Black Coffee by Cafe Younes may be two months old on the Dubai cafe scene, but the family-run business has 85 years and three generations of coffee know-how behind it, and is a far cry from the cookie-cutter coffee factories that are a dime a dozen in busy cities.
The first Cafe Younes was opened by Amin Younes Sr, in downtown Beirut in 1935, who returned to Lebanon after spending decades in Brazil. The UAE outpost of Black Coffee, located in Duja Tower in the Dubai World Trade Centre Area, is run by his grandson, Faysal Younes.
Coffee culture in the UAE a big draw
"After my brother Amin spent more than 20 years growing Cafe Younes in Lebanon, where it is the largest home-grown specialty roaster and coffee shop today, we believe the brand had more than matured and was ready to grow internationally," Faysal tells The National. "The UAE was on top of our agenda for the potentially large market of coffee lovers here, but also for the aid of the UAE leadership, which has made us feel welcome from day one through their encouragement and guidance."
Amin adds: “The most important aspect that we wanted to share in the UAE is Cafe Younes's history and heritage. Other values have been implemented as well, [including] customisation; we focus on one client at a time. We will go out of the way to make sure clients have what they want and when, within our limits.”
While rewarding, working with family can come with its challenges, but that doesn’t seem to faze the brothers. “We have been raised on unconditional sibling love, affection and respect. We grew up knowing that this bond would never be affected,” Amin says. “Additionally, Faysal and I complement each other and learn from each other. He is more of a corporate type of entrepreneur and I am more the emotional type. But both of us are fully driven to assure a legacy of continuity and success without undermining our father's vision and philosophy.”
Their father was Souheil Younes, whom the brothers credit with the brand's survival. "Cafe Younes is here today not only due to Souheil's innovative spirit, but also his survival instinct, which helped him navigate the waters of war and overcome all the challenges that threatened the existence of Cafe Younes … and come out triumphant," reads Blending Traditions, an illustrated history of the brand, written in 2010.
For coffee drinkers, the smell of well-roasted beans or a freshly brewed coffee has the power to instantly inject pep into their step. It does the same for the Youneses, laced with a heavy dose of nostalgia. “What I remember the most, besides the aroma of coffee on my father's clothes when he came back home, is the jumping on and around the bags of green coffee that were piled one on top of the other in the storage room,” Amin says. “Now, my children are doing the exact same thing.”
A storied cafe
Walking into the Dubai cafe, the heritage of the brand and the family makes itself known almost immediately. A wall map demonstrates the coffee's global origins, with beans sourced everywhere from Indonesia and Yemen to Kenya, Brazil, Bolivia and Nicaragua. There are also visual histories, detailing Cafe Younes's growth since the 1930s.
“There are a couple of things that customers notice when they first walk into Black Coffee in Dubai,” Faysal says. “First, the smell of freshly roasted beans and secondly, the design model that combines the brand’s heritage with a modern setting.”
Amin adds: “[We follow] ethics in all that we do … whether it’s sourcing our coffee, dealing with and respecting each team member or building relations with customers.”
A visit to Black Coffee is not limited to stopping and taking pause over a cup of coffee. Although that is certainly encouraged, the best of the cafe can be taken away with you. Behind the counter are jars of beans, labelled by country, which are available to buy. “Part of Black Coffee’s design model is to integrate live roasting into the customer experience,” says Faysal.
The menu offers an impressive variety of coffee serving styles, including Chemex, V60, Syphon, AeroPress, cold brew, Kalita Wave and moka pot, along with the traditional French press and filtered brews. For the uninitiated, there are small illustrations that serve as guides on each type.
With a lifetime of experience drinking and making coffee, Faysal knows exactly what he is looking for. "A perfect cup of coffee is achieved when it's procured from the right source, is perfectly roasted to match the brewing method, is ground correctly and most importantly has the right water-to-coffee ratio," he says. "Every day I enjoy a different brew of specialty coffee, with espresso and AeroPress being my favourites."