coffee in dubai

Ejo #96 – My Dubai: Settling In

Even though I still don’t (and probably never will) call Dubai home, David and I have actually lived here for a really, really, really long time. And when you live somewhere for that long, whether you like it or not, you kinda get to know the place.  We’ve been around over the years, but because of the constant, massive construction, everything changes from one day to the next, which makes it lack stability.  So the city always feels in flux, foreign, and weird to me. To tell you the truth, I’m still not 100% sure which exit to take off the freeway to get to the organic grocery store we’ve been going to for the last seven years. It’s madness. But still, there are some parts of town we do know really well, mostly because we’ve lived in them.

We started off in temporary housing in Garhoud, in a very small studio apartment, provided by the company we work for, while we looked for our own place. Even though Garhoud is not really an area that expats tend to live in long term, we actually really enjoyed the four weeks we spent there. It was a really fun and interesting way to be introduced to this crazy city, and in fact, I kind of miss it. Because the streets were real. They would come alive in the evenings, and not with loud, obnoxious, sunburnt British tourists downing pints (though there is a raucous pub called The Irish Village just across the street from where we were staying), but with the Indians, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis that make up the majority of the population of Dubai. The community that they knit together, in this small part of town, had a really special feeling to it, comingling the amazing smells of regional street food, the cacophony of sounds (including the call to prayer) at all hours of the day and night, the hustle and the bustle of working-class daily life. It was gritty and maybe a little bit grotty, but it was real in a way that “new” Dubai never will be.

Our temporary digs in Garhoud.




What is this new Dubai, I speak of? Well, I’m talking about the mushrooming clusters of skyrise apartments built in the last decade or so. Old Dubai refers to the original Dubai neighbourhoods of Satwa, Deira, Bur Dubai and Karama (also known as Dolce & Karama because of the roaring trade in knock-offs that goes on there). These were the commercial hubs that flourished when the UAE was formed in 1971 (excellent year, I might add), but which have recently started feeling a bit worn around the edges. So yeah, in this case, “old” means about 46 years. Which isn’t really that old (I mean, really!!!), but it’s definitely older than new Dubai.

When we first got here, in the gold rush days of 2008, Downtown Dubai was where it was at. Or rather, where it was going to be. It was essentially still an engineering blueprint, and the first apartment we signed a lease on was on the 32nd floor of a brand new, solitary tower called 8 Boulevard Walk right across the street from the Burj Khalifa and walking distance to the Dubai Mall. As far as I know, they never did build a 6 Boulevard Walk, or a 10 Boulevard Walk, or in fact any other number Boulevard Walk. Which is kinda weird, but you get used that kind of thing around here. It was a nice enough building and we stayed there for five whole years, enjoying the hell out of the view which really was extremely remarkable. Downtown Dubai, however, was a 24/7 construction zone when we moved in and it stayed that way the entire time we lived there. It’s definitely more developed now, but it’s still several years away from completion. When we moved on to the next place, it was weird not hearing the constant sounds of jackhammers and cement trucks backing up at 3am in the morning.


The view from our living room.  The not quite yet completed Burj Khalifa, circa 2009.

Bollywood 1

8 Boulevard Walk – weird, residential tower in the middle of nowhere, with a fucking amazing view of the world’s tallest building.



After five years in Downtown, including a couple of years of quarreling with our landlord over rent, we were ready to try something new and took over a friend’s lease on a 4th floor apartment in Dubai Marina. There’s just something special about living on the water, and after five years of cranes and sand and dust, it was fantastic having a great view of a beautiful body of water from our home. In the cooler months we would go for walks along the promenade and we were within walking distance of the beach, a mall, several five star hotels, restaurants and bars. It was also down the street from an amazing döner kebab place, which (in hindsight) probably wasn’t such a great thing. It was a lovely apartment, but again we had a problem with a greedy landlord and decided enough was enough. It was time to start looking for our own place.


Dubai Marina Promenade


I’m going to leave out all the crap that we had to wade through in order to buy our own apartment, and focus on how awesome it is to now finally have our own place and be our own asshole landlords! Actually, we’re not that bad. We get things fixed pretty quickly, we always answer the phone and we don’t hassle each other about the rent. We’ve actually settled into a really nice part of town. You might have heard of it? It’s called the Palm Jumeirah. Whaaaaat? I know, right? Who would have thought? Not me. But here we are, in a lovely F-type Shoreline apartment with access to a gym and a private beach, yo!! Livin’ large!


