Consumers in the UAE are beginning to demand better coffee - and aficionados and entrepreneurs are ready to make sure they get it.
Great coffee is so much more than the daily grind
As the national coordinator for UAE World Coffee Events and director of the International Coffee and Tea Festival, Ryan Godinho knows a thing or two about coffee. He also firmly believes that we need to be demanding more when it comes to brewing, beans and baristas.
Spurred on by his belief that the UAE is lagging far behind in the world coffee arena - a mindset shared by former UAE Barista Champion and the director of Raw Coffee Company Matt Toogood - Godinho helped found the UAE Coffee Club last June.
"We wanted to bring people with an interest in the subject together, encourage them to look beyond the franchises and discover what's available over here," he says. "In order for the coffee scene to improve, it's crucial those that drink it become better educated about what a decent cup should taste like. They need to have the confidence and knowledge to be critical, if what they're given hasn't been prepared well."
Twenty or so people - from home enthusiasts who even admitted to drinking instant to industry professionals - attended the group's first gathering. Since then, that number has swelled to more than 200 members, and meetings are held every other Saturday at different venues across the region - providing they serve good coffee, of course. Lesser-known venues are favoured and the group have also paid visits to the in-house roastery at Coffee Planet in Jebel Ali and Cafe Retro in Mirdif, to watch roasting and cupping demonstrations.
The excursions, Godinho says, are educational as well as social and provide an opportunity for enthusiasts to share their knowledge and opinions, as well as any hidden gems they may have discovered. For him, though, the overarching aim of the club is still to encourage coffee drinkers to be more discerning about what they're buying; he hopes the ripple effect of this will be that the overall standard improves.
Again, this a view shared by fellow coffee aficionados Toogood and Suhas Dwarakanath, the owner of Brewing Gadgets, a company that specialises in bringing the latest cafe supplies, barista tools and new generation coffee brewers to the UAE.
"There's still a long way to go, but as people are exposed to decent coffee more and more, they start to identify the taste profiles that they like, recognise when the coffee is too hot or has been over-extracted and demand a quality cup, which is exactly what the UAE needs," says Toogood.
Dwarakanath, meanwhile, has faith in the UAE's coffee drinkers and their increasingly honed taste buds, which prompted him to launch Brewing Gadgets (www.brewinggadgets.com) in September of last year.
"Consumer demand for quality coffee is growing and people are starting to understand that coffee is a complex beverage with many flavours to it; consumers are increasingly looking for freshly roasted coffees brewed in the right way," Dwarakanath explains.
He might just be on to something; when asked about the next developments in the UAE's, both Godinho and Toogoood predict that much like in Melbourne, New York and Seattle (cities that are seen as forerunners in the coffee world), manual brewing methods - as opposed to espresso-based preparations - are likely to become increasingly popular in hotels and restaurants and at home. Although it might be some time before we're blessed with speciality brewing cafes and pop-up filter bars, it's worth keeping your eyes peeled for different, brewed coffee preparations. Below are three particularly interesting examples in the UAE.
Also known as the vacuum coffee maker or vacpot, this two-chamber device has more than a passing resemblance to a piece of laboratory kit.
In short, freshly ground coffee is placed in the upper glass chamber and water in the lower one; as the water is heated, this creates a pressure vacuum which forces the liquid up into the top chamber. The coffee grains are immersed and, after a certain amount of time, the coffee is stirred and the flame removed, which causes the brewed liquid to pass back down into the first chamber through a filter.
When brewed well, this method is renowned for producing excellent results and a clean, aromatic cup of coffee. It's also great fun to watch.
Both Jones the Grocer and Raw Coffee Company sell siphon coffee and equipment for home brewing.
Chemex coffee maker
At Make Business Hub in Dubai Marina, a Chemex coffee maker is used to produce a cold brew, which is served over ice with a twist of lemon. Although the Chemex can also be used for hot drinks, the owner Leith Matthews says that given the UAE's weather, the cooling, clean flavour and feel of the chilled coffee has proved popular.
To use this elegant-looking piece of equipment, line the spout with a cone of Chemex-bonded filter paper and add the freshly ground beans. If you're serving the drink cold, place five or six ice cubes in the Chemex. Pour a small amount of hot (but not boiling) water over the beans, in order to wet them and allow the coffee to bloom. Wait until a little water drips through the filter before carefully pouring over the remaining water, using a swirling motion. Remove the coffee filter and serve.
Both Make Business Hub and the Raw Coffee Company serve Chemex brewed coffee and equipment. Also available online at www.brewinggadgets.com.
Clever Coffee Dripper
Toogood says that for the entry level coffee fan who wants to make a decent cup at home, this is his pick of all the gadgets on the market at the moment.
What makes the Clever so smart is an inbuilt stopper, which allows you to control the immersion time and still express the steeped coffee through a filter (normally with a paper filter, grains begin to drain straight away). It's also small, lightweight and mess free, making it the perfect travel companion.
A cup of Clever coffee from Raw costs Dh15. You can buy the Clever Coffee Dripper from Raw or order direct from the Brewing Gadgets website.
An espresso without coffee: Redespresso
An espresso without coffee? Before purists skip over the next few lines entirely, it's worth flagging up that the Redespresso drink served at More cafes in Dubai is thought to contain five times the antioxidants of green tea.
Made from rooibos tea leaves - whose health benefits are well documented - Redespresso is the world's first tea espresso and was invented in South Africa by Carl Pretorious. Pretorious took specially sourced rooibos tea leaves and ground them up to resemble an espresso grind, making them suitable for use in a coffee machine. The result - a drink that is similar in colour and intensity to espresso - has won a number of awards, including Best New Product-Speciality Beverage Award at the 2008/9 Speciality Coffee Association of America (SCAA) awards.
More cafe, with outlets in Mirdiff City Centre, the Dubai Mall and Mall of the Emirates, serves Redespresso and Redespresso cappuccinos.
The UAE Coffee Club welcomes new members. To get involved, join their Facebook group (www.bit.ly/CCDXB) or get in touch via Twitter (@UAECoffeeClub).
Every Friday from 10am to 2pm, the generous crew at Make Business Hub host ReCaf. For the price of a regular drink, visitors are invited to try coffee made from single origin beans and prepared using different brewing methods.
Make Business Hub, Al Fatten House, Dubai Marina.
The Raw Coffee Company holds regular "barista experience days". The day starts with a sampling session (single origins and blends, espresso-based drinks and brewed coffee), followed by a tour of the roastery and then a hands on class dedicated to creating the perfect espresso begins. This experience is available through Lime and Tonic (www.limeandtonic.com).