x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The modern majlis - where coffee is hot and Wi-Fi is free

The coffee shop has become a place to meet, socialise, relax, work and even study

Customers everywhere are choosing coffee shops for a quick snack. Jeff Topping / The National
Customers everywhere are choosing coffee shops for a quick snack. Jeff Topping / The National

It may surprise you to know that two of the top 10 fast food restaurants in the world are not known for their food at all, but for their coffee. Starbucks, an American export, is now the third-largest fast food restaurant in the world, and Dunkin Donuts - which is probably better known for its coffee than its namesake - ranks sixth, at least in terms of the number of outlets.

Indeed, while it may seem that Burger King and Pizza Hut are on nearly every block, customers everywhere are choosing coffee shops for a quick snack.

A coffee will not provide you with nutrients or calories like a burger or a pizza and yet, in these tough economic times, you still see people with warm cups of coffee paying as much as $4 (Dh14.7) for the drink.

Coffee has been enjoyed around the world for centuries, but according to folklore the drink was discovered in the 9th century by an Ethiopian shepherd. The legend describes Kaldi, who noticed that his sheep were more active when they ate from a berry tree.

The clever Kaldi took those berries to a Muslim scholar who threw them into the fire after grinding them. He then added water to the roasting berries and, as the legend goes, the pair enjoyed the first cups of freshly brewed coffee.

It was much later in the 15th century that Sufi monks were reported to drink the beverage, in a city called Mokha, in Yemen. Following that coffee shops were opened in Mecca and Cairo and the phenomenon quickly spread to the rest of the world.

There are two main types of coffee beans: Arabica and Robusta. Arabica beans are superior and therefore make up 65 per cent of the world's production.

Still, there is much debate about what constitutes a delicious cup of coffee. The professionals know that a magnificent coffee is based on appearance, aroma, body and flavour. It is only an experienced Barista that can pour the perfect espresso or the trendiest of coffee shops that has the most unique latte art.

The very word coffee is derived from the Turkish word kahve, which originates from the Arabic Qahwa. The Arabic verb Qaheeya means to have no appetite, which is surely one of the reasons coffee is so popular. A great coffee makes the drinker feel satisfied in a way that no other food or beverage can. It is the smell and feeling of holding the warm cup that pleases all of your senses. The smell of roasted beans can affect your mood even before you take that first sip.

The energising feeling once you have swallowed the drink is undeniable. One of the main chemicals found in coffee is caffeine, which is a great antidepressant. While coffee consumption continues to be studied by the medical profession, it is now accepted that moderate consumption of the drink, in healthy individuals, will have no negative effect and may even be beneficial.

Coffee has universal appeal, even though it is consumed in different ways. Coffee in the US may often be bought from a drive-through by people who want to make their hour-long commute to work more enjoyable. In the UAE it is most often drunk from a delah, a coffee pot that is ceremoniously poured by a server into a small cup, known as a finjan. In Europe the most popular place for your daily coffee would be the cafe, where drinkers can people watch out of the cold weather.

Coffee drinking is often connected to another activity: talking. Friends often choose to meet up over a cup of coffee to connect and socialise. A coffee gathering can be as short or as long as you want to make it with less effort, cost and calories than a lunch or dinner.

The coffee shop is actually a similar concept to the majlis in the Arabian Gulf; people sitting around for hours on end talking, and sipping. Some people claim that they can complete a lot of work in coffee shops.

It is even becoming acceptable to conduct brief meetings in coffee shops. The coffee shop has become a place to meet, socialise, relax, work and even study.

We measure the quality of a coffee shop based on its food, parking, customers, internet access, service and of course, the coffee itself.

Pizza joints and burger stands could never measure up.


Reema Marzouq Falah Al Ahbabi is an Emirati homemaker and an MBA graduate

On Twiter: @rm_ahbabi