So, our apartment is on the trunk of the Palm, at the top of the picture.

Shoreline 1

This lovely 2.7km walking track is literally at our doorstep.  I can’t tell you how nice it is to hear the sounds of birds chirping and children playing instead of dump trucks and jackhammers.

Shoreline 2

Our beach.  Yep, it’s ours.


I honestly don’t have any idea how much longer we will stay in this city, but I’m pretty sure the next time we move, it’ll be internationally. Our apartment is my oasis in a city that causes me turmoil. It is my haven, my refuge, my safe place. And I love it. It helps me tolerate…. stuff. Life. Perhaps I’m a little too attached to it, because honestly I don’t often venture far. I do my grocery shopping and I go to work at Al Maktoum International Airport, which is fine.

My Office

My office.  Not too shabby.


Every once in a blue moon I’ll check out a new restaurant or café that I hear about on the grapevine. Very recently I saw an ad on Instagram for a new café called Amongst Few at Palm Strip Mall in Jumeirah. This small group of shops along Beach Road has particular sentimental value to me because it was where we used to go to connect with people back home after we first arrived here, before we got internet hooked up at our place. It’s no longer there, but back in 2008 one of the shops used to be an internet café. I can’t even remember the name of it, but the place is etched in my memory. After all, it’s where I typed up my very first ejo a week after we got here – and now I’m going to cry.

So anyway, when I heard about Amongst Few, I wanted to check it out. As you know, I’ve not been very impressed with the quality of coffee in Dubai, or with the café scene in general. It’s actually been a couple of years since we’ve ventured out in search of coffee. But lately, I’ve been inspired to treat Dubai like I treat the places we visit when we travel. Do some research, and look at it through new, fresh eyes. So, we have been out and about the last couple of months looking for good coffee. Sadly, nothing has inspired a return visit – until Amongst Few. Can you believe it?? I’m not going to get my hopes up, but we have been there three times and we’ve had consistently good coffee every time. That, to me, is a fucking miracle. The meals are a bit hit and miss, but the hits are pretty damn good. I highly recommend the fish and chips. The fish is extremely fresh, and the batter super light and crispy, almost like tempura. The chips? Triple cooked, baby!!! Yum!

So, just as we used to do all those years ago, we make the trek to Jumeirah (though these days the trek is 26km, as opposed to just 10km) in the hope that the wonderful people of Amongst Few continue to make good coffee. Is it too much to ask??? I hope not.


Amongst Few.  The internet cafe used to be just to the right of this place.


A view of Jumeirah Mosque across the street.



The menu.


Matcha latte and flat white.


Smashed avo on toast with poached eggs, roast tomatoes and feta cheese.


Fish n’ chips.  The batter is super light and crispy – almost like tempura.  Even the coleslaw was tasty.

The name of this ejo was inspired by a popular hashtag on Instagram (23.5 million posts makes #mydubai popular, right?). I do sometimes hijack this hashtag when I post pictures because… hey, who can say how a person “owns” a place.  This ejo, I suppose, is as close to describing what “my Dubai” means to me as we’re going to get.  I’ll never love this place, but over the years we have inexorably tangled into each other.  And as long as I can get good coffee, I can live with it.

Ejo #53 – An Open Letter To Jamie Elfman (The Barista At Tom&Serg)

Hi Jamie. I must admit that in the three months since you wrote to me, I’ve been stewing over how to respond to your (quite nasty) comments. I’ve been crafting a cutting counterstrike. A scathing riposte. In the interim I’ve been rather busy but it was always in the back of my mind, brewing away (haha, I crack myself up). But the fact is that I don’t actually want to get into a slanging match with you. Regardless of what you may think, I’m not a mean person. You didn’t like my original post, but it wasn’t intended to be malicious. I’d had a few bad coffee experiences and was simply lamenting the lack of good coffee in Dubai. It was never a personal attack on Tom, Sergio or you.

For the sake of clarity, however, I do feel the need to correct a few of your misconceptions. In your letter, you painstakingly point out (no less than four times) that I am not a coffee expert. You know what? You’re absolutely right. Though I’d love for you to take a moment to read my original post again and please point out where I claimed that I was. I’ll save you the time. Not once. For I am not an expert in coffee. But, I am two other things where coffee is concerned.

