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Keeping it real, keeping it Raw

Some of the world’s rarest coffee is now available straight to your home

Head into Al Quoz industrial area, and you’ll find a haven for coffee lovers. Those in the know go there especially to grab a good cup, and to soak up the reverential atmosphere created by Matt Toogood and Kim Thompson, joint founders of Raw Coffee.

RAW Coffee Matt Toogood and Kim Thompson

Matt Toogood and Kim Thompson

The industrial space sells coffee, not only to drink on the premises, but in bags to take home, too. There are giant rough sacks and crates littered around the space, with a cool vibe and lots of coffee-related art adorning the walls.

Founded in 2007, Kim and Matt are complete coffee nuts, and certainly know their beans – no surprise after ten years of exploring the world searching for beans, and knowledge.

While the global coffee industry might be in decline – with the highest levels of demand ever recorded but production levels at low quality, it’s gratifying to see a home-grown firm bucking the trend and concentrating on supplying top quality beans at a surprisingly affordable price.

The Al Quoz venue, opened five years ago is now also a roastery, where the Raw team create coffees unique to this market.

Raw Coffee Company coffee roasting

The roasting room at Raw

Originally based at Dubai Garden Centre, Matt explained that the idea behind the Al Quoz space was because they wanted a place to bring clients, where coffee could be tasted and discussed in a carefully curated environment.

An extension of that idea is the roastery’s classes – you can go there to do a tasting class, latte art and even learn how to become a home barista – with the opportunity to make the perfect brew using an array of different machines from a very expensive cafe style espresso machine, to the elegant simplicity of a Chemex.

Sustainable strength

“These days, we have people coming here from all over the GCC for training, and taking the knowledge gained from us back to their own countries,” says Matt.

Matt and Kim are also a Dubai benchmark for sustainable business. All the coffee is 100 per cent organic and ethically traded. They freely admit when they set up ten years ago their business model was pretty naïve, but now, mention Raw, and those in the know recognise a great company with great products.

“We saw a gap in the market, and having come from New Zealand where there were a number of small roasteries, realised there was nothing like that here. I nearly cried about the coffee here – supermarket coffee is stale, and some of them were selling stuff that was eight months old or more!” said the expert.

Today, Matt and Kim are proud coffee experts, having completed a five-year course in specialist coffee roasting in Arizona last year. While they talk excitedly of the science, art and magic behind the process, Kim says there is still something new to learn every day.

“Every batch of coffee we get has to have a different roasting process. Just roasting it for ten seconds longer can change the flavour,” she explains.

Coffee roasting has become very trendy. Kim and Matt rail against the trend of remote roasting – where companies get the coffee roasted elsewhere, but mark it as if they’ve roasted it themselves.

Even the hipsters who set up Tom & Serg, The Sum of Us and Common Grounds – well regarded in Dubai’s growing army of coffee lovers – came to Raw for training.

Coffee beans being bagged at RAW

Coffee beans being bagged at RAW

A Rawsome future

Ever-mindful of Dubai’s changing tastes and market requirements, the duo has created an exciting new app – Refuel by Raw – which allows us caffeine addicts to track where to get a decent cup of Raw all across the UAE. “We are very proud that people will go out of their way to go to a cafe or restaurant where Raw is served,” says Kim.

Via the app, you can also rate your experience, based on the quality of coffee offered, how it is served and the skills of the barista. So Raw gets useful feedback straight from the source, too.

Refinery by Raw is the new coffee club. Billed as the GCC’s first speciality coffee subscription service, you can now order rare, single origin coffee online, and get it delivered to your home.

To reach a point where they could offer the best single origin coffees from around the world, Kim and Matt tasted 150 different brews in the month leading up to launch.

Every month the coffee offerings change, so Refinery by Raw members get the opportunity to sample incredibly rare, hard-to-find coffees – or even coffees that have never been brought to market.

As part of their quest to find the best coffee, they undertake three single origin trips a year, which involve some rough times. Something like a cross between the Man from Del Monte and Indiana Jones, the intrepid pair will return to Dubai with a couple of bags of coffee from each trip, with the end customer rarely realising the effort and hardships faced to obtain the black gold.

Raw coffee Dubai

Kim and Matt with coffee cherries, Myanmar

Often, when a batch is gone, it’s gone. There’s so many factors that affect the taste of coffee – climate, altitude, soil, acidity, the drying process, the roasting process and the water used in making it. One batch can vary greatly in taste and quality from another.

Refinery by Raw launched recently with some outstanding coffee from Myanmar. Kim and Matt managed to procure just 30kgs of rare coffee from this emerging coffee growing nation – the first batch of Myanmar coffee ever in the GCC.

The latest single origin trip – at the invitation of Winrock International (a non-profit international development organisation) and the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) to Myanmar in March, is testament to Matt and Kim’s commitment to searching for elusive brews.

“With the involvement of USAID, Winrock and CQI, Myanmar’s coffee farmers have learnt the value of their crop, better production and harvesting methods, and how to roast it well,” says Kim.

Raw was one of a handful of international coffee companies invited on the trip, with Matt and Kim clearly feeling privileged to bring such a rare and unusual bean to the Dubai market. They managed to get 30kgs of the 850kgs now produced each year by Myanmar’s burgeoning coffee sector.

“It’s difficult to find these rare coffees, and these days we are going deeper and deeper, meeting the actual people who are growing it out in the field, rather than middlemen in offices,” added Matt.

Chasing Perfection

It’s all well and good bringing the world’s best beans to Dubai, but they can taste very different here, due to factors including the water. Matt explains the water here is high in chloride, making the coffee taste sour. Raw filters water to serve the best possible coffee.

The Raw team are also aware of local tastes, brewing coffee to satisfy the market rather than to please themselves.

Matt and Kim have worked relentlessly to change the coffee landscape in the UAE, learning all they can about coffee. Next time you mindlessly grab a coffee, take a moment to thank Raw for bringing great coffee to our doorstep.

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