Tag Archives: Slayer Espresso

Drinking Coffee in Brighton in 24 Hours

On our last annual trip to London and in the same vein as last year, when we went to Bath, we decided to visit another city closer to London for about 24 hours and Brighton, where I have not been for about 30 years (giving my age away), was chosen. Looking for a hotel was a bit of a challenge as we wanted something close to the seafront and main attractions and then I came across this funky design hotel, My Brighton, which had a specialty coffee chain, Small Batch Coffee located within it. Surprise, surprise, I guess you know where we stayed.

Small Batch Coffee, 17 Jubilee Street and various locations around Brighton

So, lets’s start here. Actually a few years back when I first heard of Small Batch I ordered coffee online from them. In any case, we arrived late afternoon on Sunday and as I was in need of coffee, I decided to try their batch brew – Blue Note Filter – a combination of Guatemalan and Burundi arabica coffees. Unusual, because it is very rare, in fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen a filter offered as a blend. In any case, it was so delicious that upon my return the next day, I bought a bag.

So the next day, I naturally decided to start my espresso based coffee experience here. However, I must confess, I was a bit disappointed.

Yes, it looked well prepared but when I pulled back the foam from the espresso base, it was very milky and I couldn’t finish it – sorry Small Batch. I’m sure their better baristi would have poured and prepared a really good cappuccino but I didn’t think the staff present that day were up to their best. I observed the way they welcomed me and the way they prepared their espresso on the La Marzocco Linea and to be honest I would have been very impressed if the coffee had tasted good.

In any case I bought their coffee and you can too, online – see here.

Bond Street Coffee 15 Bond St. Brighton, BN1 1RD – Best Cappuccino in Brighton

So, after a not so pleasant milk based espresso drink, I walked literally around the corner to Bond Street, which reviews said offered the best flat white in Brighton. The reception was completely different. No quills, friendly welcome and attention to detail in preparation. Snacks on display, La Marzocco Strada.

In fact if you look at their website, a snippet below;

As our coffees will often have vibrant, subtle and complex flavours, including natural sweetness, we recommend that you taste your coffee before adding sugar. 

To make our espresso we use bottomless portafilters with our Synesso Hydra espresso machine. This enables us to recognise when the espresso we’re making has extracted properly, thus enabling us to maximise the coffee’s unique flavour. This, however, means we can only serve our espresso or ristretto as a double shot. 

We serve our espresso in a large, un-warmed cup as this allows the coffee to have a thinner layer of cremé, making it taste sweeter, while also allowing the espresso to cool quicker making the drink instantly enjoyable.

All milk based espresso drinks are served with latte art. We use whole milk from Downsview Farm in East Sussex which we heat to 55-60 degrees to bring out the natural sweetness of the milk.

Sounds pretty serious and I must say I learnt a lot “unwarmed cups to have a thinner layer of creme…” – something to try at home God willing.

So, I ordered a cortado.

Great caramel taste winding around my front and side parts of my tongue.

In fact, my initial plan was to finish my Brighton coffee experience here by buying a bag of Horsham Coffee, their coffee, to take home, but being so used to London closing times, I missed them by a few minutes, as they closed by 6pm. Check them out here.

In any case, after this wonderful mouthfeel experience, I was ready to see Brighton with my family and off we went to BA I 360.

Twin Pines Coffee, 11 St James’s Street  – Best Pour Over Coffee

I must confess, initially I was going to go to another coffee establishment, Redroaster Coffee but when I asked the barista at Bond Street where I should try, he said Twin Pines, which I found out later was Brighton’s new kid on the block of Speciality Coffee.

So, after another traditional Brighton must do – Fish and Chips by the beach and gourmet ice cream, it was time for coffee again naturally. So, I kind of led my family back to the hotel via another route and as soon as my son said he needed the loo, I was like “let’s go into that coffee shop” oops, oh! it’s twin pines – another coffee shop on my list. “really dad, I’m sure you planned this” Guilty! Aha!

As you enter, on the left near the window, there’s a Three group Slayer machine – serious equipment in the house.

But as it was late afternoon, I opted for filter coffee, from James Gourmet’s Operation Red Cherry, prepared using a Hario V60.

I must confess it took a while to prepare, enough for me to go to the toilet and back, but it was definitely worth the wait. So good, that I bought a bag to take back to London and Vienna. I was really impressed with the attention to detail and the customer service and would highly recommend Twin Pines.

So, there we go 24 hours in Brighton drinking coffee and seeing the tourist bits too.

Advertisements

Dubai Coffee Scene 2018: The Roasters

So, Dubai has lots of coffee shops now, but who is supplying them with their main commodity – roasted coffee beans ? If you are an ardent follower of my blog, then you’ll know that as far back as 2008, I found out that Kim, was moving to Dubai to start a coffee roasting business, Raw Coffee. Back then I found this very interesting but also very brave, because Dubai was awash with coffee chains, stuck in the first wave of coffee – just drinking from the World leaders in coffee branding (Starbucks, Costa, etc) and Kim wanted to start roasting for speciality coffee – back when there wasn’t even a single coffee shop in the whole of Dubai, let alone the UAE that cared what coffee should taste like.

