A roast-tinted take on coffee

In Dubai, Travel, Video on September 7, 2012 at 6:15 pm

A different take on Ethiopian coffee at Make contrasts with the coffee ceremonies of Addis Ababa. And makes me think about coffee in general.

This morning I went to Make Business Hub for a coffee morning. Not a coffee morning with gossip about family and work, but a coffee morning dedicated to, well, coffee.

It was hosted by Matt Wade, of Coffee Planet Roastery, whose business card reads “roast master”, a coffee expert.

He was showcasing one coffee, an Ethiopian roast, that had lemon hints, and tones of chocolate and caramel. He filtered it into a large decanter that looked like it had been taken from a chemistry lab, added some lemon peel to it, and a bit of sugar syrup “to balance it”; that is, to bring out the chocolate tastes. It was served poured into a glass with ice and a slice of lemon peel.

Ethiopian coffee at Make Business Hub. It was filtered into the glass cafetiere, lemon peel and a little sugar syrup added, then poured over ice. (Photo taken with my HTC One X)

It tasted refreshing, lemony, a little like iced tea. Not so much like coffee, but it must have been quite strong;after a couple of glasses of that and a regular latte, I was buzzing.

Matt is on a mission to get places in Dubai to carry good coffee. There’s nowhere that does now, apparently, although I’ve heard good things about Raw, which used to be in the Dubai Garden Centre. Apparently it’s now moved somewhere else, and has been replaced by another cafe, also good.

Matt introduced us to Suhas Dwarakanath, who runs Brewing Gadgets. He has been running his coffee kit business for a year or so now. It sells things like the Clever Coffee Dripper filter, which lets you steep your coffee before it pours out with a fun trigger mechanism when you put it on to a cup.

The coffee we were drinking is roasted then left to rest for six days or so. In Ethiopia they tend to roast the coffee on a frying pan from green beans, before pounding it into powder, adding boiling water and pouring it into cups. It’s a traditional process, the Ethiopian coffee ceremony, and when I was there I experienced it first in a chat house. (We were high on chat, the stimulant leaves that you chew and that make you chatty. It is the same leaf as the qat they chew in Yemen.) This tasted different.

It’s been a while since I’ve been particularly interested in coffee. I pick up a large latte from Panino on the ground floor of Thuraya Tower II in Media City on my way to work if I am not running too late. There’s a Costa in the basement of Thuraya I where I work now, but I have a loyalty stretching back to when I worked at Mediaquest. Panino (which gives me a cookie and a stamp on a card with every AED16 coffee I buy; every fifth coffee and cookie is free) stole my loyalty from Al Merkaaz, the Arabic restaurant under Thuraya Tower. That used to be the only place other than Bakemart to get a coffee, and for ages when I went in for a cup, the man making the coffee would give me a free creme caramel. I’ve not bought coffee there for well over a year now.

Back in the UK, it must have been when I was a student, I read a book called The Devil’s Cup, by Stewart Lee Allen. It was basically a history of coffee. It origninated somewhere around this region, although probably in Ethiopia when a goatherd noticed his goats would eat the beans from a certain tree and got lots of energy. He tried some beans, and either stayed up all night or fucked one of his goats, depending on which version of the story you hear. Other things I remember from that book are: Later, coffee shops in London became houses of dissent, and also the first insurance agencies; the croissant is a bastardisation by a French chef of the little crescent biscuits the Turkish have with coffee, after he was asked to make them by a homesick Turkish wife of the French king; whirling dervishes are high on coffee when they spin; latte was invented to make the Brits drink coffee that was otherwise too bitter for their palates.

Everywhere in Ethiopia there is coffee, produced in a ceremony that involves roasting green beans on a frying pan, then crushing them, brewing in a pot, pouring and serving.

The history of coffee is interesting. Coffee itself is nice, but it’s also a metaphor for so many other things. It can taste really pleasant, but it always smells so much better, and it can never live up to the promise of its aroma.

The coffee this morning was cold, so didn’t have so much of that aroma. It underpromised and overdelivered.

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