This is not a regular review. There isn’t even a mention of food in the whole article – read on to find out why!
I want to start by describing a scene from the movie Focus with Will Smith. If you haven’t seen the movie, I should give you a spoiler alert here.
There is a scene where a gentleman at a football game is conned into choosing a number of a random player on the field, thinking he has complete freewill and control over hischoice. However, thanks to some careful subliminal messaging from Mr. Smith and his team throughout the day, the number is pretty much predetermined, and the gentleman isleft a few million dollars lighter.
That’s how I felt when the Serb read out a selection of restaurant options for breakfast from a restaurant guide. Due to some careful subliminal Facebook advertising, as soon as Iheard the name, I thumped my fist on the table dramatically and announced that was my choice.
“I don’t care that it’s in JLT, home of beauty therapists, ethnic restaurants, dentists and random small businesses, like ballroom dancing classes.” I screamed. “That’s the choice andwe’re going!”
However, this is not a review on that restaurant, because exactly 34 minutes after setting foot in that little place in JLT, I got back in the car, feeling like that gentleman at thefootball game in the Focus movie. So, in my moment of distress, the Serb as she usually does, offers a wonderful suggestion.
“Let’s go get a good cup of coffee and start the day again,” she says, and so my day starts again.
In a quiet, difficult-to-find warehouse in Al Quoz, a small team of coffee entrepreneurs are hard at work, roasting, quality-control testing and packaging responsibly sourced coffeebeans. The Al Quoz warehouse is the “Dojo” where Raw Coffee is based and where the Kiwi (of course they are) founders, Kim Thomson and Matt Toogood have been blazing atrail of revolution since 2007. Kim and Matt are not newcomers to the coffee business. The two of them, along with maybe Justin from Orbis Roastery were probably the firstpeople in the whole region that started roasting their own beans.
Fast forward eight short years and Raw Coffee are the hipster café supplier of choice and leading experts in the java scene. Which is why I turned my vehicle in the direction of AlQuoz and set off for a guaranteed good cup o’ joe.
Raw’s warehouse is a working warehouse, and also doubles up as a small café with a few tables and chairs at the front. However, you get the impression that should they ever needthat space for more coffee bean sacks, they would gladly kick you out.
You see, when it comes to Raw, coffee is their king, not the customer. It really is all about the coffee. Matt will bore you to death about its acidity, aroma, body, finish andfragrance. If he ever invites you to a cupping, say no. Actually, say yes, because his passion and obsession is quite inspiring. He travels to coffee conventions with the same glee asa Trekkie would go to Comic Con. I personally don’t care for all that sort of stuff in the same way I’m not so bothered about grape varietal in my wines. However, it’s essential thatthe people running the show do care, because that’s how you know you’re going to get a good cup of coffee.
What I really like about Raw Coffee is that back in 2007, they were just starting out; a small, down to earth business, that was fueled by passion and a common love. Over theyears, they have humbly and literally taken their wares to market, talking to anyone who would listen, educating, entertaining and learning how to become a business to be takenseriously, not some hobby undertaken by bored expats.
They have survived a global crisis, fended off stiff competition, embraced the direction the market has moved in and kept pace of its technological advancements. They havemaintained integrity and their sense of fun throughout it all. Raw coffee is an example of how local entrepreneurs can manage and grow their business sustainably, successfully, andlook good doing it.
Stepping into the little café in Al Quoz and you see everything I have just explained in action. You see a wonderfully authentic and homely little café with not-so-much of a coffeecounter, but more of a coffee workshop. A couple of work benches where three or four employees in shorts, and Converse sneakers are tasting coffee, weighing grinds and writingnotes.
I know Kim’s recruitment policy, and she hires in the same way parents adopt children. You work for Raw Coffee and you’re part of the family – of course, not like in a mafia, creepykind of way. As far as I can see they are one of the most cohesive, well trained teams in Dubai. They are super involved in the company and play a huge part in their success. These guys and gals are real baristas and it is a title well deserved for once. We are talking serious coffee geeks here.
Now, I couldn’t tell you what sort of coffee bean I was served, or how many meters above sea level it was plucked at, or what the daughter’s name of the farmer who hand-inspected the bean for quality and size was. But I am pretty sure the barista knows. And that knowledge, passion and obsession scream at you with every sip of your coffee.
Some of you might be wondering if I have shares in Raw, or if I have been promised a private cupping by Matt, but I can assure you, this review is written completely withoutinfluence.
Sure, Raw Coffee café is certainly not perfect – the AC is terrible, and the airflow is directed by a piece of cardboard box straight onto the tables. There are electrical extension cablesdumped in random corners and the seats are a prickly sack material that itches the back of your legs. The barista wasn’t particularly well-groomed and I wouldn’t let him close to afood production area without a good shave and a hair net. I am sure there have been one or two staff that left Raw in a huff as well. Furthermore, Raw is not the only coffeeroaster in Dubai. Justin at Orbis has carved out a good segment of the market for himself, Rob Jones over at Coffee Planet can roast a mean bean and The Sum of Us are having a go also. (Although probably using Raw’s beans.)
Nevertheless, Raw know their coffee, and it’s as simple as that. They are down to earth, unassuming and transparent. I know they are expanding, opening places like specialty coffeedestination, Mokha1450 and a rumoured mobile truck, and a part of me are happy for them, for that. But another part of me hopes they don’t, because like all good things in life, it has to be rare to maintain its value.