Fast forward to 2013 and Kim already some clients – Tom&Serg and some restaurants – things were moving but still Dubai only had one speciality coffee roaster. It wouldn’t be until about 2015, when the guys behind Tom&Serg decided to launch their own coffee roasting business – now called Encounter Coffee. Sure there were some others roasters popping up like Coffee Planet and eventually Ortis, whose coffee you can buy at Dubai Duty Free and drink at a few cafes, like Dean&Deluca but specialty roasting, focussing on direct trade, sourcing the best coffee and investing in roasting profiles and aiming to compete at the World stage, not much, until now.

So, now they have %Arabica Coffee Roasters, Seven Fortunes, Stomping Grounds, Gold Box and Specialty Batch, whose coffees can be found across many of the new coffee shops. From the personal conversations I’ve had with them, they seem to have been started by Emirati businessmen who loved coffee and wanted to replicate something in their own lands, hiring professionals from abroad to train their own staff, which seem quite competent now. They tend to roast in the al Quoz industrial district, which I’m sure if you visit, near Mall fo emirates, will smell like coffee land. On my last trip I discovered Grandmother (unusual name), Grind and Emirati Coffee, but I’m sure there’s more that I’ve missed. Here’s a snapshot of them

%Arabica

Obviously just roast for themselves as they are a branded coffee shop. They have a wide range of coffee from “normal” to 90+. Their house blends tend to be darkly roasted with a chocolate bias and their much wider range of filter coffees are too numerous in taste profiles to mention. You can buy coffee from their shops, ranging from about US$13 for about 200g to US$150 for their top coffee (usually Panama geisha) – yes, you read that right; US$150 for 200g. This is Dubai and the fact that a coffee shop offers coffee to buy over the counter at that price must mean that they have customers willing to pay that. I have never seen any coffee shop in London selling at that price range but I guess if you wanted something like that it can be arranged. In any case, I presume that %Arabica don’t spare any effort in trying to purchase the best green beans to roast. To finish, you can buy these special coffees to drink at their shop – see my last post and from what I tasted they are quite good at roasting.

Seven Fortunes

I first tried this coffee at Culinary Boutique (see my post in 2016) and was so impressed with their fruity bias, that I bought a bag of their coffee to take how with me. They seemed to have grown in stature and popularity and now have outlets that serve their coffee. Visit their website to buy coffee, get brewing guides, pay for training sessions and more. You can visit them to learn how to set up a coffee shop, including equipment advice – they deal with La Marzocco.

Specialty Batch

Growing in popularity especially as they distribute Synesso espresso machines, which from my last visit was very prominent as well as Slayer espresso machines. On the coffee front, they seem to also have a wide range of outlets serving their coffees (depresso from my last post). You can also buy coffee from their website.

Emirati Coffee – the Return of Omni Roast

Last but not least and I have to say, wow! why, because, although they are new on the scene, they seem to have propelled themselves. They roast at Al Quoz too and you can buy coffee from their pop-up shop at Dar Wasl Mall – see my last post or by visiting them at their roastery – Al Quoz Industrial 3, Dubai. As I mentioned in my last post I bought a bag of their coffee, Ethiopian Edido, Yirgacheffe, which they assured me was roasted using the Omni method, which from Perfectly daily grind blog means;

Omni roasting embraces the idea that any coffee can be brewed using any method. So long as the coffee was roasted well, it’ll play well across a variety of brew methods – be it press, filter, espresso, or even cold brew.

That doesn’t mean that every coffee will taste the same in every brew method, of course, or even that every coffee will suit every brew method. A French press will highlight a coffee’s body and perhaps its dark fruit notes. An espresso will highlight acidity and, if they are present, citrus notes.

In short if a coffee is roasted this way you can brew it in many ways, espresso and filter style. I must confess whenever a roaster tell me this, I am usually sceptical – why ? Because whenever I get home and try the beans, whilst they may pass the filter brewing style (aero press, Hario V60), they always fail the espresso brewing method, until NOW.

I’ve only had one beautiful omni roast experience and that was by Square Mile, their Brazilian arabica coffee CAPAO CHAPADA DIAMANTINA or Capao (so good it has to be in CAPs) – read here.

Emirati’s Edido is definitely a close second behind Capao and that for me is a fantastic rating, because with this coffee I really enjoyed brewing it – such a shame I didn’t buy a 500g bag. Everyday, I didn’t know which brewing method to use to get the best taste profile out. With espresso, caramel and almonds with a hint of red berries and with aero press, more red berries and with Hario V60, more dried grapes and floral.

But as they say, all good things must come to an end, at least with culinary delights.

In summary, I think no real place can call themselves a coffee capital without some serious attention to locally based coffee roasteries and hats off (well done) to the Dubai and Emirati based coffee connoisseurs for tasing their game to roasting specialty coffee style. I look forward to checking out gold Box and any other newbies in the Dubai coffee roasting scene.


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.


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.

 

 


Coffee: The rule is, there is no rule


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

Don’t teach an old dog new tricks with Espresso

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

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

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

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

 

Never buy pre-ground coffee

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


Okay, so that rule was broken.

 

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

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

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


 A really fruity cup with over medium acidity.

 

Just one more thing

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

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

 

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

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

 


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.