Being pretentious about coffee (or anything) is really easy. I certainly am. So much so, I’ve never cradled a Nespresso capsule or set foot in a Starbucks. In fact, my De’Longhi espresso machine (and handheld bean grinder) was recently listed as one of the three things I can’t live without, pipping Skype sessions with my mum and a Kindle into second and third place.
Whenever I’m on holiday, too, it’s not “best restaurants” I Google first, but “best coffee shops”. I subsequently have a cupboard full of unground beans that have been purchased all over the world, each with a story of the bearded, tattooed and braces-wearing hipster who served it, and the backdrop of a bar-like atmosphere and test tubes where it was bought. How smug.
But what do I actually know about coffee, the world’s second-most traded commodity? I know I like it black, that I like – not need – it first thing in the morning and in espresso form after dinner, as well as at precisely 10.50am whenever I’m at work. I also thought I knew putting anything other than water with it is tantamount to poisoning; mocha, misto, choca and iced are words too rude to even be published on these pages. And as for cappuccino, don’t you wear them to the polo?
As it turned out, it was all highfalutin and I don’t know very much at all; a bit like the chap who drives a Lamborghini but doesn’t know how to change his wiper blades. I was a fraud. That has all changed after four hours as a pupil of one of the best baristas in the world. Karthik Rajendran placed third at the 2016 World Cezve/Ibrik Championships, held right here in Dubai, and calls Raw Coffee Company, a converted warehouse in Al Quoz, “work”.
I go for the home-grown brand’s Home Barista course, a terrifically engaging and informative jaunt covering everything from the mechanics of coffee machines and the importance of cleaning them, to how even the most miniscule of changes to the burr (never a blade) grinder will affect your tongue.
It all takes place in a fully functioning split-level coffee shop and roastery. The location may be down an Al Quoz side road, but it’s bright, airy and welcoming, furnished with sofas upholstered in coffee bags and abuzz with large groups holding meetings or having a catch-up. It’s a perfect picture of coffee shop culture.
And for all the seriousness with which Raw takes its coffee, there is no snootiness, no pretention, and barely a beard in sight. So if you want a dash of caramel and a slice of lemon with your frozen blend – I’m not sure that’s actually a thing – you can do, and you’ll get it with an exceptional foundation; a 100 percent organic roast from the equatorial lands of Africa, South America and Asia, ethically sourced in person by the experts behind the brand.
That background is but a small part of the course. We also learn how to “taste” coffee, a concept known as cupping, and one that cannot be done while maintaining any sort of decorum; all sniffing, spitting and sharp inhaling. Did you know that the taste – there are 1,600 flavours in Arabica coffee alone – isn’t so much dependent on where the bean comes from, but by the changing in coarseness of the grind, the time taken to let the water run, how quickly the beans move from ground to filtered, and about 100 other variables in between?
Throughout the course, there are plenty of hands-on modules, such as “tamping”, the way in which you press the ground beans into the filter basket. There’s also foam art, but the less said about my “swan”, the better.
In the classroom, numbers like 18 percent acidity, nine-bar pressure and 25-second flow rate are thrown around, and then tried and tested as we polish off what feels like an entire shipment’s worth of espresso. The only thing missing is a little delve into the roastery that sits at the heart of the venue. Of course, “home” barista is the key word here, and anybody taking up the class is unlikely to have such a machine in their apartment. But poking our heads round the door would’ve sprinkled an extra bit of stardust on proceedings. And given me something to be even more smug about.
Dhs1,000. Dates available on request. Raw Coffee Company, Warehouse 10, Street 7a, Al Quoz, www.rawcoffeecompany.com.
Four to try Masterclasses and courses
Vivaldi by Alfredo Russo’s executive chef Fabio Genghini hosts an introduction to Italian cuisine, incorporating the techniques and styles of Michelin-starred Alfredo Russo in Turin, Italy.
Dhs299 per person including three-course lunch. Tue and Thu 10.30am-12.30pm. Sheraton Dubai Creek Hotel & Towers (04 207 171704 207 1717).
Beef and ceviche
Gaucho offers a number of classes, including sessions on selecting and cooking different cuts of beef, and an introduction to ceviche through the dish’s history, culminating in the creation of three of the restaurant’s signatures.
Dhs275 (beef), Dhs375 (ceviche). Classes on request. Gate Village 5, DIFC (04 422 789804 422 7898).
Thai Kitchen’s open-plan restaurant hosts lunch and early dinner class options, where participants can get to grips with traditional dishes and then dine on their creations. A branded apron and chef’s hat are included.
Dhs350 (soft drinks), Dhs525 (house beverages). Classes on request. Park Hyatt Dubai, Deira (04 602 180404 602 1804).
chocolate and patisserie
Book your “Chocolate Initiation” with Philippe Marand, a member of the Academy of Culinary Arts of Great Britain. The four-day workshop provides a starting platform of knowledge and skills in working with chocolate.
Dhs3,200. See website for schedule. Ontario Tower, Business Bay, www.chocolate-academy.com.