We know how important coffee is to half of the world. And with the new speciality wave coffee craze that’s been sweeping over the city, we’ve decided to go undercover -sort of- and explore this new and exciting (and rather caffeinated) terrain! What better to start with than Riyadh’s very own roasting houses? This week, we sat with Khaled Al-Madhi and Ahmed Alkharji to find out the nitty gritty details straight from the folks behind Elixir Bunn.
Tell us a little about yourselves and your roasting house.
We are a group of youthful Saudi souls coming from vastly different backgrounds united by loving coffee and bringing fine-tasting coffee to Saudi Arabia. We remember our early days co-founding this establishment and how everyone came together to bring something so distinctive and unconventional. Being charmed by speciality coffee movement in 2011-2012, we’ve become increasingly impressed by the divine coffee scene happening in the states, Europe & Japan that we’ve explored. The idea of creating an alternative superior coffee product brewed in our heads for a while before we decided to roll up our thobes’ sleeves and turn our and everybody else’s lives around. Partners gathered in early 2014 and we’ve started what’s called today Elixir Bunn Coffee Roasters (Ekseer Albunn). We worked hard, sampled and tasted uncounted number of coffee beans before we managed to forget what coffee tastes like in conventional cafés chains. We roasted a variety of single-origin, micro-lot and organic specialty coffee on a reputable German drum roaster. Everyday passes by we encounter new exciting challenges, we wouldn’t pass any of it without the dedication of each cofounding member and their precious compromises. The passion that have been driving us so far is truly powerful and is the key to where we are now. We’ve started out in carefully looking and identifying a location that is far from the hustle and bustle of jammed Riyadh and so simple to have sipping a cup of joe an exceptional experience. We have reckoned on minimalism in designing the cafe, making the interior is so cozy and organic to all coffee connoisseurs.
What got you interested in coffee?
Curiosity and adventure to push the limit of coffee options in the market. In high school, while casually kicking it with the guys, still at the age of exploring “adult” heavily-caffeinated drinks we decided we give the nearby chain coffee shop a visit. We thought a glamorous drink name warrants itself a try. It felt more adult-like as the barista kept squeezing syrup in our drinks. Stayed unnecessarily alert till 5 am; I was like “Woh wooh!”. In my first work experience, I used to get sleepy after lunch and coffee was my answer. The coffee capsule trend just caught on. All the capsules have tasted the same to me (Perhaps because the coffee have been ground over six months back and all flavors have faded?). Later on, we learned that specialty coffee is different, and full of natural flavors and is actually made with just enough love and care. This revelation was the seed of my growing passion in specialty coffee industry.
What is your secret to the perfect cup of coffee?
Beside getting a top notch green beans coffee that scored 88+/100 by a licensed q-graders? The secret to a perfect cup of coffee relies on roasting it right on the spot. You’ll understand coffee potential by the roast-sampling coffee, you’ll gain deeper understanding by the coffee highs and lows after cupping it, to roast profile it until you get all the flavor the coffee already has out. At Elixir Bunn we personally enjoy light-to-medium roasts, as light roasts bring the best distinct flavors that the specialty coffee have. That being said, the coffee must rest after roast day between 1.5 day to 2 days, some coffees need at least 5 days of degassing before the use. Employ a conical commercial-grade burr grinder to grind the coffee at the desired grind level and start brewing using temperatures between 93-94ºc while applying 15g coffee/1g water ratio to brew it over a Kalita Wave cone within 3 minutes or 14g/1g ratio & 4 minutes for a french press.
What are your absolute favourite kind of beans?
Ethiopian, hands-down. It’s the mother land of Coffea Arabica (not misspelled) known for the thousands of coffee varieties, named and unnamed. Some of its regions produce natural tasting notes of blueberry pancakes (I kid you not).
If you were stuck on an island and you could only choose 3 things to take with you, what would it be?
A big-enough boat, sailing GPS & high-range radio transmitter, I’m going back to my roastery. I can’t use this trick, I’ll go with a fully equipped coffee lab (roasting machines, specialty coffee supply included), a Kinokuniya bookstore & warehouse-worth of vinyl music library, with a turntable of course.
If you had to choose between an nespresso and starbucks, which of the two evils would you go with?
I would go with Starbucks tea offerings. Duah!
What kind of brewing methods do you prefer?
I really enjoy brewing pour-overs over Kalita Wave. It’s clean and consistent, even if you screw it up. That said, the challenges in extracting espressos is very entertaining (it consumes time too) and when done right, experience brought to you in the taste is very rewarding. While traveling it’s intuitive (just like throwing extra tees in the bag) to have a set of AeroPress brewers, Porlex grinder & an AWS compact scale, and just pray for a good quality water supply.
Are there any unique drinks on your menu that stands out?
People are pointing out to the Cortado drink we serve as it brings memory of their once a time travel to Spain or the States.
Where do you import your coffee beans from?
We use multiple sources to import coffee from. We bring the best tasting coffee & fresh crop in every importer we deal with. We import from North America, Latin America and recently we are collaborating with a brilliant local importer to bring fantastic coffees very soon.
How is the recent rise in coffee prices going to affect business?
Think of it this way: as stated by industry figures, the coffee farmers have been getting almost exactly the same pay today as 1983. Coffee is still considered very cheap globally (our model in Saudi to green coffee is not a reference). I’ll not put words on anyone’s mouth but imagine yourself getting a pay check by the end of this month just like people are getting in the 80’s. It’ll definitely affect the market but what didn’t affect the market? Think of recent global inflation to most if not all commodities.
Do you offer varying caffeine concentrations?
No and yes. No, as in we’re not directly advertising that coffee Y has more caffeine than coffee X. Yes, as basically all espresso-based drinks are double shots by default, that allow the final cup to have a less caffeine by volume perspective (i.e. roughly 40mg per espresso serving) where filtered coffee (i.e. about 110mg) have more by perspective as its caffeine intake by volume is 11mg.
One thing you’d add to your café if you had infinite funds.
I would invest and buy a couple of farms, establish an R&D and develop it to adapt recent breakthroughs in farming and its best practices and assure that farmers and their family are being paid fairly to maintain a good life, education and well being. Also, bring more and more of coffee scoring 90+ and making the coffee producers, competitors and winners of cup of excellence coffees to be the new norm.