Too much information can diminish the joy sometimes and though I read a lot, I stick to what I know I like - a rich, textured, full-bodied cup of espresso, with flowery notes, a little tanginess, complemented by a small biscuit - yes that’s what I’ll have. Image Credit: Shutterstock

I recall being amused peering into what was probably two tea-spoonfuls settled at the bottom of the small coffee cup, next to a proportionally small cookie. But then at an Armani cafe, portions are consistently modest.

Reservations about the quantity and the hesitation aside, having that first sip changed my perception about the espresso. It was a surprisingly distinct and enjoyable experience. One that set me off into my coffee-discovering journey, two decades ago.

I got into extensive reading about different coffee types and brewing methods since then. UAE is a country with numerous cafes, each with its distinct vibe, and I found myself enjoying espresso more and more.

Cortado, Macchiato, Piccolo and more

Social media used to inundate me with a variety of coffee options - Cortado, Macchiato, Piccolo - all featuring different proportions of milk and sugar. Yet, both additions are spoilers when it comes to espresso, and this was an early takeaway for me. Any espresso traditionalist will advocate enjoying it only one way: sans milk and sans sugar. And here’s an additional piece of advice, stay away from the commercial coffee brands for espresso, they just don’t measure up.

Times changed and the algorithms started showing me more of what I liked. Today, my social media is filled with espresso, V60 (a highly under-rated, pour-over coffee brewing method designed by a Japanese company), and sometimes black coffee. My phone feeds me a healthy dose of mood boosts every day, with beautiful pictures of coffee in designer cups, stunning cafes, and intricate coffee machines that would entice engineers.

Arabica Vs Robusta

I keep my coffee intake in check. While I know now that a late cup does affect sleep, it’s a good boost and mood enhancer, especially when you want to get work done. There's a lot of research out there with positive findings and while I usually stick to moderation, negative findings from reputable sources can be upsetting.

Having a healthy gut allows for some leeway, but to be on the safe side, I usually grab a small snack like a cookie or a pastry to go with my coffee - it seems to help, and there are studies that back this up. But caution is advised in the company of friends and during special projects, as indulging in double or quadruples can potentially result in sleepless nights. Looking back, I wish I had stumbled upon it during my studying years.

Opening a cafe?

Like many of us with the entrepreneurial push, I've thought about opening a cafe and visited factories in Italy, trying out varieties, learning different things on the way, sometimes as basic and simple as water being the best palate cleanser. I remember asking an Italian coffee cupper repeatedly just to make sure I’d understood him right. I strongly recommend Italy, if you’d like to go on an espresso discovering journey. Hard to find a place more discerning and particular.

Crafting a good espresso is a bit challenging, considering the different variables at play. Factors such as origin, altitude, roast type, age, even the barista expertise is key to getting a good cup. I’ve tried and followed a few baristas as they moved from one location to another, for the same consistent experience. Add to these rising temperatures and changing weather patterns, the coffee industry faces threats, potentially altering the characteristics that make a great espresso.

Too much information can diminish the joy sometimes and though I read a lot, I stick to what I know I like - a rich, textured, full-bodied cup of espresso, with flowery notes, a little tanginess, complemented by a small biscuit - yes that’s what I’ll have!

Espresso checklist

My top coffee picks

Coffee varieties are named after the region they are grown in, as the environmental conditions, altitude, soil composition of the region has a significant impact on its essence or characteristic profile of the coffee. And the concept behind calling them Single-origin coffee is precisely because of this.

Most coffee is grown in the equatorial region, also known as the coffee belt, where consistent temperatures and high humidity are ideal for growing coffee. Within this belt, I would break them up into 3 broad sub-regions - Central and South America (Brazil, Columbia, Guatemala) East Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda) and South East Asia (India, Vietnam), which produce some very good coffee. The list is large, and by no means complete but here are some of my personal favourites -

Sidamo: A region in Ethiopia known for making some very good coffee, with some nice floral, berry and citrus notes. I love the zing in citrus fruits and this could also be an added reason Ethiopian coffee is a favorite.

Yirgacheffe: Still within Ethiopia, this one’s a little more exotic. I remember having them side by side and could tell there was something distinct about it, I would say being a little more acidic. I have to also mention the Hambela, which is similar to the above two.

Columbian coffee, is less acidic, a little more bodied with some caramel and fruit-like notes. This makes it an in-between, more balanced coffee.

Brazilian is another popular variety, full bodied and much less acidic than Ethiopian coffee. It’s not high on my preference list, but I’ve seen many people who like the earthen, woody, musky flavors that are common in them. I guess that makes it a natural choice for milk-based coffee.