A caffeine-fueled UAE tour, from tradition to modernity

In Abu Dhabi and Dubai, cafés roast and sell specialty coffees, Arab-style or otherwise. In the latter city, there’s even an entire museum devoted to the product.

Thais Sousa

Dubai – Arab countries are one of the parts of the world where the history of coffee dates back the longest. Ever since the 15th century, when plant used to be grown and then shipped from Yemen, hundreds of years have gone by and the grain remains synonymous with tradition in Arab culture. However, at cafés in the United Arab Emirates, modernity weaves its way through ancientness.

The Espresso Lab is set in the Dubai Design District

A tour of Dubai and Abu Dhabi can include one of the oldest cafés in the UAE, and ones that offer specialty coffees, cutting-edge extraction methods, and grains from around the globe, Brazil included.

The Espresso Lab

The first café along our way is The Espresso Lab (pictured above), owned by Ibrahim H. Al Mallouhi, the Emirati barista who won the national brewers’ contest in 2018 and 2019. Mallouhi represented the UAE in the 2018 world tournament hosted in Brazil.

Set in the Dubai Design District, where art installations pop up amid the buildings, the café won the Best Special Drinks category in the 2018 DubaiLovesCoffee competition. It serves up multiple coffee-based drinks made with product from countries like Ecuador and Colombia. Also available is product from Fazenda Paraíso, a farm in Brazil’s Cerrado Mineiro area – filtered, espresso and cold-pressed options are available!

Mokha is also the name of a seaport in Yemen

Mokha 1450

Next we’ll stop by Mokha 1450, whose name pays tribute to the first seaport from where coffee got shipped to the world over: that’s Mokha Port, in Yemen, where exports began in 1450.

Single-source coffee options are available here, including from Yemen itself, where Mokha 1450 supports the Talok Women’s Coffee Association, a 70-strong producers’ cooperative. The micro batches produced by local women gets roasted and sold out of the café’s two units in Dubai. In addition to the sweets on offer, dates get served alongside filtered coffee cups.

Great Coffee? In Abu Dhabi, we checked out the Aptitude Café

Aptitude Café (Abu Dhabi)

In the UAE’s capital, art-seeking tourists will definitely see Louvre Abu Dhabi. And that’s when they can replenish their caffeine levels in style. Right next to the museum entrance is a sign that reads “Great Coffee this way,” and it points towards Aptitude Café.

Overseeing the museum and the surrounding ocean, the establishment welcomes tourists and locals alike, and Brazilian grain is also available here! They serve snacks, cakes, and cold-brew to go if you happen to be in a hurry. Also available are modern filtering methods like Aeropress and Chemex.

One of the oldest restaurants in Dubai

Arabian Tea House Cafe

Back in Dubai, you can take the metro and then a few footsteps to get to the Arabian Tea House Café, one of the oldest places in the emirate. With a tree in the middle of the hall where the tables are, the Arabian features décor, the menu and a history of treasuring Arab tradition.

The place is in an old building in the Al-Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, an area that got converted into a small stronghold of art galleries, cafés and hotels, while preserving the original UAE architecture. The Arabian Tea House Café’s menu features a long list of food items, juices and teas, and of course, the coffee, brewed Turkish- or Arab-style.

From traditional to modern at the Bayt Al Khanyar Coffee Shop

Bayt Al Khanyar Coffee Shop

Further ahead in the same neighborhood, where the memory of ancient Dubai is kept alive, is a small café that serves up specialty grains made the traditional Arab and Turkish ways.

The barista explains that the idea of selling traditional and modern styles came from the owner – a native who’s passionate about coffee. He was also the founder of the Dubai Coffee Museum, which is right close by. The pies are cooked by the staff, and the coffee is done using methods like Aeropress and Hario v60.

The Dubai Coffee Museum

An entire museum devoted to the grain! Although it’s still a bit shy in size, the venue’s halls feature items ranging from old mills to green (pre-roast) coffee beans from countries like Colombia, Ethiopia and Brazil. Also on display is a collection of Arab coffee-making utensils, relics, and new items.

Coffee from around the world

The Dubai Coffee Museum has recently shipped part of its collection to the Coffee Museum in Santos, Brazil to help out with a project of the latter.

Admission costs AED 10 (USD 2.72), and museumgoers get a cup of coffee made as directed: Arab, Turkish or Ethiopian stype. The décor includes objects frequently seen in Arab households, and coffee-related items from countries like Ethiopia.

Bonus feature: Karak

Karak: black tea, milk, cardamom and spices

Having a coffee in Dubai or Abu Dhabi will set you back about AED 30 (USD 8.17) per cup. However, the locals have another hot drink option – a tea that’ll give them their caffeine. It’s called karak. The beverage is made from black tea, milk and cardamom, plus a few other spices. A characteristically strong-flavored drink, it most likely originated in regions of Asia, and is believed to have been brought in by Asian immigrants who work in the UAE.

Unlike coffee, karak – aka karak chai – is affordable. One cup costs as little as AED 1 (USD 0.27), or in some cases it’s served free of charge, as was the case during the Al Marmoum Heritage Festival Finale 2019, where a vendor lugged her thermos around and offered a small cup to anyone wishing to sample it. She said that amid a different crowd, the people with less purchasing power, karak is becoming as traditional in the emirate as coffee itself.

Quick facts

The Espresso Lab: Dubai Design District – Unit 8, Building 7

Mokha 1450: Boutique No.8, Aswaaq Center, Al Badaa, Al Wasl Road

Aptitude Café (Abu Dhabi): Saadiyat – Louvre Abu Dhabi – Abu Dhabi

Arabian Tea House Café: Al Bastakiya – Al Fahidi Street, Bur Dubai

Bayt Al Khanyar Coffee Shop: Villa 42 Al Fahidi St – Dubai

Museu do café de Dubai: Al Bastakiya – Al Fahidi Street, Bur Dubai, Villa 44

Translated by Gabriel Pomerancblum

Thais Sousa / ANBA
Thais Sousa/ ANBA
Thais Sousa/ ANBA
Thais Sousa / ANBA
Thais Sousa / ANBA
Thais Sousa/ ANBA

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