Stepping into a small unassuming villa on the backstreet of Al Fahidi district in Bur Dubai, I feel I am embracing the cultural ethos of several centuries. The aroma of freshly brewing coffee wafts in the air. I walk past a gift shop to reach the centre of a unique wind-tunnel house named the Dubai Coffee Museum, which was set up in October 2014. My journey into the history of coffee begins as soon as I enter the creator and owner of the museum, Khalid Al Mulla.
I accompany him on a round of the ground floor where each space provides a glimpse of different coffee-drinking cultures. As we step in his favourite zone, he says, “Here is the coffee from Ethiopia where coffee drinking reputedly began at first.” Here, a stylish Ethiopian lady is roasting a pan of green coffee beans in a traditional technique. Next to her is Egyptian barista Abdul, dressed in an Egyptian ‘galabeya’ and skull cap, standing guard on a customised silver and gold coffee machine.
The small exhibition rooms, where coffee beans from countries across the world are neatly stacked, are also home to coffee artefacts and antiques. Khalid’s collection is huge. Prominent among the pieces are distinctive 300-year-old jug-shaped clay coffee pots known as ‘jebena’ (the Yemeni equivalent is ‘jamena’), which were historically used by the Ethiopians .
Steps inside the museum lead up to a literature room displaying texts from 18th century to the present day. One such text, Johann Friedrich von Pfeiffer’s 1784 encyclopaedia, is believed to be the oldest printed text on coffee, with 177 pages dedicated to ‘kaffee’ as Johann would have called it. There is also a custom-built brew bar, where one can sip acup of caffeine powered rocket fuel brewed in the traditional Japanese siphon method.
The tour ends with a cup of Ethiopian coffee at a cosy Emirati-style ‘majlis’ on the ground floor, drunk in the local Bedouin coffee tradition. Khalid says, “As the director of Dubai-based coffee importers and roasters, Easternmen and Co., I participated in trade shows. I was surprised to see visitors’ interest in these objects, which forced me to create the first-of-its-kind coffee museum in Dubai. The concept is to showcase global coffee history.”