From karak chai to signature coffee: Meet Emirati who spent 7 years learning how to make perfect cup

Sulaiman Alalawi participated in the UAE cup taster championship in 2022 and emerged as the winner

Photo: Shihab/KT
Photo: Shihab/KT

Nasreen Abdulla

Published: Fri 13 Jan 2023, 2:18 PM

Last updated: Fri 13 Jan 2023, 2:24 PM

From being a coffee-tasting winner last year to being a café owner this year, life has come full circle for Sulaiman Alalawi at the World of Coffee. The Emirati had participated in the UAE cup taster championship at the conference in 2022 and emerged as the winner.

“I was the first Emirati to win the competition,” he said. “Most of the participants had been in the industry for much longer than me so I went in with no expectations. However, when I won, the pressure and expectation started to build.”

The competition involved tasting over 24 cups of coffee. “There were eight stations with three cups of coffee each,” he said. “In each station, one cup would be the odd one out. Sometimes the differences would be minute, like a difference in temperature of brewing or the ratio of water used. So, you have to have a keen sense of coffee to be able to identify the odd one out. We had to do it in eight minutes.”

Suleiman with his award at last year’s World of Coffee (Supplied photo)
Suleiman with his award at last year’s World of Coffee (Supplied photo)

Since then, Sulaiman poured his heart and soul into his passion and is all set to inaugurate his concept store called We are things in Abu Dhabi later this month.

Karak over coffee

Despite being a master at coffee, Sulaiman admits that his drink of choice is karak chai. “I know people are going to judge me but that is the truth,” he chuckled.

Sulaiman’s tryst with coffee started during his long drives between his home and workplace. “I live in Abu Dhabi and work in Liwa, which is the border of Saudi Arabia,” he said. “That is a three-hour drive. During these drives I realized that karak did not have enough caffeine to keep me awake. So, I would stop at the gas station and buy the machine coffee. I really didn’t like the taste as it was bitter.”

The oil and gas industry professional then began to do his own research. “For seven years, I researched and experimented with different kinds of coffee beans and processes,” he said.

Building a team

According to Sulaiman, the process of opening his store was not easy. “The most important thing is to have a good team,” he said. “I spent a lot of time getting together the right kind of people and now they are the biggest asset of my business.”

The Emirati continues to work his day job in the oil and gas industry while maintaining coffee as his side gig. “Luckily, technology has become so advanced that you can do multiple things from one location,” he said. “I sourced most of my suppliers from World of Coffee. I have been involved in the conference in many places including Milan and Greece. It is a great place to sample beans and find a good producer.”

Sulaiman is excited about the launch of his store this month. “I wanted to create a place where people with various interests can find something to suit them,” he said. “'We are things' is a concept store where visitors can get an espresso experience, filter coffee experience at the brew bar. There are also vintage sunglasses, bakery section, kitchen experience and a music department where people will find turntables and records. It is a very different store where people can experience something different each time they come.”

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