The first, is that I am a coffee lover. I really do love the stuff. I drink it every day. I’m lucky enough to travel a lot. Which means I get to drink great coffee all around the world. Since you’ve written to me I’ve had fantastic coffee in Melbourne, Adelaide, Hong Kong, London and Amsterdam. I’m not telling you this to show off. I’m just pointing out that my frame of reference extends beyond the city of Dubai.

Coffee Means Everything

Coffee Means Everything

And I am so mad-keen about the stuff that it’s become part of my planning routine to research the best places to get coffee when we travel. Accommodation, transport, restaurants, coffee. The basics. The essentials. So, when you say that my taste in coffee runs to “stale” and “dry” you’re not actually just insulting me, but also some of the best coffee houses in the world (well, in my humble (non-expert) opinion anyway).

For instance I’ve enjoyed magnificent lattes at The Coffee Collective in Copenhagen and tremendous coffee at Patricia in my hometown, Melbourne. I’ve had several outstanding coffees at Coco Espresso in Hong Kong – in fact we go every day whenever we visit, and sometimes twice a day. In London, we’ve been to Monmouth Coffee at Borough Market and Nude Espresso in Brick Lane and we also recently tried Prufrock Coffee. I’ve even had the most incredible slow drip coffee in Kyoto (of all places). I’ve preferred every single one of these cafés to Tom & Serg. I’m not certain that they rank “amongst the best in the world” but surely they’re not “shitty places”, as you refer to them in your comments??

Latte at Coco Espresso

Latte at Coco Espresso

The second thing I am when it comes to coffee is a C.U.S.T.O.M.E.R. I was recently in Australia (yes, I’ve been several times in the 5½ years we’ve lived here, and have enjoyed the evolving coffee scene each and every time) and I tell you what, I was blown away by the high level of service I received there. The hospitality industry in Melbourne is WORLD FUCKING CLASS (capitals for emphasis). It’s second to none. If it was possible, I would bet you every single cup of coffee for the rest of my life, that if I’d made the same claims about one of Melbourne’s prime cafés that I made about Tom & Serg, I would NOT have been called a “bullshit” artist by the barista. I would NOT have been belittled, mocked and disparaged by him. Instead, I reckon they would have invited me back to their shop for a nice cup of coffee and a chat. And you know what else, Jamie? If you had done that, if you’d written to me and said, “Chryss, we’re really sorry about your previous experiences here. Would you please come back to Tom & Serg and I’d love to make you the best coffee of your life”, I would have a very different view of you than I do now.

My husband and I recently went back to Tom & Serg (oh, we’re suckers for punishment aren’t we???). I really wanted to give it another chance. We went in around 11.30am on a Tuesday morning and sat down at the bench near the front door. And we waited for someone to come and take our order. And we waited. And waited. And kept on bloody waiting. In fact we waited for 11 minutes and 27 seconds. This is not “bullshit”. This is a true story. The place was not busy (there were about six or seven tables in use) and there wasn’t a shortage of staff (there were about six or seven servers hanging around). At about the eight minute mark I actually stood up and waved my arms around (semaphore-style) trying to get someone’s attention. To no avail. In the end, I literally had to get out of my chair and go and fetch someone to take our order. And because you’ve inferred that I lie about the crappy service I tend to receive at your establishment, I asked the server her name (which I can give you privately if you like) and showed her my stopwatch (which I started right after we sat down in the sad, yet inevitable, expectation that we would indeed, have to wait). We had a bit of a chat and she was suitably sheepish about the delay. Ask her about it. I’m sure she remembers me.

Tsk tsk.

Tsk tsk.

So that was one thing I noticed. The service is still pretty shitty. The second thing I noticed was that when we got our latte, it was significantly warmer than the other coffees we’ve had there in the past. In fact, I’d venture to say (without the benefit of a thermometer – but with the benefit of my many years of experimenting with coffee temperatures) that it was quite hot. Over 70ºC. So, my observation is this. Either you have bowed under the pressure of customer demands to make your coffee hotter (in which case I spurn you for not having the strength to stick to your convictions). Or, you are inconsistent about heating your milk to 65ºC (in which case, I scoff at the weakness of your convictions).

