for the whole Gulf area, Germany, France, USA and even England, so watch out for them.

Well done Arabica for the name and concept and I look forward to visiting many times when I visit Dubai insha’allah.


Drinking Coffee in Dubai: the coffee roasters edition 


So, I was completing a survey on Dubai a few weeks back and the final question was, “why would you advise anyone to visit Dubai”, So I started “if you love calm beaches, oceans where you can see your feet, stay in hotels with great value for money, eating food from different parts of the World, access to great shopping, a holiday that is great for both kids and parents alike….. and love coffee, then visit Dubai” Wait a minute “coffee”. Yes! It seems like every year I visit Dubai – can’t help it, the kids love it, plus I connect through there a lot – the coffee game has been raised. Before 2010, there was only one specialist roaster, Raw Coffee – read here. Then in 2014 two guys called Tom and Serg opened their Melbourne-esque style cafe with great coffee and world cuisine style menu with a strong focus on breakfast and brunches. Fast forward to 2016 and I couldn’t even visit all the specialist coffee roasters in Dubai alone. Tom and Serg now have 3 cafes (the original Tom&Serg, the sum of us and common grounds) – all featured on my website. In addition, they now roast their own coffee. There’s also Speciality Batch, Espresso Lab, Goldbox, which I couldn’t visit and Seven Fortunes, which I blogged about recently. Okay, so here’s a snapshot;

Speciality Batch/Espresso Lab

If you read my post on ratio’s coffee, Sharjah, you’ll know that I had already heard of Speciality Batch many moons ago. Specialty Batch roast in Dubai, focusing on roasting small batches of only single origin coffees.

Their coffees are favoured strongly by Espresso lab, located at the 100 Wellness centre – a very unassuming place, which I must confess, can easily be missed, as it’s located in a very residential area. Having just visited culinary boutique and being that it was like 40C outside, I popped in for a cold brew. The first thing that you notice is that this a no frills coffee place, manned by male and female baristi that seem very committed to coffee. 


I learnt afterwards that they are also a coffee school offering certified barista training too and that their owner, Ibrahim Al Mallouhi is the only Emirati certified by the American Barista & Coffee School, Barista Guild of America, SCAA and SCAE They don’t even serve any snack to go with your food and the only other drinks on offer are sparkling or still water. They have an innovative coffee menu, offering different type of beans with different brew options, coupled with expert advice on how to brew and of course they sell coffee. For the cold brew I wanted something not overtly fruity and they were served with these steel balls, which apparently have some kind of effect on the cold brew.

 

It looks gorgeous, doesn’t it ?

Speciality Batch are beginning to amass a large retail following, so you may start seeing their coffees at numerous speciality cafes opening up in Dubai now. Check speciality batch here and read more about Espresso Lab’s plans to roast their own coffees and expand here.

Leopolds of London

Located at the very Miami-esque part of Dubai, the Walk, is this newish restaurant – a franchise now only based in the UAE. In fact we just happened to enter this place by chance. As usual I was craving coffee at around 10pm and as we were walking through the Walk, decked out with flashy restaurants, like the Real Madrid Cafe, household retail outlets and of course the traditional coffee brands, I was close to giving up, when I saw a sign outside this facility about coffee. So, we popped in, egged on (English colloquialism for encouraged) by one of the staff. They were so delighted to hear that I loved coffee, that they took me upstairs to show me their roasting facility, surrounded by both green and recently roasted coffee beans. 


Naturally at that time, the roasting facility was shut, but after quizzing them about their focus and spotting their La Marzocco GB5, I decided to order a double espresso to accompany my triple layer red velvet cake. Before I carry on, they really have delectable cakes (carrot cakes, cheesecake, which my wife loved, chocolate fudge cake, etc) and a mouth watering menu here and for Dubai, I must confess, the value for money is great – shhh! keep it a secret.

 

So, it’s never too late for an espresso, even at close to midnight, yummy!. We went back twice and although I didn’t buy any coffee to take home, I’m willing to say, this was the best coffee at the JBR – the Walk. Visit their website.

 

So where else….

Seven Fortunes – affiliated with a company in Canada, these guys are really serious about coffee. I wrote a bit about them on my visit to Culinary Boutique but you can read about them here. A welcome addition to the speciality coffee roasting scene. So impressed was I with my visit to Culinary Boutique that I bough a large bag of espresso beans, which I really enjoyed on my return to Vienna.

 

Fruity and caramel like and great with milk too. Highly recommended and if you live in Dubai, they have an online shop too.

 

Goldbox Roastery – Again, I had heard of this specialist roaster a few months ago through instagram and actually wanted to visit them, but sadly they are closed on weekends. In any case I had the opportunity to taste their coffee when I visited Sharjah in May 2016, but most of the roasters I visited, had a lot of respect for them and recommended that I visit if I get another opportunity.

%arabica, Dubai Mall

This is really fresh news as this cafe just opened in Dubai in mid-September 2016, located at the World’s largest Mall, the Dubai Mall. Decked out with two very expensive Slayer Espresso machines, it;s definitely one to check out when I visit Dubai again insha’allah. For those of you reading this and located in Dubai, go there now and let me know what you think.

Signing off with this pic, so “where’s the good coffee in this place Dubai?” Well, there are too many man.