The Sum of Us, Dubai: Revisited

I guess I kind of give the impression that I live in Dubai – well, my jealous daughter just told me “You stop-over there so often”, and my reply “don’t be a hater”. Anyway on yet another stop-over, just last weekend, I was naturally craving coffee, even though the curry fish I had the previous night didn’t provide relief but grief. It just so happened that on this occasion, the Sum of Us was the closest decent cafe to get to before rushing off to the airport.

On entering, I was pleasantly surprised. First up, when I visited in the summer, the cafe had only been opened about 4 weeks and hence was not on the radar yet, making it quite empty – read more here. So, on this occasion, the cafe was literally packed, both inside and outside (it was only about 24C). I only wanted a good cup of milk-based espresso a flat – a magic. 

After placing my order, I wandered around and went back to wait by their “take away” station. 

After downing my caffeine bliss, I was very intrigued by the expresso blend used – it was quite exceptional and so after discovering it was their house blend, aptly called “Tsunami”, I walked off to the roastery section to purchase my bag of beans.

Upon entering, there are gadgets (aeropress, Hario V60 and more) on the left-hand side of the wall, plus I was greeted very nicely by Kersti from Estonia. As we talked, she sensed I was not just another buff and mentioned that she was also holding a coffee tasting session later that day.

 I noticed two coffees from EspressoLab, Cape Town, chatted for a bit and ran out to meet my very patient cousin, who was driving around wondering why it was taking me 10 minutes just to drink a cup of coffee.

So, whats changed? More people, eclectic atmosphere, the smell of success and coffee tasting. By having your own roastery, you have access to multiple revenue streams – you gain control of your raw material and product line, coffee, you can sell coffee to other cafes and of course, you can hold coffee tasting sessions. On the latter, for the great value price of AED75 (Euros20), you can have an hour or more session on how to taste coffee – I did something similar at Escape Caffe in Cape Town, once a month. Hats off to the Sum of Us/Tom Arnel and Sergio.

But we’re not finished yet…

The coffee, which I brewed this morning, called the Tsunami or the Sum of Us house espresso blend.


I call it splitting the heart. Enough of the pedantic, what did it taste like? Hints of toffee and believe it or not caramelised cashews, yummy. Worth the price and transport from Dubai to Vienna in my baggage.

So, if you’re in Dubai and are reading this, pop down to the Sum of Us, enjoy some breakfast, coffee and atmosphere for me and buy some coffee to be brewed how you like.

Ma’assalama, as they say in the Emirates.



Serra do Bone @ home

Serra do bone @ home by Lameen
Serra do bone @ home a photo by Lameen on Flickr.

Serra do bone @ home… why ? It’s our number one coffee at Escape Caffe, but always wanting to test parametres, I decided to take some spare beans home to use on my Isomac espresso machine and lets say, not as expensive conical grinder at home. After all, it was at home that I honed my barista skills, studying the bean and writing about different coffees and roaster profiles. At Escape Caffe, we have a La Marzocco 3 group Linea with a built in PID set at 93.6C and we use the becoming popular Anfim Super Camiano grinders – machines way superior to what I have at home, BUT nevertheless I’m thrown back to what Mark Prince (Coffeegeek extraordinaire for those who don’t know) said about preparing espresso “if you follow the rules, you can make a really good espresso at home using a great home grinder and semi-pro espresso machine” (not exact quote but along those lines). In any case, if you follow the rules, you can make better espresso based drinks at home than the vast majority of cafes in the World. I’m not going to get dragged down into the detail of the rules, but in summary they are (i) fairly freshly roasted arabica coffee beans, i.e. within 10-20 days (ii) a decent burr grinder, costing at least US$250 (iii) a semi-pro espresso machine with E61 group head, with lots of brass and heavy metal – this will cost around US$600 (iv) ability to tamp at around 30 pounds of pressure and (v) a very good idea of how to be a home barista, so that you know for example what grind to use so that you get about 25ml of espresso in 25 seconds when you extract coffee, etc, etc.

