I have a secret to share - and I'm not proud of it...
Even as I am typing this I can imagine the looks on the familiar faces at the various cafes in St Kilda, an inner-south suburb of Melbourne, Australia. St Kilda (more particularly Balaclava) has a huge cafe culture and was my home for the 2 years prior to moving to Abu Dhabi. I fear the reaction of those fine folk, as they are informed of the awful truth of my stay here in desert.
The slick, young, hot, entrepreneurial guys from Medali Espresso, standing at the front of their hole in the wall shop with a gaggle of pretty young things all waiting for their coffee OR a whispered word with the barista. These guys, who I know well enough to wave at as I walk by, would turn away from me ashamed to be associated with one who had sunk so low.
As would the fine people just a little further up Carlisle Street, Balaclava, at Batch Cafe - also famous for it's coffee. In my mind I can see them quickly bringing in their little A-board sign upon my approach, closing the doors and peeping through drawn curtains until I was safely out of their sight, taking my dirty little secret with me.
I could then walk past 7 other cafes, all who serve world class coffee in their own right, to the one place where I might get some solace... Wall 280 - or just "The wall" to locals, where patrons sit on one long communal bench bolted to the wall, and surly wait-staff slouch toward you in their unsmiling cool-ness. I would enjoy a cup of coffee, sitting amidst transvestites, lawyers, stoners, police, audiologists, hippy-folk, artists (real, imagined and "as yet undiscovered"), Rock-Chicks, and everyone in between.
I could hide there until someone familiar came along.
Someone who may have heard rumours, but was going to offer me the benefit of the doubt.
Someone who was willing to empathise with the situation that drove me to do what I did.
The familiar face, would smile and then squeeze on to the bench beside me and ask - "So, is it true?"
I would take a deep breath and answer:
"Yes, in order to drink coffee that was even halfway decent, I had to buy .. it... from....* ** ***"
"I'm sorry Andrew... I missed the last bit. You had to buy it from where?"
"A petrol station. I had to buy coffee from a dispensing machine at the petrol station."
That revelation would echo through the little side street. Dogs would quiet. Spinifex would tumble by in the horrified silence.
The quiet would be broken only by one of the wait-staff, oozing toward me. She would then gently, but with no small amount of determination, remove the half empty cup of caffeinated nectar from my hand.
She would look over her shoulder on her way back to the cafe's single roller door, briefly, and say...
"F**k off, YOU are bothering the customers"
Given the some of the folk that occasionally hang around there - in the heart of a gentrified-but-still-dealing-with-the-problem-of-beggars area of Melbourne - 'bothering' other customers would be REALLY hard thing to do.
Admitting you drink coffee from a vending machine in that public space would, however, be enough to do it.
The coffee here is really that bad. If, upon your entry into a shopping mall, Starbucks is leading the pack in the race for your coffee dollar - there just has to be something stinky going on.
Everywhere I go I look for a new cafe to try... I walk into each place with a tried an true method of hope, tempered with VERY low expectations.
Right now if a coffee landed in front of me that was barely average I'd dance on the spot.
No luck yet, but I intend to leave no stone unturned in my quest to not have the above story come true.
Coincidentally I have been given a short term focus on this very topic. This week's Free AD mag, Abu Dhabi Week, has listed the "5 best coffee shops" in Abu Dhabi.
The list though, and therefore the research phase of this project, is flawed.
The problem is that saying that these coffee shops are the best in Abu Dhabi is a bit like saying that I have the best butt in my street - it doesn't make my posterior a great one, is simply showcases the fact that there is not a lot of competition for the title.
Nonetheless, dear reader, I am willing to throw myself over this coffee bean shaped hand-grenade to see whether it is a fair list or not.
Over the next few months I intend to visit these funkily named establishments, such is the importance I place on finding the good stuff for this humble blog.
I know.. selfless I am.
I'll keep you posted as the search goes on so check back regularly, or subscribe to the feed for updates - first on my quest and at number 1 on the magazine's list - "The One".
In the meantime the directions below might be useful for those too desperate to await the outcome of the 'research':
Instructions on getting the best out of a coffee machine at ADNOC (Abu Dhabi's own petrol station chain)
The coffee machines are uniformly placed in every ADNOC petrol station.
- Walk up to the "Coffee Planet" machine as if you are doing something else - like admiring the many colours of the hot-dogs rolling on the hot-dog cooker right next to it.
- Get the biggest of the cups available - they are protruding out of the front of the machine. It's a 2 handed job, and requires a small twist of the wrist.
- Place it in the obvious cup placement bit.
- Admire the hot dogs again, who'd have thought you could call something with that little animal product in it "meat"
- Press the 2 buttons on the left - extra shot, and large beverage.
- Press the latte button.
- Admire hot-dogs again (wonder aloud at how long they may have been slowly rotating there), this time accompanied by the soundtrack of hot steamy milk flowing into your cup.
- Grab a cup lid from the dispenser (top right of the machine). It really looks like something automated should happen when you flip the cover back, but nothing does, just reach in and grab one.
- Get a long stirrer from the machine (bottom left pigeon hole), grab your beverage and sugar it to taste, I use the sugar from the semi circular counter in front of the machine.
- Place cap on to the cup, and head to the checkout, under no circumstance taking a hot-dog with you.
- Be amazed at how better-than-average the coffee actually is then ask yourself - If a machine could do this, why can't human hands do far better?