With an increasing number of new roasteries springing up here in the UAE something to consider when you are searching for your coffee partner, is to make sure the roastery you chose to buy from, has local knowledge and experience and can support you to be successful. It is not just about the coffee!
I know it might look like you just put green beans in a roaster and take them out when they get to the desired level of brown, but there are so many more variables that impact the potential flavors of the coffee beans and ultimately the end cup. Something that might work in Melbourne for example, may not work here. We are dealing with a different climate, different water, the cow’s that we get our milk from don’t eat grass!
It’s a local scene that while having a long history and respect for coffee, is still considered to be an emerging specialty market and it is a lot smaller than many people think. We have fewer local corner independent cafes near where we live, with many restaurants and cafes in big malls. Most of us get around by car so it's not like we walk past our local café on the way to work, so it’s crucial to find a good location with plenty of easy access and convenient parking. Café culture in many western countries is more around breakfast and lunch, and then they close midafternoon; whereas we have crazy busy spikes later in the day and it is not uncommon for customers to enjoy their caffeine late in the evening with no concern for their sleep patterns.
Something many new cafe operators are not aware of is the importance of the quality of water. People might know to ask about the TDS (total dissolved solids) but there is way more to understand. We are going to post some more in-depth water blogs soon to share some of what we have discovered as it not only hugely impacts the flavor of the coffee but it’s also incredibly relevant to the health of your equipment.
We are lucky here in the UAE that geographically we are close to some wonderful coffee-growing origins so sourcing fresh green beans are not difficult. Having a strong reliable and preferably direct trade relationship for sourcing green beans is so important. And a misconception is that all beans from Colombia, for example, taste the same. This is not true. There are many different varieties that can grow in the same region (think varieties of apples). Then how the coffee is harvested and processed also changes the flavors and quality of the green beans. We currently have 9 different Colombians in stock and they each taste very different. So, when you see different roasting businesses with the same country sticker on their bag, it doesn’t mean these coffees will be the same quality of flavor (and here we say think Toyota – there are Lexus models and Corollas, both cars, both use petrol and carry you from A to B, but they are most definitely not the same cars).
Consistency is very important, and your customers will demand it. Managing our stock levels so we never run out of green beans and always deliver your product as fresh as possible, allows our customers to focus on all the other elements of their business while we assume full responsibility for sourcing, roasting, delivering your coffee and then teaching your team how to prepare it correctly.
We have many options when selecting fresh local milk, and we run extensive tastings to ensure we work with the best option as the majority of cup sales here in the UAE are milk-based. You want the quality, protein levels, and the taste of the milk to be consistent, but it won’t have the fat levels you expect to find in a country where the cows live outside munching on grass all day.
Training employees to a level where you can relax, and they can deliver consistently good coffee is the goal for any café operator. It sounds like it should be easy, but you have all those variables to manage and just buying expensive equipment won’t replace human skills. Employees here work very long hours, and they represent you as front-facing to the customer. A happy, empowered employee who is respected, paid properly, and acknowledged; will be an incredible asset to your business and they will be part of the reason that you get repeat customers.
When thinking about your beautiful espresso machine you must think about it like your car, you must service and maintain it regularly, change the oil and check the tire pressure. Your water has to have the right chemistry and pre-filters have to be changed regularly. We have seen beautiful expensive espresso machines with terrible water corrosion after only a few months when they haven’t used correct filtration. The baristas should follow daily and weekly cleaning regimens and as a good chef, they should be proud to maintain their equipment.
After 12 years in the local market, we have found other businesses and suppliers we want to work with, that support our industry. Many are like us in that they are owner-operators, so they put their energy and their reputations into better customer service, reliability and they want to have a long-term relationship that’s mutually beneficial to everyone.
Art by Akshay Arora