OK ! so how was Serra do Bone at home ? Pretty nice but with different taste profiles. First up, a bit about the bean – it’s an organic arabica coffee bean, winner of the Cup of Excellence in Brazil, used by Intelligentsia as their organic espresso, displaying taste profiles such as candied apple, cocoa, raspberry, cherry with a medium body and soft acidity. Secondly, don’t be misled by all the taste notes as you are unlikely to taste everything in one cup, because different brewing techniques, as well as temperature and moisture affect the eventual taste of the coffee, but that’s another blog. So in summary, was I disappointed ? NO ! because I stuck to the hard and fast rules. So, at the caffe, we kind of pick up the cherry cocoa elements and when mixed with milk, you get a chocolate berry taste with a hint of caramel, but at home I got a sweeter cocoa caramel taste, which is still very yummy. One reason for the slight difference could be environment, a hihger brewing temperature as my Isomac doesn’t have a PID, as well as the obvious, my Isomac is no La Marzocco, BUT if we follow the “rules” the main taste parameters remain the same. I would love to run a home barista course one of these days, so that people don’t get scared by the prospect of investing in a decent espresso machine and good grinder.

So Serra do Bone at home last week got me to practice my latte art skills, as well as sample a very tasty coffee, and get a good pic of my cappuccino, YUM !

Before I go, apologises for the long delay in blogging – I promise to be more frequent in 2011 – also this is officially my 100th post, yipee !

I’m drinking espressolab coffees

They are only 1 year old but their popularity is growing, Espresso Lab that is, situated in Woodstock, Cape Town. If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ll know that I discovered way back in October 2009 – well, they were 5 months old. OK ! So it’s one of my prime stops for coffee in Cape Town and lucky for me, my familiarity with Renato, the roaster, has helped increase my coffee knowledge. Usually sourced from high quality coffee farms when in season, Renato prefers to roast in a manner that brings out the fruity and spicy elements in a coffee, almost like coffee for the sophisticated, so if brewed correctly, you should get soft chocolate, apricots, lime, honey and caramel notes. In this manner and I may be generalizing, the coffee is roasted lighter than most. To compliment this style of roasting, you also need to set your brew temperature (if you’ve got one) to between 91-93 C. Lucky for us, Renato places a variety of information on each coffee bag, ranging from roast date, blend composition, tasting notes and brew parametres.

Just a note; as I don’t have a brew temperature control, I usually run the machine for a few seconds to cool it down a bit, before I extract my espresso shot.

OK ! So what have I been having. Lots and the main ones I can remember are Panama Mama Cata, Organic Espresso (Brazil and Ethiopia), Espresso 004 Version (panama  mama cata, costa rica puente tarrazu and ethiopia hama) and just finished Espresso blend 008 version (brazil serra do bone, costa rican puente ecologico tarrazu and ethiopian guji). I should mention that Renato likes African coffees too. So first up,the Panamanian coffees, santa teresa and mama cata, which I will never forget, tend to have very distinctive tastes, such as lime, grapefruit and chocolate, wow ! I recall tasting them at espresso lab when they were having an in-house tasting session and the mama cata was really different.

Look at that golden trickle, like honey.

Second up and very in-tune with espressolab coffees are the high notes of fruit, complimented with soft cocoa tones and a hint of honey and sometimes caramel, encapsulated in the ESP004 blend, which featured a 40% composition of mama cata. Nice – was my first impression. However, as I’ve lost some of my pics due to my hard drive crashing a few weeks ago, I can’t share a pic with you, unless the pics are retrieved. Wish me luck.

However, my favourite to date (just finished last week) has to be their latest blend, the ESP008 (I’m guessing that every time Renato develops an espresso blend, it gets a new 00 number, so this is version 8). On this occasion I just went for a 500g bag, and seeing that about 10 days before I got it, it was ready for the extracting. As an espresso, it was one of the sweetest I’ve ever had and so after dinner, there was always a pleasant delight to complete my meal awaiting for me, with a double espresso but of course;

I looked forward to the mornings, as when blended with milk, the chocolate and caramel tones pulled through the milk for quite a pleasant brew. As the first people that served me a cortado, I usually made a cortado to compliment this delicious espresso blend from espressolab, which I think is their best to date, well done espressolab.

