January 1st, 2011. I rolled out of bed thinking, TODAY is going to be the day I find the perfect coffee beans for my espresso machine. Actually, there's probably no such thing as the perfect bean - one person's blend could be another person's acid. So let's call it my fantasy coffee bean. My personal fantasy bean is not the bitter bile that most macho coffee drinkers can chug each morning. I need something a bit more delicate than that...something aromatic, potent, but not bitter. At least not in those early hours when my taste buds are still yawning awake. Bitter makes want to wretch and retreat back under my covers again.
Mind you, this fantasy has come real for me at many points in time, so this isn't one of those things I've dreamt up in some deprived and desperate hallucination prompted by a mid-afternoon hunger pang at work (there are many of those, and one day, I'll have a separate blog dedicated to my 3pm blood sugar-deprived delusions. But this is not one of them.). It came alive once in New York (surprise.) at the Puerto Rican Importing House Company...despite being a dark roast, the blend had this wonderfully smooth light taste without the piercing bitterness that makes me squirm. Their website describes the blend, simply called 'cafe blend,' as "Five coffees from Africa, South and Central America. Roasted between Viennese and French, Euro-style espresso, thick with crema." Other places with my fantasy bean that come to mind are Victrola's in Seattle, Everyman Espresso in NYC, and actually, now that I think of it, Le Pain Quotidienne in Dubai Mall (mental note: check out if they sell beans.) Yep, I know it exists out there.
So my first stop: The RAW Coffee Company.
This place had the real stuff according to Time Out's recent cover story on coffee places around Dubai - "You don’t just go to RAW Coffee Company to buy and drink a cup of coffee, you go there to live coffee." Deep. Very deep.
RAW roasts its own beans, has a UAE National Champion barista, and supplies to places the likes of Verre and L'Atelier Des Chefs. I called up Kim Thompson, one of the co-owners of RAW, to find out whether I could buy espresso beans in retail portions. That, and could I snap a few photographs at the café? "Sure, just give me a call before you get here so I can tell people to expect a camera!"
I pinched myself. Really? I can take pictures, and you will let your staff know in advance? You're not going to stare at me like I'm some twerp zapped from Mars wielding a nuclear camera gadget in my arms like do many of the other restaurants or cafés I've visited in Dubai?
RAW, you've already won half the battle with me, and we've not even got to the coffee yet.
My first taste test was a macchiato with RAW's casual blend. This baby was only 10 bucks...which seemed like a steal compared to what was probably an exponentially lower quality 10-buck Americano I'd ordered from from Zaatar w' Zeit on JBR the night before...a desperate measure to defrost myself while watching the new year's fireworks on the beach.
RAW describes its casual blend as "our restaurant blend – our subtle offering that will enhance but not over power your meal – silky smooth." It was like someone had heard my morning espresso cry, and then magically captured all the qualities of my fantasy cup of espresso in one descriptive tag line. I'm sure they have the brand and tag line copyrighted, else I'd have stolen it, stamped it all over with the InaFryingPan name, and used it to single-handedly conquer the universe of coffee drinkers.
My first sip shocked me out of my conquer-the-coffee-world reverie . Ack. Bit-ter...and, can I taste...tangy? It was like someone had squished a lemon into my espresso! Yeech. [desperately searching for covers to hide back under] Don't get me wrong - this was a perfectly made cup of espresso, and I can get bet that there would be scores of people out there who'd swear by this espresso blend. Crema, check. Thick creamy foam, check. My personal fantasy blend, wretch-ety CROSS.
I moped to the barista that I hadn't found my fantasy bean at his cafe, but thank you Mr Barista Man, for letting me snap photos to my heart's content. At this point, most baristas in Dubai would have been glad to shoo me away, but to RAW's credit, the barista pulled me inside their roasting room (Sweeeeet, your own roasting room! Can I come in? Oh wow, is that your roasting machine? And are those the bins with beans? Oh can I snap a picture? Of the beans? Of the roasting machine? Am I the most annoying person you've ever met Mr Barista Man?) Mr Barista Man ran his fingers through a second blend of beans, the lightest roast they had. Where from? Columbia? [Skeptical look on my face] this can't be subtle. Columbian is usually really bitter and strong...but ok, I'll give it a shot. Macchiato please. [Teeny sip] ACK. Still Bitter. [Fantasy of subtle non-bitter but potent espresso slowly receeding into the dark dusty corners of my brain, fairly close to extinction]
Will I come back to RAW? Yes, probably. When Kim heard that I'd walked out beanlessly, she suggested that I come back to try the Rwanda or Peruvian beans next time. I'd be back to try those, but also, I'm a fan of the quirky location in Garden Center. It's so off-the-glossy-mall-path compared to other places in Dubai, so tiny and tucked away, with one old-school wooden table and bench in the center of the cafe, strewn with random magazines...the place just had this character that whispered - "Come on in, have a cup. Who cares that you're not caked up with make up and that your hair just emerged from a windmill, we don't judge you.' Another perk of the place was that it being Garden Center, they had this awesome collection of plants and flowers and things that you can just lose yourself in on a Friday afternoon. So not only did I have two shots of espresso, but I could also run errands by picking up plant fertilizer and potting soil for mom. Cashing in those brownie points with the parents, *cha-ching!*
Second stop, Esquire Coffee Houses
I'd driven past this on No scratch that. RAW deserves its own little post. It may not have rocked my world as did Puerto Rican House Importing Co. or Victrola's, but I still can't shove it in the same post with other, far lesser mortals.
The RAW Coffee Company
Dubai Garden Centre (between 3rd & 4th interchange on Sheikh Zayed road)