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Raw Coffee Company, Dubai

1 August 2014

New Zealanders Kim Thompson and Matt Toogood run a coffee roaster in the industrial area of Al Quoz in Dubai with a commitment to ethical business practices and the city’s emerging independent food and drink community

For a coffee lover, savouring the flavours of a fresh cortado, brewed by a national champion and world finalist barista in the back streets of Dubai’s unofficial art district, is an unexpected experience to be relished. Hidden among Al Quoz’s industrial warehouses, in a quiet, dusty lane, local connoisseurs of a ‘cup of Joe’ have discovered the Raw Coffee Company, a homegrown coffee roaster that is at the heart of Dubai’s burgeoning grassroots food and drink scene.Kim Thompson and Matt Toogood of Dubai’s Raw Coffee Company truly are aficionados of all things coffee bean, our discussion travels the gamut of acidity, water pressure, temperature and origin with fascinating ease. 

The Kiwis, who combined have called Dubai home for almost 25 years, have a team that has held the prestigious title of national barista champion three times, an event organised by the national body, UAE Coffee Events. However, with a roasting warehouse and tasting room packed to the rafters with bags of fresh green coffee beans, it’s clear where their talents lie. 

“The roasting room is the heart and soul of our business, and our coffee is of the highest quality, 100 per cent organic and Fair Trade,” Kim states proudly, as we wander past towering walls of hessian bags, the aroma of fresh brew still heavy in the air. The duo’s artisanal coffee can be found in many of the city’s most popular independent cafés, while the Raw Coffee Company also counts the world’s fussiest coffee drinkers among its expatriate retail customer base – think antipodeans, Italians, Portuguese and French. “Our customers understand coffee, we have all nationalities stopping in regularly to try our latest origins or blends, from Emiratis and Indians to western expats,” Kim says. “They’ve travelled and experienced different things, so they know the difference between a good quality cup of coffee and a bad cup of coffee. What they all have in common is that they have supported local roasters previously.” 

With a commitment to roasting only quality Arabica coffee, using premium roasters imported from Greece, Raw Coffee Company roasts 10 tonnes of beans each month, delivering weekly to its customers to ensure they have only the freshest coffee beans. The business idea was born out of frustration at being unable to find a decent cup of coffee in Dubai, Kim recalls. “I liked coffee but just couldn’t find it here, I couldn’t even find a good supplier. I had a family member back in New Zealand who had a roaster, and once you’ve had good coffee you just can’t go back.” Kim and Matt have been sourcing from the same coffee farmers since launching Raw Coffee Company in 2007. As a Fair Trade buyer, with a strong ethical stance, Raw’s suppliers now include women’s collectives from both Ethiopia and Yemen. 

Depending on the origin of the bean, Matt says each batch of coffee takes around 15 minutes to roast using the team’s hand-operated artisanal roasters. With 18,000kg of green beans from 23 different origins just delivered from 16 countries, that’s many a minute spent in the confines of the roasting room preparing single origin coffee and blends that are suitable for a wide range of brewing styles. “While the western-style café scene is definitely growing in the UAE, only 20 per cent of the coffee drunk here is espresso, 80 per cent is Turkish Arabic or cezve – there are four distinctively different ways of preparing the cezve using a small brass or copper pot placed on hot sand, coals or gas burner,” says Matt, who recently travelled to Italy to compete in the barista World Cezve/Ibrik Championships, placing third in the competition. 

“Speciality Turkish coffee preparation is very trendy now in the rest of the world, so we can expect this trend to continue to emerge in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. It will be the next big thing in coffee – we have seen this trend begin here with espresso-based drinks, the ‘third wave’ of coffee, and now we’re seeing it with Turkish coffee, where it is brewed in a modern way. We call it ‘Coming Home’, new coffee meets the traditional way.” This ‘third-wave’ Turkish coffee movement has its roots in Istanbul, where a small collective of roasters and coffee drinkers sought to follow on from the ‘third wave’ of specialty espresso. 

Among the ‘third wave’ proponents, coffee is valued more as an artisanal drink, made from single-origin higher quality coffee beans that are hand-roasted in individual batches and freshly ground. It is this determination to celebrate artisanal produce and products that is now at the heart of Dubai’s independent food and drink community. 

“We come from a place where even though we lived in large cities, it had that village mentality, where the local butcher, coffee shop and food market knows your name. That cottage industry feel and concept is really starting to grow in Dubai,” Matt says. “We are part of the Dubai community and when it comes to our customers, we know each other’s names and we treat each other well.” 

With this community mind-set, Raw Coffee Company is also working with other coffee roasters, suppliers and cafés in the Emirate to elevate the role of baristas to that of mixologists or chefs, through the development of a recognised training scheme. The team argues that the parallels between the intricacies of understanding coffee and wine are identical. 

“There are so many more owner-operated small businesses here that are helping to create change. We recognise that the more baristas, who we help to educate and gain qualifications here, will not only help the individuals but our business and the industry as a whole,” Matt says.

Kim agrees. “The difference between a good cup of coffee and a bad cup of coffee is not the price but the experience of the barista… and the quality of the original product,” she says. “Interestingly, despite this investment in the product, and in acquiring experience and knowledge, our customers sell our organic coffee cheaper than the big chains do.” 

rawcoffeecompany.com

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