I hope Renato doesn’t tamper with this blend for a while as I know he prefers to source seasonal coffees and I’ve got an exciting package of more coffee to taste coming soon to share with you. If you can, grab a bag quick, when you are near Woodstock or visiting the Old Biscuit Mill on Saturday morning, Ciao !

South African National Barista Championships, And the Winner is..

Wow ! what a weekend. I’m really loving being here in Cape Town. Just last week, some new friends of mine invited me to the South African National Barista Championships, which incidentally were taking place in Cape Town from 26-28 March at the luxurious Table Bay Hotel on the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. I’ve never been to one before and sadly I’ll be missing the World Barista Championships (WBC) this year, which will be taking place in London – typical eh ! just when I leave Europe, they finally have it on my doorstep. So how was the South African version ? It seemed a bit low key to me on the promo side, although I found out there were some important “coffee” VIPS in the room, but nevertheless the baristas and their fans/families were very committed, cheering the competitors all the ways, with loud screams of support everytime they extracted an espresso or poured some latte art. In summary, each barista has to make 4 espressos, 4 cappuccinos and 4 signature drinks for the 4 tasting judges and they are tested by another 2 judges for preparation, checking many things such as wastage in coffee preparation. I also managed to get a free 1kg bag of freshly roasted coffee from one of the speciality roasters attending the event.

This years winner was Ishan Natalie, who also won the competition last year. Ishan works for Woolworths – which should not be confused with the same name shops in UK or USA. Woolworths is an upmarket supermarket store so committed to coffee that they purchased La Marzocco GB5s for their standard espresso machines. They’re supposed to have a really good coffee roaster called Tribeca, which supplies them with coffee, sourced primarily from Africa but also from Brazil and other places. So here are some pics of the event; First up, the winner pouring some latte art

And second the winning drink, a signature coffee drink made primarily with espresso, cream and whipped eggs – almost like an eggnog latte without the alcohol – cups were pretty cool and the presentation tops, especially as Ishan didn’t compromise on effects by mixing some concoction to create a smoking ice glass placed underneath the winning signature drinks.

So, Ishan will be representing South Africa at the WBC in London, scheduled to take place in the latter half of June 2010. I think it may be held during the Caffe Culture event, but I’ll try and keep you posted.

Bean There: Olympia Bakery & Cafe, Kalk Bay

Last weekend on our “discover Cape Town” trip, we decided to check out the coastal fishing village of Kalk Bay. I had two main intentions, eating fish and chips at Kalkies and checking out the infamous (at least on this side of the World) the Olympia Bakery & Cafe. So after my fish and chips, it was down to the main road in Kalk Bay to look for this cafe, which was quite easy to find and almost a strong stone throw away from the fishing port. Olympia is very popular with the locals are supposed to be famous for breakfast and apparently on Saturday mornings, it can be near impossible to get a seat inside if you are a late bird. Lucky for us, we popped in during the late afternoon, where the mood was lively and very down to earth. True to form, I ordered a double espresso – what else in the afternoon ?

Being a bit of a sweet tooth, I noticed that most of the pastries and cakes were gone – good for Olympia as they got to sell their stuff, but spotting the no-serious-cafe-in cape town-cannot stock pasties de nata phenomenon, I went for one Pasties de Nata to accompany my order of a double espresso. I must admit the pasties was more cake than pasties & custard, but fine for me.

My daughter was with me and so not to be left out, we ordered a hot chocolate too, which she took away, enjoyed and spilt in the car, hmmm. The coffee at Olympia is supplied by Origin Coffee Roasting, based in de Waterkant, which you can find more about on my blog roll and if you do visit Cape Town and rent a car, (you will need to for this trip), then I recommend the 30 minute drive from the centre of Cape Town to this village, which apparently is very busy during the high tourist season between mid-December and mid-January, because of its quaint appeal and warm beaches, not to mention Seal watching, fish restaurants and of course Olympia Bakery.

