The symbol of Bedouin hospitality, coffee has been associated with Arabia since the 15th century. Dubai is home to thousands of coffee shops, ranging from old-school cafés serving traditional Arabic coffee, or qahwa – a bitter brew flavoured with cardamom – to international chains such as Starbucks and Gloria Jean’s.
Yet, third wave coffee culture, with its single-origin coffee, latte art and hipster surrounds, is a relatively new phenomenon. Nevertheless, it is flourishing with funky, independent cafés and local roasteries fuelling the boom. And it probably comes as no surprise to learn that an Aussie from Melbourne has been at the forefront of Dubai’s coffee revolution. Tom Arnel and Spanish-born Sergio Lopez have been credited with bringing Australian café culture to Dubai with Tom & Serg, a warehouse-style duplex with exposed brickwork, concrete flooring and an open kitchen in the industrial area of Al Quoz. Expats and locals flock here for fantastic espresso, filter and speciality coffee, along with an all-day brunch menu with dishes like Turkish poached eggs and salted caramel French toast.
Tom & Serg’s coffee comes from sister café, The Sum of Us, near the Trade Centre at the other end of town. With a roastery and sourdough bakery on site, the smell of roasted beans and baking bread is reason enough to linger, but the food is pretty special too. The menu spans from breakfast to dinner, with dishes such as confit lamb and quinoa salad, and prawn linguini. The duo has opened a third outlet, Common Grounds, at the Mall of the Emirates, and their first licensed venue, Brunswick Sports Club, is set to open soon.
On the outskirts of Al Quoz, which is home to the Alserkal Avenue arts district, Café Rider offers a unique blend of specialty coffee and motorcycles. While head barista Dima, who represented the UAE at the 2014 World Barista Championships in Seattle, meticulously creates syphon and slow-drip cold brews and full-fat lattes (topped with impressive frothy art), mechanics custom build American motorcycles behind the glass-walled workshop. There is no food served, but you can order in from the nearby Boutique Kitchen, which does amazing burgers and salads.
Bystro in Al Manara also takes its coffee seriously, with speciality coffee and cold brews infused with orange or cardamom. The café serves breakfast favourites like smashed avocado with poached eggs and feta, alongside soups, salads, sandwiches and mains like pumpkin falafel salad and blackened jerk chicken. Long-standing favourite Lime Tree Café, established in 2001 offers organic fare trade tea and coffees with lunch and breakfast menu and their famous carrot cake.
Tucked away on the first floor of Sunset Mall, Spill the Bean focuses on organic, fair-trade single origin coffees and top quality blends. The baristas know their stuff and will also brew up a Turkish coffee for you, which is darker and thicker than the Arabic version. On the menu are eggs, pancakes, bagels, sandwiches and salads, as well as gluten-free quiches, cakes and muffins and a handful of vegan treats including a velvety berry and lime ‘cheesecake’.
In the heart of Jumeirah, Pantry Café is a warehouse-style space with large windows, cement flooring, exposed ceilings and a deli counter with cured meats and artisan cheeses. They serve single-origin Ethiopian coffee and a house blend created by local roastery, Raw, and you can upgrade to a bottomless cup with your breakfast order. The menu features organic eggs (try the spicy Shakshouka eggs), soups, salads, gourmet burgers and wood-fired pizzas. There’s also a second branch in Business Bay near Downtown.
For more of a traditional atmosphere, head to The Majlis Dubai in the grounds of Jumeirah Mosque, the city’s only mosque open to non-Muslims. Try a Camelccino or Camellatte made with camel milk, a staple of the Bedouin diet until the mid-20th century, and the café’s own blend of Ethiopian beans, or Arabic coffee served from a dallah pot. When it comes to food, we recommend the Emirati Experience, a selection of sweet and savoury treats served on tiered plates. With Arabesque décor, leather armchairs and well-stocked shelves with books about Arabic culture, this is a lovely place to loiter before or after visiting the mosque
Mama Tani Café in Town Centre mall on Jumeirah Beach Road is another spot that’s popular with locals. Owned by Emirati siblings, Omar and Maitha Alshamsi, it serves Arabic and Turkish coffee alongside espresso, camel milk hot chocolate and karak (a sweet, spiced tea similar to masala chai). The café specialises in khameer, a traditional Emirati bread stuffed with around 30 different sweet and savoury fillings, but you’ll also find soups, salads and bagels.
Coffee spots like Tom & Serg are making waves in Dubai’s coffee scene