The UAE’s love affair with coffee heralds the drink’s return to grace in a region that played an integral part in its development. After being discovered in Ethiopia, coffee beans were first roasted and brewed in nearby Yemen before the Italians made the drink their own (and long before Seattle-based coffee chains discovered that the humble bean could make them billions). Read this, and try our faves.
How we did it
When visiting each of the 15 venues featured, we took a number of factors into consideration. First, the venue – coffee should be enjoyed in comfort, after all. Then we looked at the machines where possible: are they in good condition? Are they well maintained by the barista? Are they clean? We also kept a note of what brand of beans were used – Illy and Lavazza proved to be favourites here in Dubai, but then there are independent brands such as RAW that create custom blends on-site (meaning fresher beans for better taste). But great coffee beans will only make good coffee if a barista knows what he or she is doing – you could even go as far to say that the barista is the most important part of the process. We noted the amount of coffee a barista used for each shot of espresso (it should be about eight grams), how they tamped (compressed) the grounds (for the record, you should apply 15-20kg of pressure), how they poured the milk for a cappuccino, and speediness of service (coffee loses taste every minute it’s left standing on the counter). Last, but not least, we judged the coffee on its taste and presentation.
Best for: power coffee
Dhs35. Armani Hotel, Burj Khalifa (04 888 3444).
Armani/Dubai Caffé: Sitting in Armani’s café, you’ll be surrounded by designer clothes, including those on the clientele – we feel a little under-dressed in our shorts. Luckily, the coffee is as impressive as the handbags: our cappuccino is made from well-roasted rich Illy coffee and comes with a perfectly tight crema, while the mocha latte is served with a rich cocoa milk – truly moreish. A perfect experience: that is, until the bill arrives. ‘Twenty-eight bucks for a cappuccino?’ we exclaim (in a rather unfashionable manner).
Best for: posh coffee
Dhs28. The Dubai Mall (04 339 8396).
Il Caffè Di Roma: These guys must be experts – at least that’s what you’d believe after seeing the amount of coffee being served here. Every table is packed and there’s coffee being poured in the gallons. Sitting outside, we’re not sure what takes precedence here: the people-watching or the coffee. On that note, our cappuccino and espresso are both decent without being spectacular. The coffee is strong, really strong, and there’s a welcome hint of spice that somehow manages to creep in. It’s not piping hot when served, but it’s still okay. Nonetheless, this won’t be everyone’s idea of a perfect coffee as it’s a smash-and-grab environment. If you’re after something strong and bold, fight for a spot at this ever-popular place.
Best for: people-watching on The Walk.
Dhs16. The Walk at JBR (04 437 0228).
Le Pain Quotidien: We’ll be the first to admit that the coffee at Le Pain Quotidien can be hit and miss (last time we went it was lukewarm – urgh!), but when they get it right, there are few places we’d rather have our coffee. The Jumeirah Beach Residence outlet, for example, boasts beautiful outdoor seating – perfect for sitting, sipping and watching the world go by. What’s more, in true French style, Le Pain Quotidien serves its coffee in bowls. We’re sure it’s psychological, but it definitely tastes better this way…
Best for: sitting and sipping.
Dhs15. Rimal, Jumeirah Beach Residence, www.lepainquotidien.com (04 428 1305).
Carluccio’s: It’s hard to fault Carluccio’s. The staff are the first to tell you that they make good coffee (he actually said ‘enjoyable’) and after putting them to the test with a cappuccino and an espresso, we’re inclined to agree. Make your way through the mountains of hard-to-resist cookies to one of the many nicely lit tables and enjoy a good coffee: although there’s nothing spectacular about it, it’s a safe pick, you know what you’re getting and we’re confident you won’t be disappointed with the blend. It’s a charming, balanced cup, rich while sweet, and served in good time.
Best for: a post-lunch caffeine boost.
Dhs16. The Dubai Mall, Downtown Burj Khalifa (04 434 1320).
News Café: It’s said that a blend of 50 different kinds of bean (100 per cent Arabica, no less) goes into the coffee at News Café. This certainly sounds a lot, but whatever the blend, the resulting brew is pretty good. It should also be noted that News Café only serves Illy and there are plenty of varieties to choose from – four kinds of espresso, macchiato, frappe and even filter coffee.
Best for: mixing coffee and business.
Dhs22. Al Sondos Suites by Le Méridien, Deira (04 294 9797).
