When asked what they miss most during a long day of fasting, for many people a cup of coffee tops that list. What better time, then, to look beyond freeze-dried instant granules and find out more about getting the most out of those beans?
For such a ubiquitous drink, many of us are still coffee novices - au fait with ordering a flat white, but that's where our knowledge ends. For example, were you aware that just two minutes after being ground, coffee beans will have lost 20 per cent of their flavour? I certainly wasn't, until Matt Toogood, the director of Raw Coffee Company and the current UAE barista champion, reliably informed me last week.
Toogood runs Raw with Kim Thompson, who founded the company in 2007 after becoming frustrated at not being able to source good-quality coffee in the UAE. She opened a roastery in Dubai Investment Park and a year later moved premises to set up shop in Dubai Garden Centre, where Raw's reputation for serving ethically produced, premium coffee grew. At the same time, Thompson went into partnership with Toogood, a man with a sales management background and a serious passion for coffee. In June, he competed in the World Barista Championships and was ranked a very respectable 38th.
Raw recently moved locations once again, to a spacious, converted warehouse in Al Quoz. This means that it now has far more room for roasting, as well as ample space for people to settle down, sample their drinks and watch the talented team of baristas at work. By all accounts, it is a great-looking spot with an industrial New York-style loft feel: think exposed beams, high ceilings, giant bags of coffee beans piled in one corner, a live "growing wall" and a mezzanine level with seating.
Raw is, Toogood explains, a passion project (neither he nor Thompson have taken a salary since they began, although happily, they had just purchased company cars on the day I visited) and the company name is reflective of their ethos. "It means unadulterated, fresh, no additives, no other ingredients. There are three pillars that set us apart: firstly, the coffee is 100 per cent organic certified, nothing added. Two, we're committed to ethical trading, which is extremely important. The life of a coffee farmer is incredibly hard and we pay a special premium to ensure that money goes back to the communities that we buy from and we enter into agreements to help the cooperatives on a long-term basis. Lastly, all our beans are roasted on site."
The decision to move out to Al Quoz was in part due to the fact that 85 per cent of their business is now commercial; if you've had a great coffee at the Lime Tree Cafe in Dubai Media City or at Slices in Abu Dhabi, now you know why. "We needed space to train people. No matter how good the product, you can't pour coffee beans into a grinder, grind them, throw them into a machine and expect to get a perfect cup of coffee. The barista is absolutely key to producing a great end result," Toogood explains. Consequently, whenever they agree to supply somewhere new - be it a cafe, restaurant or hotel - Raw insists that the company sends its baristas over for basic training. "Obviously, there's a recipe and a programme for how to make the perfect cup of coffee, but the taste is everything. We give two full days training and take people through a programme that helps them understand that if an espresso is made correctly, just about anybody will drink it: it won't be bitter or acidic and doesn't need sugar."
Toogood describes the process of making great coffee as being "a little bit of science, a little bit of art and a little bit of magic". Having watched the head roaster Kushal Kumar Balami at work in the roastery - taking meticulous minute-by-minute notes, recording the temperature inside the Probart roaster, noting the airflow and the speed of the drum - I'm inclined to agree. For any coffee fan, a visit to this roastery comes recommended.
For more information, visit www.rawcoffeecompany.com. Raw Roastery is located in Al Quoz 1, on the corner of 4a and 7a Streets, Warehouse 10, behind 4 Walls Art Gallery and Planters, near Noor Islamic Metro Station