Emirati barista Zainab Al Mousawi spills the beans on her new Dubai coffee shop
For the founder of To the Moon and Back, coffee represents affection, ecstasy and independence
A “hug in a mug” is how Zainab Al Mousawi describes a cup of coffee. The 31-year-old Emirati entrepreneur is determined to share as many of those liquid-gold hugs as she can through To the Moon and Back, the speciality cafe she opened in Dubai late last year.
Al Mousawi is one of a growing number of passionate Emirati coffee aficionados who are prepared to put themselves behind the coffee machine to deliver the joy they get from their daily cup with others. “Before 2008, I hadn’t ever had a coffee, really,” she admits as we chat from the comfort of her outer-space-themed cafe on Al Athar Street, a short distance from Jumeirah Beach Road. “I always thought it was a fancy drink, and I just wasn’t interested.”
Discovering her love for coffee
But this all changed when the Abu Dhabi resident relocated to Australia’s coffee capital. “I used to just have hot chocolate or karak tea, UAE-style, but in 2008, I went to Melbourne to study and that’s how it [the coffee addiction] started.”
Al Mousawi, who earned herself a dual degree in psychology and digital media and a master’s in counselling and social work during her decade-long stint Down Under, says it was the cool coffee culture in Melbourne that drew her to the popular drink. “I had seen people sitting and having coffee,” she says. “The coffee culture at that time was booming, and I wondered to myself was it was all about. Australian coffee is different. I don’t know if it’s the vibe and the psychology of it, or the culture, but it’s beautiful; they’ve definitely got it covered over there.”
Australian coffee is different. I don’t know if it’s the vibe and the psychology of it, or the culture, but it’s beautiful; they’ve definitely got it covered over there.
Zainab Al Mousawi
She enjoyed her first real cup at a spot called Dukes Coffee Roasters on Little Collins Street – one of many popular cafe strips in the Victorian city. “Instantly I wanted to know how it was made because it was ecstasy, it was happiness.”
Following her dream
While she was hooked from that very first sip, Al Mousawi says it was more than just about a drink for her, and coffee soon became her favourite pastime. She spent most of her free hours learning about roasting and brewing the drink. Her goal was to open a cafe, to take ownership of an experience she likens to liberation. “I like the feeling of independence,” she says, sipping on a cappuccino, her fifth and final coffee for the day. “Before going to Australia, I’d never been independent, in the UAE, in our life here you are given everything.”
She spent years visiting the world’s best coffee festivals, talking with farmers and “going deep into all elements of the industry”, and in 2018, she realised her dream and opened To the Moon and Back. It was her way of connecting her love of Australia and its coffee scene with her homeland.
Hope for the future
Explaining how the moniker To the Moon and Back came about, Al Mousawi says: “My friend was reading a story book to his child, and he told me of his reaction to a story in which the father rabbit told his son that he loved him to the moon and back. I was thinking this is how much I love coffee, this is how much I love this project, and that I would go that far to bring the best beans, the best of my experiences over the past 10 years related to coffee,” she says.
The beans are sourced from a roastery called Five Senses, which is located in Melbourne and Perth, and Al Mousawi says she gets them for a good price and usually within two to three days. The business has been a labour of love and means so much to the Emirati that she made it her mission to undertake the entire process herself, from naming the cafe to choosing the location and kitting it out. The hands-on entrepreneur also loves being behind the machine whenever she can.
She hopes that by doing this she can prove to other Emiratis that it’s fun. “There are not many Emirati baristas [in the UAE], but they are starting to be more interested in speciality coffee. Many are getting professional machines at home, but often don’t even use them.”
Al Mousawi is hoping to change that by helping to educate coffee enthusiasts. “I think the hip scene that is around Melbourne and Australia is missing here, but there are plans to create a coffee school now. I’m talking with the Coffee Museum and trying to come up with a plan to educate people if they’re interested. That way, instead of opening and owning cafes with no purpose, they can get their hands dirty.”
Updated: February 11, 2019 05:27 PM