Freshii: Anyone familiar with Freshii will be pleased to know that the franchise pays as much attention to the quality of its coffee as it does its wraps, salads and soups. Though the DIFC lunchtime favourite isn’t particularly conducive to sitting and mulling over a cup of cappuccino, it’s certainly one of the best places to pick up a coffee in the area. The baristas are meticulous and attentive, and on our visit it was evident they take good care of their espresso machines. They’re also able to get the best out of the Lavazza beans they use, resulting in a creamy, aromatic coffee that’s good to take away with you.
Best for: coffee on the go.
Dhs10. DIFC (04 327 8083).
More: The ubiquitous More may seem like an all-too-obvious entry in our round-up, but it’d be a cruel oversight if we omitted it. Reassuringly, More 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.
Best for: a consistent cuppa.
Dhs17. Locations across Dubai, including The Dubai Mall, www.morecafé.biz (04 339 8934).
Bateel Café: Historically speaking, there should be no better place to drink coffee than here in the Middle East – it was first roasted in nearby Yemen. Bateel Café, a Saudi-owned chain, is keeping traditional Arabic coffee (often referred to as Turkish coffee) en vogue with local Emiratis. In many respects, Bateel is the Middle East’s answer to Starbucks (though the outlets are infinitely more plush) and there’s as much emphasis on dates and shisha as there is coffee. Nonetheless, the coffee is delicious – almost a different drink to what Westerners consider to be coffee. It isn’t filtered and is flavoured with an array of spices – principally cardamom, but also saffron cloves, and cinnamon.
Best for: regional coffee.
Dhs16. Dubai Festival City, www.bateel.ae (04 232 8876).
RAW Coffee Company: You don’t just go to RAW Coffee Company to buy and drink a cup of coffee, you go there to live coffee. This place isn’t just a coffee house, it’s one of the only places in Dubai that roasts its own beans. As such, the coffee you drink at RAW is always fresh, and you can tell – we’ve never had bad coffee there, nor has anyone we know. In fact, it’s not just walk-in customers who rate this place.RAW provides beans to Verre by Gordon Ramsay, L’Atelier Des Chefs, and the new One&Only on the Palm. Other than the quality of the blends (RAW plans to serve a selection of-single origin coffees), the quality of RAW’s coffee (which is also
100 per cent organic and fair trade) has much to do with its barista, Raja Muthusamy, who happens to be the UAE National Barista Champion. Under the guidance of Kim Thompson, RAW’s owner, Raja has more or less taught himself everything there is to know about coffee, which is more than obvious when you take a sip of any of his caffeine-based creations. Ignore the surreal garden-centre location – you won’t find
a better coffee in Dubai. Fact.
Best for: coffee. Simple as that.
Dhs12. Dubai Garden Centre, Sheikh Zayed Road (050 553 6808).
Saladicious: Despite the rather peculiar and slightly dubious name, this is a brilliant discovery. The feel is fun and jolly and there’s adventure in everything, from the Spider-Man wallpaper to the wacky furniture. The staff show great technique in their preparation and it’s easy to see, feel and, most importantly, taste the love and passion poured into the coffee. Our medium-roast Horeca cappuccino, poured from a Segafredo Zanetti by coffee-lover Francis, is perfect. It’s complex enough, deep in its flavour and, all in all, though it may not be one for purists, we love it.
Best for: a post Jumeirah Beach pick-me-up.
Dhs15. Al Maskan building, Jumeirah (800 72523).
Circle: The Illy beans used in Circle’s coffee are stored in pressure-sealed tins and come in espresso grind and decaf; the baristas are trained by representatives of Illy and, importantly, Circle uses fresh milk (you’d be surprised how many of Dubai’s coffee houses don’t). Baristas perform two pulls of the grinder per serving, which ensures a well-rounded coffee. On our visit, our espresso boasts a rich reddish-brown crema on the surface and is full of flavour.
Best for: ladies who lunch (and like coffee).
Dhs15. Beach Park Plaza Centre, Jumeirah. Other location: Dubai Media City (04 391 5170).
Basta Art Café: If you’re after something completely different, head to this cute venue: quirky, fun and positively zany, this actually works out to be a pretty nice environment for a coffee break, amid the madness of Bur Dubai. Our cappuccino is generous, served in a big mug. The coffee itself is made well, the milk noticeably warmed before it’s added and the taste is balanced and silky, while the aroma is pleasantly sweet. A decent, healthy layer of froth with bubbles aplenty caps it off nicely.
