While Abu Dhabi may have more coffee shops than most cities in the world, this does not at all mean that it is easy to find a good cup of coffee here. Quite the contrary. This city’s love affair with gathering over coffee does not extend to a refined taste for the popular drink, no matter how much is actually consumed. It seems to be a matter of quantity over quality.
Coming from Seattle, I have a lot of experience with good coffee by default (and I do not mean Starbucks). It wasn’t until I moved here that I realized just how picky my taste had become from being immersed in a city where good coffee was the norm. So when I moved to the Middle East, which is credited for having introduced coffee to the world, I assumed there would be a certain standard of coffee culture and preparation. Oh, how I was mistaken.
I soon discovered that coffee shops (or, gahwas) were more focused on being spots to gather for a chat and smoke, and the actual coffee was secondary or even tertiary to the experience – as anyone who’s been served a watery cup of Nescafe when requesting an “american coffee” can attest. Aside from traditional Arabic coffee, which is very lightly roasted and more akin to tea, a truly good dark roast coffee was, for the most part, nowhere to be found. Granted, this has changed over the last three years and there are now a few places that do take coffee seriously (which I will be reviewing later). But upon first arrival, it was a bit of a shock to find that I was about to settle for several years in a virtual coffee desert (pun only slightly intended).
So I did what any self-respecting bean-obsessed Seattleite would: I resorted to my own devices and embarked on a journey of becoming a home roaster. It’s at this point I do have to admit that I was more of a coffee snob than I myself had been aware – I was not willing to compromise my enjoyment of a good cup. And as I only drink five cups of coffee a week, it’s not just about the buzz. I appreciate the taste, nuances, and flavor profile of beans from different regions. OK, so that perhaps sounds a bit snobby. But I don’t judge other people for drinking what they do, I just know what I like and I care enough to make the effort to achieve that experience.
To get an idea of how my obsession grew, I’ll admit that over the past three-and-a-half years I have gone from a typical espresso machine and grinder, to owning over 10 different brewing contraptions, keeping a stockpile of imported green coffee beans, and even hacking and highly modifying three different vintage popcorn poppers into homemade roasters. Yes. Popcorn poppers. I didn’t intend to start out on this path, it was just the natural progression of my desire for a good cup, and the fact that I am somewhat of a perfectionist who loves projects.
This will be the first of a series of coffee-related posts. I will try to avoid the super geeked-out, overly-informative details and stick to providing some useful and practical hints for stepping up your coffee game. Even for those want to avoid the “snob” moniker. If you like coffee, you will find that with just a few tweaks here and there you can experience a whole new world of enjoyment and a deepened experience of your morning ritual.
Did you know that coffee only stays fresh for 2 weeks after the date of roasting? And that ground coffee begins to degrade and lose flavor only 15 seconds after grinding? Here’s a quick primer on ensuring your beans are as fresh as possible.