Meet the man behind the counter at one of the UAE's many juice bars.
It's a vicious circle. The summer heat has driven you indoors, but the icy air-conditioned wind tunnel that is your apartment has forced you back out again. You venture outdoors but it's too hot, so you enter a shopping mall where the hustle, bustle and dry, cold air conditioning has you feeling utterly drained.
You're tired, you're thirsty and you need something that will revive your flagging spirits and leave you feeling spry, energised and ready to face the summer once again. Quite simply, you need fruit juice. Thankfully, in the last few years the UAE has witnessed a growth spurt in fruit juice bars. Never have we had so much choice when it comes to smoothies, shakes, juices and mocktails. And rarely are they in more demand than when the summer comes around. It's a time of year that might have you lurching from one juice bar to the next in search of the ultimate fruity hit. But for Fadi Alia, it's just business as usual.
As a mixologist, Alia has been quenching thirsts and creating imaginative, exhilarating and healthy fruit juice blends for the past eight years. Recently, he's been working the blenders at Waterlemon juice bar at Dubai Mall, which is where I pay him a visit on an unpleasantly muggy afternoon - I am much in need of liquid refreshment. "Fruit is something amazing," says Alia as we sit down to study the menu. "It makes you feel comfortable, and it has a very good flavour and taste. When I work with fruits I feel as if I am in a garden. I feel comfortable and happy. It's my passion."
Alia's lifelong passion for fruit is what inspired him to become a mixologist. "If you love something, you will do it," he says with conviction. "I started by studying each fruit - what is an orange, what is a mango? In this way, I found something in each fruit that lets you work with it, and then you want to learn more about mixing them. It depends on whether you feel comfortable with it or not. If I look at a peach or a kiwi, I feel like I am somewhere else."
The menu is crammed with juice blends that demonstrate his art. "In mixology, we mix fruits together to make drinks with a special flavour," explains Alia. "But there's something very important to remember: if we mix two flavours of fruit, we will get a third flavour. So one plus one doesn't always equal two. It equals three. For example, when we mix melon and mango, we have a hint of melon and mango, but they combine to make a third flavour. Avocado and mango are both exotic fruits. You can mix them together and they will have a very good flavour. If you mix mango and strawberry, it's also very good. So it's important to know how to mix fruits together, because some fruits can't be mixed. They will give a sour taste or an unpleasant flavour."
As one might expect, it gets more complex as more fruits are added. "It's not an easy job," says Alia, puffing his cheeks and shaking his head. "When somebody orders a strawberry, mango and banana smoothie, he should be able to taste all three ingredients. If I use 30 per cent strawberry, 30 per cent mango and 40 per cent banana, you will not taste the strawberry. So you have to have 60 per cent strawberry, 30 per cent mango and only 10 per cent banana. The quantity and the ratio is very important so one flavour doesn't overpower the other. This comes from studying, but experience is also very important."
It's clear that flavour and enjoyment are Alia's guiding principles and, for him, the health benefits are a mere by-product of drinking fruit juice. "The flavour of the fruit depends on the season," he says. "Like fresh orange juice. For around four or five months of the year, fresh orange juice can have a sour taste. So the menu at Waterlemon changes according to the season. "I don't think too much about the new recipes," he says. "I just stand behind the juice bar, see the fruits in my mind's eye and start to mix."
Impressed by Alia's intuitive knowledge and imagination, I ask him if he can create a special smoothie recipe in The National's honour. "I will do it now!" he announces as a determined expression crosses his face. "I will go inside the bar, I will create a drink." He marches off behind me, where the sound of whirring juice blenders merges with the techno-pop blaring from the speakers dotted around the juice bar. Within a few minutes, he returns and presents me with a tall glass of two-tone purple juice sprinkled with blueberries.
"I walked to my juice bar. I saw the morning sun rising over the beach. And I saw the moment the sun starts shining over the sea. Then I made this drink," he announces. The newly created smoothie is named The National Sunrise especially for us, and it's good. In fact, it's very good. I take down the recipe, eager to recreate it at home. "You'll just need a blender and the fruit," Alia advises. "But straight fresh fruit is the healthiest. It's the best thing to drink because it's totally natural. Listen to your body and it will tell you what you need. One month it might be carrot juice, the next it's orange juice. Let your body guide you."
If that's the key to squeezing the most out of fruit juice, I'll certainly drink to that. Waterlemon, Dubai Mall, 04 437 3200.