Best for: a tranquil moment amid the rush of Bur Dubai.
Dhs15. Al Fahidi Street, Bur Dubai (04 353 5071).
Illy: Smack bang in the middle of The Dubai Mall, Illy looks the part. Sleek coffee machines abound, and the service is good – it’s just the actual brew that lets the team down. Our espresso is burnt, bitter and virtually undrinkable, which is inexcusable as Illy beans are usually so tasty. Our latte looks more promising, the crema perfectly firm, but one taste and it’s clear that long-life milk has been used. You’re in the world’s largest mall – surely you have a fridge? We leave both coffees practically untouched.
Best for: watching the shoppers scurry by.
Dhs18. Espressamente Illy, The Dubai Mall (04 339 8488).
The perfect brew at homeMost of us don’t have an espresso machine handy, so here’s how to make great coffee using a cafétiere.
Make sure your coffee’s not too finely ground, else it won’t be caught in the filter efficiently and you’ll end up with sediment in your cup – and your teeth.
Pop the ground coffee into the coffee maker. Though it always depends on individual taste, it’s usually advisable to use between 25g and 50g (five tablespoons) of coffee to 1.4 litres of water.
When it’s boiled, let the water cool for about 30 seconds. The more precise among us can note that the water temperature of the water should be between 92°C and 96°C.
After gently pouring in the water, let the coffee brew for about four minutes. The coarser the grind, the longer the brew time should be, though four minutes is about the longest you’ll need.
Stir again and press the filter down slowly and steadily.
Wait 30 seconds for the sediment to settle at the bottom of cafétiere, then pour your coffee (slowly to minimise the chances of any sediment getting into your cup).
And one extra…We’d like to add a nod to Time Out’s resident barista, Noel Rimando. We can honestly say he serves better coffee to us every day in our office than we tasted at the Coffee University in Knowledge Village. Noel, we thank you.
What’s different about Arabic coffee?Meeting for a coffee is something that the Bedouins have been doing for centuries – the drink would be the first thing they’d offer to their guests. Unlike the coffee commonly drunk in the West, however, traditional Arabic coffee is not filtered. Instead, the coffee grounds are boiled in a kezveh (copper pan) and served from an elaborate teapot known as a dallah into a cup or a glass. The coffee isn’t filtered, so it can only be drunk and enjoyed once the grounds have fallen to the bottom. Arabic coffee is about as strong as an espresso. The taste, however, is completely different, thanks to the use of spices such as cardamine.
Readers’ choiceTime Out asked the good people of Dubai to vote for their favourite mainstream coffee house.
• 23% Starbucks
• 22% Caribou Coffee
• 22% Costa Coffee
• 12% Caffè Nero
• 10% Other
• 5% Gloria Jeans
• 5% Second Cup
• 2% Dunkin’ Donuts
Coffee: good or evil?It’s difficult to know what to think about coffee. One minute we’re told that it’s bad for us, the next we’re being told to drink more. So is coffee our friend or foe? Time Out corners local nutrition expert Belinda Rennie and demands answers.
‘Coffee contains antioxidants and can be considered a healthy drink [if limited] to one or two cups a day,’ says Belinda. ‘It stimulates the cortex of the brain, improves attention, concentration and coordination as well as dilating blood vessels and helping muscles to contract – the reason why most people like to drink it first thing in the morning.’
While this is all well and good, Belinda says the benefits of coffee decrease the more you drink. ‘Coffee has caffeine in it, which is an addictive stimulant, and this is where the problem lies. If you’re using coffee as
a substitute for food and a wake-up call, it may mean you aren’t getting sustained energy from eating a balanced diet and getting enough rest. Add the diuretic factor [coffee dehydrates you] and you could be losing more water from your body than you take in from a cup of coffee.’
Belinda says this is when coffee drinkers begin to feel jittery and irritable, though these effects vary from person to person depending on how quickly the liver can break down and metabolise the chemical components of coffee. ‘If you get a headache and feel lousy after just two to three days without caffeine (the classic weekend headache), then maybe you’re ready for a gentle liver detox.’
Belinda Rennie is a nutritionist working from Cooper Health Clinic. Contact her at email@example.com (04 348 6344).