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Coffee has always played an important role in Middle Eastern culture. From bonding with strangers to settling disputes over a cup of qahwa (or coffee) has been an integral part of Arab society. So when I discovered the Coffee Museum in Villa 44 in Dubai's historical Al Fahidi neighbourhood, I found it a significant addition to the emirate's cultural heritage.
You enter the building through a small room that doubles up as a coffee souvenir shop selling mugs, roasters and coffee accessories. John Paul, the enthusiastic barista-cum-manager, guides me through the central courtyard to the different rooms, discussing speciality coffee with sheer passion.
Khalid Al Mulla, the founder of the Coffee Museum, is also the founder and director of Easternmen & Co, a UAE-based distributor of quality coffee beans. A visit to the Coffee Museum in Hamburg a few years ago inspired Al Mulla to start something similar in Dubai with his enormous private collection. It now showcases regional and international coffee equipment such as grinders, grippers, roasters, rare books, and many other artifacts.
Interestingly, the museum's library has an original print of Johann Friedrich von Pfeiffer's encyclopaedia that dates back to 1784, a book considered one the oldest printed texts on the subject of coffee.
We start off from a room that hosts only grinders — iron, metal, tabletop and ceramic ones. The most ancient was a wall-fitted French grinder dating back to the 18th century. There was a fluted steel mill inside a metal box that dates back to the First World War and a post-Second Word War table top brass mill made from military bullet shells. The next room has a stock of fair trade coffee beans from around the world that can be ground and roasted for the visitor, the most expensive variety coming from Ethiopia.
The central courtyard has a Bedouin setting where coffee beans are lightly roasted along with cardamom, as well as an Emirati majlis adorned with white cushions with embroidered borders. Traditionally a long handled metal spoon is used to stir the coffee and then it is ground and brewed in an Arabic pot known as the dallah. The coffee is then transferred into a small pot for serving and finally poured into little cups called the finjans.
A custom-built Egyptian charcoal fired burner forms the centrepiece in the courtyard and an Egyptian barista dressed in the traditional Galabeya waits to demonstrate it to visitors. At another corner an Ethiopian lady dressed in traditional clothing stirs green coffee beans and Paul explains how popcorns accompany ceremonial coffee drinking in Ethiopia.
The antique room in the Coffee Museum exhibits coffee paraphernalia from the Middle East such as 300-year-old Ethiopian clay coffee pots traditionally known as Jebena and 400-year-old artifacts from the Ottoman empire.
My tour came to an end with a first-hand experience of different roasting and brewing styles in the museum's café.
Have a glimpse of Little Majlis - A little art paradise
Source: Ishita B. Saha, Special to Property Weekly
Ishita Saha is the founder of Foodemagdxb.com and the author of ishitaunblogged.com