When Ghanim Salah Al Qassim and Mahmood Al Khamis set out to find staff for Drop, their new speciality coffee shop in Dubai, they had a very specific aim: no poaching people from the biggest coffee chains, and no generic food and beverage hires. Instead, they went on a worldwide search for coffee experts, the kind that were winning awards at the industry's increasingly trendy and competitive international barista competitions.
That means their staff of 12 includes top baristas from seven different countries – including Argentina, Venezuela, South Africa and Uganda – and speak a total of 13 languages. "We have world-class baristas. We have four that have won awards, whether it's for latte art or roasting," Al Qassim tells me.
Drop's co-founders, who made that extra effort to "up the game" for any would-be competitors, also wanted to make sure that each cup they served would be exquisite. "This is not your typical Costa, Starbucks, Tim Hortons kind of coffee," he says.
Drop, which is located in the new Dar Wasl Mall on Al Wasl Road, also flies in world-class baristas every few months for an "exchange" that lasts several days. Most recently, their guest was an expert from South Korea, offering up his coffee culture's expertise and ideas.
The aim, ultimately, is to wow customers and educate the public. “[Making coffee] is very complex,” explains Al Khamis. “It’s actually like driving an F1 car. You go to some restaurants and they just pop in a capsule and press a button. It’s not like that. The process actually takes four minutes for an espresso, or three minutes and a half, and then there’s latte art.”
The difference starts with the beans, 80 per cent of which are free of defects. Drop, which is also planning to open a roastery, sources beans from all over the world, including Indonesia, Nicaragua and Ethiopia. And don’t expect any whip-cream-topped, chocolate-rich sugar-laden drinks, either. There is but one sweet drink on the menu: a Spanish latte, made out of condensed milk, milk and espresso. “With speciality coffee, you do not serve sugar,” explains Al Khamis. “We give sugar, but we are not about that. If they ask for it, yes, but we need to educate because people are used to it. It’s not easy.”
In order not to dilute the focus on their core product, there are only small bites on offer and no kitchen. Neither Al Qassim or Al Khamis – who each drink the same coffees, either an espresso or a piccolo, which has less milk than a cappuccino – had any experience with coffee or the restaurant business until a few years ago. But they are avid travellers who want others to experience the ambience and quality of their favourite international haunts.
"When a customer walks in, we want to make sure he has a new experience … it gives the vibe of London, it gives the vibe of New York," Al Khamis explains. That includes old-school rap filling a 40-seat interior – created by Emirati Omar Ghafoor's Light Space Design – that is bright and cosy, and features comfortable seating, wooden accents, plants and a library wall. There is also an outdoor area featuring step seating and a pair of 200-year-old olive trees.
"We wanted something one of a kind," he adds. "We wanted it to be high-end, but cool, and with a lot of character. A place where people can actually have the power to say what they feel like and where they are encouraged to be themselves."
The co-founders, who have been friends since grade 5, are becoming a food and beverage force to be reckoned with, even though both still hold day jobs. Al Khamis, who works as a trader, and Al Qassim, an engineer, are preparing to open the second location of their original concept Origami Sushi, in Robinsons department store at Dubai Festival City early next year.
They have also launched Food District, a central company to manage all aspects of their food and beverage outlets, from human resources to social media. The business is already approaching 100 employees. Included in their Food District expansion plans are more Drop shops, including one in Abu Dhabi and a second in Dubai. There has also been interest from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. "They want a franchise, a partnership," Al Khamis reveals. "So we're going to start entertaining these things in a few months."