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“Mate, at the end of the day, it’s just brown beans” - Raw Coffee founder Matt Toogood

Words by Rob Chilton

The New Zealander wants to build a community around coffee in Dubai and dispel some of the myths that surround the beloved beverage

Matt Toogood’s coffee arrives. What does the UAE 2011 barista champion and owner of Raw Coffee roastery and café drink, we wonder? “This is an aeropress made with natural Burundi coffee,” he explains. “We grind it super fine, finer than espresso, hit it with hot water for a few seconds to get this super-concentrated espresso to which we add hot water. The flavour profile is deep molasses, chocolate, then crisp apple on top. This coffee breaks all the rules but it tastes amazing.”

Only high quality specialty beans are used

Suddenly, our standard cappuccino seems rather boring. “Look, I always say the best cup of coffee is the one that you like,” says Toogood. “It’s been a fault in the development of specialty coffee that people try to exclude people, ‘Look at me, I’m weird, I have special coffee you don’t understand.’ Mate, at the end of the day, it’s just brown beans,” he grins.

“I don’t think I’m an uber-geek about coffee but the guys here would say I am,” he says pointing to his staff. “I learn something new every day. I’m lucky in that I have a good palate, and that comes from practice. Tasting and evaluating coffee is purely practice. If you want to be a good barista, go and make 50,000 coffees and you’ll get there.”

Easy does it

Toogood arrived in Dubai from Auckland in 2008 and was dismayed to find only a few cafes and barely enough fresh coffee to make a single espresso. “I remember going to Spinneys in Jumeirah and finding a can of Illy coffee at the back of a shelf – it was 13 months old! I got so excited I rang my wife to tell her.”

Community is important in Dubai, says Raw Coffee founder

Three years ago, Toogood believes there were only three coffee roasteries in Dubai, now there are 54. “The coffee industry goes through these waves,” he says. “You get the pioneers – like us – who have a passion for it, rather than doing it for profit. Then you get people who think this is cool, let’s adopt it. Then you get the investors who think they can make money out of it.” Has he been approached by people in suits waving contracts and carrying briefcases of money? “Yeah, we get calls to franchise every day…” he tails off. “I came from the corporate world selling telecoms and IT, I don’t want to be a businessman, I want to enjoy coffee.”

Baristas are centre stage at Raw

For now, Toogood is focussed on making a success of the Raw Coffee café in Al Quoz, a huge, open warehouse space with a coffee bar smack bang in the middle to “highlight the skills of the barista,” he explains. “In Dubai we need community because if we lose community we’re in trouble,” he says seriously. “We wanted to make a community space, a village where everyone knows each other. Come for five minutes or five hours, we don’t mind.”

Raw Coffee has a warehouse space in Al Quoz

Our cups empty, we conclude with a crucial question in the world of coffee. Who invented the flat white: Australia or New Zealand? Being a Kiwi, we have a pretty good idea of how Toogood might answer. “Obviously New Zealand!” he laughs. “It was the mid 1980s. You have to remember that New Zealanders were a nation of tea drinkers who thought a cappuccino was a monstrosity so we always asked for ‘coffee with milk, but make it a flattie, don’t put the foam on top.’ The flat white came naturally from that.”

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