‘Coffee is the common man’s gold and, like gold, it brings to every person the feeling of luxury and nobility.’ This charming description of coffee by the great Muslim scholar Shaikh Abd-al-Kadir is as apt today as it was when coffee was first discovered in the late 14th century.
Coffee usually brings to mind Italian espresso, American coffee or French cafe au lait. But few people are aware of the Muslim origins of this dark and delicious drink, which came from the highlands of Yemen and Ethiopia. During the 15th century Muslim empire, coffee houses began to appear in major Muslim cities of Makkah, Cairo, Istanbul, Baghdad and Damascus, from where the beverage found its way into Europe, leading to coffee culture.
This coffee culture, as refined in Europe, has transformed coffee houses into relaxing places of social gathering where people can enjoy a conversation, read, write, or simply spend time together. This culture, which has captivated the Europeans and Americans for long, has now found its way into Islamic society as well as Arab and Asian countries.
Pakistan, a tea-loving country traditionally, is gladly embracing the strong aroma, bold colour and rich taste of coffee.
The coffee culture surfaced in Pakistan with the launch of Espresso in 2004 in Karachi, but the market really exploded when Gloria Jean’s entered the arena in 2007. The trend, however, gained momentum in 2010 when the youth took to the elegant coffee houses.
Over the years, coffee transformed from a bitter beverage consumed mainly by the elite and expats to a beverage the youth have come to brand cool. Today, one can find a good number of coffee shops in all across Islamabad where youngsters can be seen chatting, reading, working, or just chilling, giving rise to Pakistan’s own cafe culture.
The growing number of coffee shops, the obsession with social media and the endorsement of friends are some of the reasons why youths have come to prefer coffee shops over other haunts.
In most cafes, a cup of coffee sells for Rs250 (Dh9) to Rs500 , depending on the type of coffee.
Local and branded coffee shops are indeed a respite for Islamabad’s growing number of foreigners who are usually coffee purists and prefer their coffee black with no added sugar, sweetener or cream. Pakistanis, however, like their coffee milky, creamy, flavoured and sweet — Cappuccino, Latte or Mocha mostly.
Second Cup, a Canadian coffee brand, introduced its coffee to Pakistanis in 2013, starting out in Lahore and Islamabad. Offering warm, comfortable yet modern environment and great variety of drinks, this cafe can vouch that its clientele has gone up by 40 per cent since 2015. “We sell anywhere from 400 to 450 cups per day at one cafe,” said Awais Mehmood, Marketing Executive of Second Cup Pakistan.
The cafe boasts of the latest machines, highly trained staff and certified baristas. The coffee house offers a variety of exclusive blends, espresso-based beverages and iced drinks, signature foods, sweet treats and fine beverages. “Hot chocolates and frozen yogurt are among the favourites besides coffee.” The cafe also offers 9 varieties of tea.
White chocolate and latte are among the favourites of Pakistanis whereas espresso is usually preferred by foreigners who are fond of the place as it offers a huge variety of black coffee found at no other place in the city. Most of the coffee beans are exclusive to Second Cup and come from Costa Rica, Colombia to Indonesia, from Central Africa to the island of Sumatra.
With 9 outlets in Islamabad, Lahore and Sialkot, this Canadian coffee brand is the fastest-growing coffee chain which is surprisingly moving to cities like Sialkot and Gujrat, affirming that coffee is increasing in popularity and expanding to smaller urban centres.
Youngsters mostly visit cafes with friends. “I love to explore new cafes and try new flavours of coffee especially with my friends. We usually meet at coffee house to discuss projects and ideas” says Daniyal Shafiq, a university student.
Wifi on the house
One of Islamabad’s charming coffee houses is Mocca Coffee, equipped with wifi, books and publications and meeting room facility. When this local coffee brand began its operations in 2008, the idea was “less about coffee and more about offering a place where people can hang out and an ambience were they can work too,” says owner of Mocca cafe Syed Nadir Ali.
This local coffee shop is adored for its variety of coffee, high quality and comfy atmosphere. Mocca is like workplace for some and home away from home for others. “The comfy seating, great coffee and friendly welcome is what keeps me coming to Mocca,” says Fatima Shiraz,28, a regular customer.
Many coffee shops in Pakistan now have bookcases so people can flip through books or magazines while enjoying their coffee.
What sets Classic Rock Coffee apart from others is that it aims to blend music and socialising with coffee culture. This cafe is changing the cafe scene in the city with its live music performances, which is now being held in many other cafes. “We mostly encourage young and rising talent but also regularly invite the known musicians and bands like Faraz Anwar, Rizwan ul Haq, Sarmad Ghafoor, Zeejah Fazli, Arieb Azhar,” says Asif Waheed, Managing Director of Classic Rock Coffee.
Classic Rock Coffee Pakistan, a US-based coffee chain, opened up in Islamabad in November 2015 with a new concept and combination: classic rock themed outlet with freshly roasted coffee and live music.
“We wanted to do something different and the results have been amazing in one year. People love our coffee, our customers are increasing and in the meantime locals are becoming more aware of their coffee,” says Asif Waheed.
The per capita coffee consumption in the country is less than 0.8 kg, but the cafe culture especially in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi is bound to change that number. There is a now a consensus that coffee is more than just a drink: It’s a culture, an art, and a passion.