Coffee Roasters: Deluxe Coffeeworks, Cape Town

I’ve decided to add a new category as I launch myself into the Cape Town and South Africa coffee scene, to be called “Coffee Roasters”. I was thinking, if you are new to a new city and are really craving not only good coffee, but somewhere to buy good coffee, it can be stomach wrenching – I am speaking from experience in my new home city of Cape Town. So, imagine my joy in late December, when the bags of coffee I carried over from Europe had run out and I stumbled across a shop, wreaking with the smell of freshly roasted coffee. Of course I walked in, spotting a coffee roaster tucked into the back and someone behind a coffee bar offering me free coffee to taste, “God relieved me of my distress”. Where was I ? Deluxe Coffeeworks. Well ! actually I have been thinking, but I have never asked, where did that name come from and I thought about breaking the name into a phrase ” Deluxe coffee works” Get it ? Well ! Good coffee works, but bad doesn’t. OK, I’m digressing. So, who are they ? Currently there’s Carl, Nick and Judd. Judd, originally from New Zealand, was also trained there at Cafe Supreme and from what he is doing in this new establishment, he obviously learnt well. They’ve only been up and running since 2009 and already have a following and a growing client base amongst some top cafes and restaurants in Cape Town. Their plan is to focus entirely on wholesale coffee sales but lucky for us, you can pop into their roastery cum shop on Church Street, which is very centrally located and they would gladly serve you any espresso based drink at a fantastic price.

The other bonus of course, is that you can also buy freshly roasted arabica beans to take home with you, packed in organic looking brown bags by the kilo or shiny 250g bags. They can also grind it for you if you prefer and they sell little gadgets like milk frothing jugs and Bialetti’s version of the French Press. The guys at Deluxe Coffeeworks are really easy to talk to and if you’ve got some time to spare, drop in and chat about coffee, Cape Town and life. Naturally, I’ve tried their coffees, which I tend to find is very aromatic. My current favourite is their organic espresso blend,

but their espresso blend is also very nice, blending well with milk and displaying chooclate and nutty tastes.

I’ve currently got one of their experimental blends at home, which is a mixture of Kenyan and Ecuadorian arabic coffee beans. I find it a bit spicy, bordering on licorice in taste and very distinctive as an espresso.

I was also lucky enough to be invited to an espresso tasting session of single origin coffees a few weeks back, which ranged from a very strong Kenyan espresso to easy-to-drink and very mass appealing Guatemalan arabica. So, definitely worth a visit before they completely close their doors to the walking public, but if you’ve got a cafe or restaurant in the Cape Town area, check them out as a possible supplier and they ain’t paying me to say that.

Bean There… Espresso Lab, Cape Town

I had the opportunity last week to spend time with, David Donde, formerly of Origins Coffee Roasting and he showed me a new cafe, Espresso Lab Microroasters, located in “becoming trendy” Woodstock. Espresso Lab is located at the Old Biscuit Mill, 375 Albert Road, which seems quiet during the weekday but on Saturday mornings becomes a bustling market place, with Cape Town’s middle class jostling to buy organic fare, art and delicious food. OK ! back to the coffee. Espresso Labs has a really unique concept, living to its name by appearing like a lab, with coffee signs displayed like ES for espresso and AM for Americano, but the bags have longer names like ESP for espresso

Espresso Lab is run by Portuguese origin Capetonian, Renato. They’ve got a La Marzocco GB5 and their coffee roaster is located at the back in a clean looking space. On my second visit, yes ! I went twice, I decided to try what seems like their signature drink, a CO or a Cortado, made using a double espresso with about equal portions of frothed milk – check out the beautifully poured rosetta heart.

So it is really for those who want to taste their coffee with just a topping of frothed milk, as is a bit obvious from the pic below, where you can see the clear separation/layers from coffee, through milk and froth at the top.

