Full of beans: Meet the Emirati entrepreneurs causing a stir in the world of coffee

Mohammad Al Farran, Nooran Albannay and Ali Tahlak share their passion for the beverage with The National

Emirati barista Nooran Albannay opened Coffee Architecture at Mamsha Al Saadiyat in honour of her grandmother's gahwa. Photo: Nooran Albannay
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Big-name brands aside, the coffee market in the UAE has witnessed a rise in Emirati entrepreneurs who offer a blend of innovation with a dash of Arabian hospitality. Take Mohammad Al Farran, for example, who is leading the expansion of British chain Black Sheep Coffee in the Emirates.

“Leave the herd behind” is the motto of the brand that caught the Emirati's eye when he first came across Black Sheep in Manchester. “Most coffee shops I have visited used Arabica beans, but Black Sheep Coffee stood true to its motto and defied the norm by using Robusta beans,” says Al Farran, 26.

I share gahwa with everyone as a way to honour my grandmother's memory
Nooran Albannay, founder, Coffee Architecture

“The first thing I try when I walk into a cafe is espresso, to get a sense of the quality. The espresso in Black Sheep Coffee blew my mind thanks to the category of its beans, which made the cup taste different in an amazing way,” he adds.

Once he managed to acquire the rights of expansion for Black Sheep in the Mena region, Al Farran chose Dubai as the first port of call. He explains the “city is pulsating with energy and innovation”, which mirrors his aspirations for the brand's growth in the region.

Quality and singularity aside, Al Farran wants people who come into the coffee shop to feel like part of a family. His end goal is to create a community hub that “radiates warmth and inclusivity”.

As well as espresso, coffee connoisseurs can sample Mbili Twiga (a berry-infused cuppa from Kilimanjaro and Arusha), Bossa Nova (which comes from the Barbosa family-run estate in Cerrado Mineiro, Brazil) and Colombian Blue Volcano. Al Farran also recommends the cafe's region exclusive Arabic latte and white haze.

International chains aside, the UAE is also replete with home-grown boutiques. Emirati barista Nooran Albannay, 40, who has owned Coffee Architecture in Abu Dhabi since 2018, says she commenced her coffee journey in childhood “when my grandmother would prepare traditional Arabic gahwa at home. She would always let me smell and taste the coffee before I headed off to school.”

In 2015, Albannay trained at the US Barista School to further her knowledge and understanding of the beverage. She says she enjoys witnessing the positive change in a person's mood after they've been served a cup and, as such, she sees coffee as a symbol of hospitality in the UAE.

My passion for coffee stems from its rich flavours, comforting aroma and the ritualistic aspect it adds to my day
Ali Tahlak, founder, Falcon Coffee Roasters

“After my grandmother passed away in 2016, I made the decision to turn my passion for coffee into a business. I was inspired to share traditional Arabic gahwa with everyone, as a way to honour her memory. At Coffee Architecture, we serve gahwa to anyone who walks through our doors, using it as a symbol of welcome,” explains Albannay, who recently concocted a seasonal blend called J's Drip (with sweet mandarin and candied strawberry), available until June. She also recommends the cafe's manual ice chemex brew.

“My dream is to represent my country in the World Barista Championship and showcase Arab women in the coffee industry internationally,” says Albannay, who has already participated in the National Barista Championship in 2023 and 2024.

Coffee culture goes beyond cafes, too, as people seek out exotic beans, at-home equipment and accessories. Enter Ali Tahlak, 37, who has been running Falcon Coffee Roasters since 2020.

“My passion for coffee began as a significant part of my daily routine, from morning to evening enjoyment,” he says. “This love has stemmed from the drink's rich flavours, comforting aroma and the ritualistic aspect it adds to my day.”

His decision to start the roastery was linked to the increasing number of coffee shops in the UAE, and he wanted to offer a service that all cafes could benefit from. “The choice of a roastery was driven by the vision to enhance the connection between farmers and coffee shops. The roastery aspect allows me to have a direct impact on the quality and sourcing of the beans, and ensure a premium product,” explains Tahlak.

His aim is to go global one day and become a prominent player in the industry, which he means to achieve by building a reputation for quality products and ethical sourcing practices.

Three of his favourite finds, available via Falcon Coffee Roasters, include Colombia Finca El Paraiso beans; V60 Simply Hario Glass Brewing Kit; and HeyCafe espresso grinder.

Updated: April 07, 2024, 4:05 AM