The Middle East is an ancient cradle of café culture. It was after all, reputedly the Yemenis who first hit on the ingenious idea of roasting this now much sought-after bean. While coming together to drink coffee might be one of the region’s oldest social activities, in recent years in Dubai, enjoying a humble cup of coffee has taken on a new colour, with increasingly better informed network of coffee makers and consumers.
Reflecting this rising interest in coffee, while still rooted in the ‘ social’ aspect, is the recent launch of Sabado Coffee Club. The Dubai-born meet-up group is aimed simply at tasting premium roasts from around the world and socialising over a cup of coffee. Instigated by Matt Wade, roast master at Dubai-based producers Coffee Planet, the now monthly event is hosted by different café spaces across the emirate. The club, he tells us, is not a commercially affiliated event and as such welcomes the wider community of roasters in Dubai, as well as plenty of amateur enthusiasts.
‘When I was in London, I used to run a Sunday club with a few friends, where we would get coffee from roasters all over the world,’ begins Wade. ‘People from the East London coffee community would all come down and we’d taste different varieties. But in a non-pretentious way. That was how I used to spend my Sundays, and I really enjoyed it, so I just wanted to set up something like that over here.’
Wade is keen to emphasise that the tastings (or ‘cupping’ as it is referred to in coffee-parlance) that take place at Sabado are intended to be an open and accessible experience for all, for aficionados and beginners.
‘I want Sabado to be a social thing first. A lot of like-minded people, who might not otherwise be able to meet up. And it so happens that I bring coffee from around the world, for everyone to taste. There is a common interest but no rigorous format.’
Guests show up on the day and a selection of coffees are laid out across the table. Visitors are encouraged to sample and rate each beverage. Once a winning coffee is decided upon, from each attendee’s score, everyone can try a full cup of the triumphant roast.
Having explained that the coffee tasting at Sabado is coming from his own private ‘supply’, Wade emphasises that the coffee sampled at Sabado is not the sort of coffee already used by local roasting companies in Dubai. ‘I want to bring coffee in to the Middle East that we are not open to. We don’t currently have access to any of it. Obviously it is a developing market here. Local roasters can’t buy that much really, really high-end coffee, because there are not actually that many people here that want to buy it. The market is still growing. In the next two years we are going to see a really rapid change. It comes down to price a lot of the time, as well as people’s preconceptions of what coffee is. People forget coffee is a fruit and has over 800 different flavours. It doesn’t just taste of coffee. There is more to it than ‘strong’ or ‘weak’.’
Coffees that have been tried out at previous editions of Sabado include a Hawaiian coffee grown at 568 metres above sea level. This exceptionally low altitude has a large impact on the quality of the end product, Wade explains, since high altitude usually leads to a ‘denser bean’, which (in layman’s terms), usually leads to a better end roast. With the roasting and café scene in Hong Kong ‘blossoming’, according to Wade, the club has sampled new coffees from roasters in this area, as well as a little further afield in the region, including the southern provinces of Mainland China and also, from Taiwan.
One coffee sampled is a Costa Rican bean that grows surrounded by tropical flowers. It is said that this particular farmer believes these flowers act as ‘spiritual gateways’. And intriguingly, Wade tells us, this coffee is in fact, highly sought after, for its bright, juicy, cherry, sweet flavours.
From 20 participants at the first event to 45 the following month, the club is growing rapidly. Having held the first two Sabado Coffee Club events at Roseleaf Café and Café Rider respectively, the third is due to take place next week on Saturday August 2 at Spill the Bean in Jumeirah. The fourth event is already lined up too, due to be held at Creekside, on Saturday September 6. Happy cupping.
Entry to Sabado Coffee Club is Dhs25 per person. No prior registration is required. Saturday August 2, from noon at Spill the Bean, Sunset Mall, Jumeirah Beach Road (04 338 8559). Saturday September 6, from noon at Creekside, Dubai Creek, next to the Bur Dubai Grand Mosque, Bur Dubai (04 359 9220).