It was really nice, especially for someone like me who ideally prefers a really strong cappuccino as opposed to the usual espresso, third milk and third froth – the official description of a cappuccino. Before I left I got a couple of bags of coffee to sample but of course, but more on that next time. So, when in Cape Town, check out Espresso Lab Microroasters and check out their website too,

Coffee @ Woolworths Cafe, Cape Town

As a follow up from my last post on drinking coffee in Mauritius. you’ll be pleased or jealous to know that our way back to Europe, it was just too tempting not to stop over in my favourites foodie city of the moment, Cape Town, to delight my palate (OK ! another word for taste buds…), so I gave into temptation and we stopped over in Cape Town for a very short while. On the day I dedicated to the family, we stopped over in a massive mall, about 20 minutes drive from downtown Cape Town, Century City. Of course, after the usual late lunch, I was not scanning the place for a decent cup of coffee and after pacing up and down past numerous places offering coffee, I decided to try my luck at Woolworths, which has no resemblance to the UK Store that went bust last year or the US version of a bargain hunters paradise. No ! Woolworths in South Africa is almost a spitting image of Marks & Spencers in the UK or the equivalent of decent high quality clothes store, which offers food of really high quality. So in summary, they should not compromise on anything food related and they haven’t to an extent. I actually first visited Woolworths Cafe in the summer of 2006, when I spotted a La Marzocco FB70 machine in the store in another city, Durban, but the coffee wasn’t that great. However, since then, Woolworths have put more effort into their coffee venture, by first sourcing organic and fair-trade coffees from within the Africa continent and secondly by paying closer attention to the training of their baristi (plural for barista – some Italian lessons), so much so that in 2009, one of their baristi won the South African Barista National Championships – not bad, plus of course they seem to only use La Marzocco espresso machines, hmmm !

So on approaching the Woolworths Cafe next to the food section inside the store, noticing a La Marzocco GB5, I went up to the barista and after introducing myself, asked him if he knew how to use a GB5, he looked at me amusingly like “what kind of coffee machine nerd is this” and said “Yes !”, so I told him, I was a bit of a coffee expert (well aspiring to be one between me and you) and I ordered a double espresso, sat down and watched.

Not bad – the crema was present, the coffee a bit bitter and slightly hot, but not bad for an outfit that doesn’t offer coffee as its primary product. I’m also going to go out and say that this is the best espresso I’ve tasted in a mall, for what it’s worth. In any case, being a place that strives to offer high quality food, I was tempted to try a piece of cake, and went for a Pear and Almond Tart, delicious and worth every crumb.

So in summary, if you’re shopping in a mall in South Africa that has a Woolworths Cafe in it, or there is one near by and you need that coffee fix and don’t know where to get it, try an espresso, a filter coffee or a cappuccino @ Woolworths Cafe.

I’m Drinking Origin Coffee Roasting coffees….

Well ! I couldn’t walk into my favourite cafe on the African continent, Origins Coffee Roasting in Cape Town and not buy some freshly roasted coffee. I was already enticed when I visited the new cafe upstairs and walked into order my coffee, where I noticed that at the back of the shop, was like a coffee roasting plant. Bags and bags of green coffees waiting to be roasted, placed in bags and either served to lucky customers as espresso, cappuccino, etc or sold to customers like me, who want to take the experience home.

So, feeling a bit adventurous, I decided to try two different coffees. I remember that last time I tried a Rwandan coffee, was actually from Origins Coffee Roasting and I had a pleasant experience, so when I was offered a Rwandan Mugombwa, I more or less seized the opportunity. For the next one, I was looking for something to satisfy my afternoon thirst for French Press coffee only and I was offered an El Salvador El Borbollon. However, I did have to quiz the barista that was advising me on coffees about when the coffees were roasted, because of late, I’ve just had too many “too fresh coffee” experiences whereby I buy this fresh bag of coffee that I have been promised has been de-gassing for a few days, only to get home and realise that the coffee still needs some resting time – have I lost you ? Well ! check out my post of 8 August 2008 for more details. 

