Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 5 April 2020

Coffee aficionados compete for up to Dh125,000 in prizes

World’s first Gahwa Championship begins in Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre

A good cup of coffee can inspire someone to change the course of their lives. That was the prevailing message at the first Gahwa Championships, held in Abu Dhabi on Monday.

Hundreds descended on the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre to sample and buy some of the best coffee in the Middle East in what was billed as a celebration of local heritage.

With up to Dh125,000 in prizes, more than 350 coffee aficionados expressed interest in participating in the region’s first Arabic coffee contest.

Of these, only 30 – the “best of the best” – were selected, said Norah Al Khamis, research analyst at the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism, which organised the event.

From coffee farmers, who inherited the job through the generations, to young people who trained in coffee making out of passion, one thing was made clear on Monday: coffee is about so much more than a caffeine hit.

The first contestant in the medium / dark roast category, Zayed Al Tamimi, grinds his coffee beans at the first ever Gahwa Championship. Khushnum Bhandari for The National
The first contestant in the medium / dark roast category, Zayed Al Tamimi, grinds his coffee beans at the first ever Gahwa Championship. Khushnum Bhandari for The National

Ahmad Al Shimmari provided the beat to the event, sitting cross-legged on the floor and pounding a bean pot that used to serve as a coffee-grinder.

“This is called the menhaz and rashad,” he said, pointing to the mortar and pestle he was using to crush the beans.

He beat the mortar three times then scraped the pestle around the outside twice.

“Each person creates their own rhythm while grinding. This is called ‘the calling’.”

The pounding sound was an indication to neighbours and passers-by “that this house is making coffee, you are welcome to join”, said the Emirati, 24.

Mr Al Shimmari was a novice when he joined Bait Al Gahwa (House of Coffee) last year.

The DCT programme at Qasr Al Hosn’s House of Artisans, educates visitors about the art and traditions of making Arabic coffee.

Since I joined, I got into it and learnt many things I did not know about coffee,” Mr Al Shimmari said.

Only 8 per cent of bank loans went to SMEs in Mena last year, according to a survey by the World Bank. Khushnum Bhandari for The National
Only 8 per cent of bank loans went to SMEs in Mena last year, according to a survey by the World Bank. Khushnum Bhandari for The National

It was a similar story for many of the experts taking part in the competition or exhibiting their blends at Adnec.

Osamah Al Awwam, 33, a contest judge from Saudi Arabia, was an instant coffee drinker until a particularly delicious cappuccino changed his perspective.

“Before that, I never understood the big deal people made about coffee. I did not understand why they drank it passionately.

“So I discovered that coffee is a pleasant drink,” Mr Al Awwam said.

Coffee in its original state: red two-seeded berries on display at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre. Khushnum Bhandari for The National
Coffee in its original state: red two-seeded berries on display at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre. Khushnum Bhandari for The National

That cup was his gateway into serious coffee making and soon began roasting beans himself at home.

He became certified in coffee making and, in 2012, cofounded the Roasting House in Riyadh.

“We started with a very small shop but a big dream. My goal was how to elevate coffee standards.

“Our vision was to develop coffee gourmet, just like dates when you know their origins and how exactly they were picked and delivered.”

And Mr Al Awwam is not alone. The specialised coffee community has grown exponentially over the past few years, regionally and globally.

Ahmed Al Shimmari pours out a cup of coffee at the first Gahwa Competition in Abu Dhabi. Khushnum Bhandari for The National
Ahmed Al Shimmari pours out a cup of coffee at the first Gahwa Competition in Abu Dhabi. Khushnum Bhandari for The National

“We don’t have figures but every year we see the number of participants doubling or tripling,” said Abdulla Al Mheiai, a judge at Gahwa Championships.

He too developed an obsession with coffee after drinking “a very different cup of espresso” in Australia 10 years ago.

“This is what got me hooked,” the Emirati, 30, said.

“I met the barista that made it, it was a very balanced cup of double-shot espresso – sweet, smooth and balanced. It was not even labelled speciality coffee.”

He became a certified barista and founded two speciality cafes, Course Coffee, in Dubai.

On Monday, Mr Al Awwam and Mr Al Mheiai were among four judges testing the championship contestants on their coffee’s roast, colour, taste balance — in terms of aromatics, acidity, bitterness and flavour.

They stayed for more than an hour in the cupping room, where they do a blind evaluation of the products.

“It has to be a thorough process,” Mr Al Mheiai said.

Updated: December 10, 2019 11:54 AM

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