Consistency, Jamie!!! Just one more thing you misinterpreted from my original post. I quote: “Quality is not just about perfection, it is about consistency”. I guess you could take the word “consistency” to mean the texture of the coffee. But that’s a stretch. I mean, my sentence was pretty clearly discussing quality. And if the quality is good one day, but bad the next – there’s no consistency. I’d imagine that as a barista, you’d want to produce something of consistently good quality. No??? Catherine, the barista at Coco Espresso in Hong Kong makes consistently great coffee. Day in, day out. Yes, it tastes slightly different every time. But the quality is always high. It’s consistent. Good. And that’s what I was referring to. The four coffees I’ve had at your joint have varied wildly in quality. They’ve been inconsistent. Bad.

OK. Enough. I’ll tell you something. I’m crazy about coffee. I can tell, from your misguided but emotional email, that you are too. Perhaps under different circumstances we might have been friends. But it’s OK that we’re not. I don’t need any more friends. What I do need is someone to open an awesome, little ten-seater café in Dubai. A place where EVERY SINGLE COFFEE is made with love and attention. A place like Please Say Please in Adelaide, Australia where I watched dozens of coffees being made as though each one was a work of art or a little baby lovingly being brought into the world. Tom & Serg is not that place, but I still wish it the best. No hard feelings, mate.

Please Say Please

Please Say Please

The (loving) creation of coffee.

The (loving) creation of coffee at Please Say Please.

A Letter From Jamie Elfman (Barista At Tom&Serg)

Back in January I wrote a piece about the sadness I feel at not being able to get good coffee in Dubai. I was stirred to write about the disappointment I experienced when the new kid on the block Tom&Serg failed to light my fire with their offerings. The barista took it badly. Here’s what he had to say.

Hello, I would like to introduce myself. My name is Jamie and I am the barista you so eloquently discuss in your review of Tom&Serg. When I first read this I was somewhere between amused and annoyed by your 6 strikes and out approach. However, over the last few weeks I have forgotten about the amused part, and only the pissed off remains.

Firstly, I am sorry if you received bad service at T&S. If events happened as you described, it is inexcusable. Having said that, I am going to call bullshit. All of our staff are friendly and helpful to the point of annoying me at the bar with requests of “Can they please have half water, half dry foam, 3 grains of sugar and a foot rub on the side?” And a first strike because you didn’t like the interior? Really? You had a bad experience, and didn’t like the place? Easy, don’t eat or drink there. I don’t like a lot of places due to the strange fact that I also have preferences. So I don’t go.

I am happy for you that you were once Honorary Tower Barista. Well done on that. It hardly qualifies you as an expert though. ”Years and years of drinking amazing coffees in cafés in Melbourne as well as being the honorary tower barista when I worked at Melbourne airport have taught me that temperature is paramount. A lot of experimentation and a great deal of love have gone into my research. I don’t mind a coffee at 65ºC, but I most definitely prefer it a bit hotter.” Years of research to figure out how you prefer it? Ok…

Here’s the thing though. You are wrong. Milk textured to 70 degrees with three layers is poorly textured milk. Fact. You have been away from Melbourne for the last five years? Well, the coffee scene in Melbourne has changed dramatically over those last five years, and if you were to return, you would unfortunately find that every decent shop there does it exactly the same way I do. Techniques have improved, and no one would be caught dead trying for “stiff peaks” in their milk. Sure, there are a few hold outs still doing things the same way they have for 25 years, but the times they are a changing.

Tom&Serg is of this new breed of Specialty Cafe. We don’t burn milk. We don’t make dry cappuccinos. We don’t add syrups. Coffee changes as it degasses, and behaves differently as it ages, or the humidity or ambient air temp changes. The only coffee that is the same all the time is stale coffee. We use freshly roasted coffee, which will be different every time you have it. Like it or leave it.

All of this is irrelevant. You are more than entitled to an opinion. Just don’t pretend to be an expert. I have been making coffee for nearly sixteen years. that’s approached 1,000,000 coffees. I have worked in everything from the shitty places you seem to prefer, to shops ranking amongst the best in the world. I am an expert. The very fact that you couldn’t differentiate between a latte, served in a six ounce cup, and a cappuccino in a seven speaks volumes about your expertise.

Anyway, thank you for trying my coffee, and it’s a shame it doesn’t meet your standards. Perhaps one day you will get that cafe you dream of, serving stale, dry, yet consistent, coffee to the masses.

When I didn’t respond to him right away he motivated me to get on with it!!

I see you didn’t post my reply to your expert review. I didn’t think you would. Anyway, good luck, and just remember your advice to A.A. Gill. Stick to what you do best.