But what exactly makes a good cup of coffee and, more to the point, where can we find one here in Dubai? If anyone knows, it’s Mate Nieva, one of the judges at the national barista competition. Nieva says the first obvious component of good coffee is a good blend, but a lot depends on the machine used. A modern automatic machine, if well adjusted and well maintained, will always make a decent cup of coffee – never brilliant, but never terrible. Coffee from a traditional machine, however, depends very much on the barista. A good barista can get the best out of the bean, but a bad one can serve some really horrid stuff.
As far as a cappuccino is concerned, the milk should be steamed slowly but surely. This will stop it from becoming too frothy or from overheating – the moment you overheat the milk, it destroys the taste balance. What’s more, the bubbles should be tiny, rather than big and foamy, giving the milk a silky texture. A good barista will make sure the milk jug is held at a particular angle and swirl the milk in a circular motion to heat it evenly. Once the milk is hot, it should again be swirled in the jug (like you swirl wine before a tasting), then banged on the bench to get rid of large bubbles.
Equipped with this new-found coffee know-how, Time Out ventured forth to discover the five venues where Dubai’s best coffee is served.
The finals of the second UAE National Barista Championships are on October 14 at 7pm, at Al Bustan Rotana Hotel, Garhoud (04 282 0000)
Aspen Cafe: Despite being more hotel lobby than cosy coffee house, Aspen serves fine coffee. This is largely thanks to the stewardship of Mate Nieva, a representative of German company Dallmayr (and Time Out’s local coffee advisor – see left), who has whipped the staff into shape. Likewise, the aromatic Dallmayr beans make for very good coffee indeed. We’d recommend the cappuccino.
Kempinski, Mall of the Emirates (04 409 5999)
Circle: Circle took home the 2010 Time Out Eating Out Award for best café thanks to its triumvirate of great venue, great food and great coffee. The beans are stored in pressure-sealed tins and come in espresso grind and decaf; the baristas are trained by representatives of Illy, which provides Circle’s coffee beans. It also should be noted that Circle uses fresh milk (you’d be surprised how many of Dubai’s coffee houses don’t), and baristas perform two pulls of the grinder per serving, which allows for a well-rounded coffee. When we visited, our espresso boasted a rich reddish-brown crema on the surface and was full of flavour.
Beach Park Plaza Centre, Jumeirah (04 342 8177)
Gloria Jean’s: This Aussie chain has proved itself to be the thinking coffee drinker’s answer to Starbucks. Not only does it use high-quality aromatic Arabica beans, but prides itself on using sustainably grown coffee. While it doesn’t perhaps have the personality or quality of some of the independently run coffee chains around town, it’s definitely a very good option if you need a break from a mall trawl.
The Dubai Mall (04 403 6636)
More: Dubai favourite More may seem like an all-too-obvious entry in our round-up, but we’ve chosen it for good reason. The chain takes its coffee seriously, boasting no fewer than seven blends (including decaffeinated espresso); its signature blend combines four coffee beans from three different continents. It’s a full, rich and well-rounded coffee with a medium body and a memorable finish. Sharp yet sweet and smooth.
The Dubai Mall (04 339 8934)
RAW Coffee Company: RAW Coffee Company is a boutique roasting house owned by New Zealand couple Kim and Grayden Thompson. According to amateur coffee connoisseur Ed Surgeon, who helped with this round-up, the barista consistently makes faultlessly creamy cappuccinos. RAW is also unique in that it roasts its own beans, which caught the attention of L’Atelier Des Chefs and Gordon Ramsay’s Verre, both of which serve RAW coffee.
Dubai Garden Centre, Sheikh Zayed Road (050 553 6808)