In any case, I was promised that the coffee had been resting for 2-3 days and so should be ready for the grind, BUT I was nevertheless suspicious. As soon as I got home, I have to confess, that the coffee was in deed a bit too fresh, meaning that when extracted, even neatly packed into my bottomless filter, bubbles appear, resulting in splashes as evident by what I call this “dirty espresso” shot.

The taste was of course not as good as it could have been, but when the coffee had calmed down a bit, about 3 days later, it came out beautifully, as witnessed by this shot

Just look at those lovely dark coffee streaks blending in with the crema, hmmmm ! OK! so what did it taste like – I detected a vanilla, nutty and earthy taste and when blended with milk, a milk chocolate taste could be detected.


Ironically, although I bought the El Salvador El Borbollon for French Press, I found it much nicer as a milk based espresso, with hints of vanilla and milk chocolate – smooth and creamy too. I didn’t have that many challenges with getting the right grind as I opened this bag about a week to 10 days after it would have been roasted.

If you live in South Africa, try and get your coffees from Origins.

From Coffee With Love in Cape Town 2009

You know that I have to start with my favourite, Origins Coffee Roasting on 28 Hudson Street (I have even memorised the address), in De Waterkant area, just off the centre of downtown Cape Town.

I’m lucky enough to visit, what I think is one of the most exciting cities in the World on a yearly basis since 2006. I always like to go back to my favourite places to see if they are still keeping up the standards, because occasionally I’ve been disappointed when I get excited by a cafe and then go back after about a year to find out that the original concept, usually devised by a passionate coffee freak, has lots its appeal because the owner has wandered off after making a bit of money and has taking a more “executive” life. Anyway, I’m glad to report that that hasn’t happened at Origins – it seems that they are just getting bigger. First they had a small cool shop, then they added a tea part at the back, then they bought upstairs and opened up a barista school and now, wait for it, they’ve opened up another shop on the roof. As you approach the shop, with the original entrance in front of you, look to the left and you will see a sign inviting you upstairs with 50% of your coffee. you climb these funky stairs to a roof terrace area, which now houses a trendy looking cutlery shop, a model firm and a courtyard with lots of Origins Coffee Roasting umbrelas, et voila….

So, I had to try it, as it was a nice day in Cape Town to sit outside and drink coffee, which I turned down at the the hotel, saving my appetite but of course for a milk based espresso drink. I ordered a flat white, which, now beginning to know a little more about coffee, was a bit hot – “wait a minute, isn’t coffee supposed to be hot ?” Yes ! I add, but not burning your lips hot, as you need to taste the coffee and too hot will not caress your lips. So the barista asked me, “did you like the coffee ?” and I had to be honest, having traveled 1000s of miles for this experience, “Well ! I said, I think the temperature on the espresso machine needs to be regulated”. He perfectly understood my complaint and offered to make me a new one for free, which as much better. I then rushed off downstairs, trying to track down, joint owner, Joel Singer, to say hi. I stumbled into one of the long time baristi there, Lindsay, and asked her for a double espresso.

But, as I waited I saw her pour these two cups of beautiful latte art cappuccinos or flat white (first pic above) and one below, just for you.

I also bought two bags of coffee (more on that later in another posts). I finally caught hold of Joel, who was doing a photo shoot on their revamped tea room, said hi and was on my way after 2 flat whites and a double espresso – tasting coffee can be quite exhaustingly pleasant.

For my next discovery, I tracked down, after reviewing my foodie magazines with features on Cape Town food, Shelleys Gourmet Coffee on 90 Kloof Street – if you are in a rush, take a cab. Shelley’s opened in late 2008, so it is quite new and has a lot of delicious bites to eat and from what I gather is beginning to get popular with the breakfast crowd, even offering an espresso French Toast, which I hope to try next time God willing. I also met with Shelley, who is very warm and welcoming and a real foodie freak like me. Anyway, I had a sandwich lunch there, gazed at the cakes….. delicious and had a double espresso before rushing back to the hotel to catch my cab to the airport.

You can read more about Shelleys on my foodie site, about a weeks time God willing. Anyway, highly recommended for a bite to eat, cake and coffee.

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