Tag Archives: Slayer Espresso

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.

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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.