Picture this; a hardcore Portlandian tells you, "Some of the best coffee I've had was in Kuwait"
Had I heard that before September of 2021, I would not have taken that seriously, not one bit.
Over the years that I lived in good ol' Stumptown, my palate for what good coffee should taste like took shape. To say that the bar was set high would be an understatement. Of course, it is hard to get bad coffee from any of the roasters in Portland. But, before you even go there, no, Starbucks, Peet's, and any of those commercial coffee stores are not within this equation and will never be.
I've traveled to over 35 states and drank a ton of coffee. From the sunny coastlines of Florida to the lakes of Minnesota and from the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee to the cold waters of the Pacific ocean. I've had lots of bad coffee in all of those states, Oregon included! Bad coffee isn't hard to come by. In contrast, finding good coffee can be quite a challenge. Especially when you get used to walking into any cafe in Portland and getting a cup that meets or exceeds your expectation.
A case in point is that some of the "best" coffee shops in certain places in the West serve Portland roasted beans, most likely Stumptown, Heart, or Coava.
Finding good coffee in Portland is as easy as throwing a dart anywhere within the "Zone". That magical zone of amazing coffee is bordered between the 205 on the east, west hills on the west, Springwater in the south, and the Columbia River in the north.
I don't think it would be a shocker if I told you that I have not found any other city with better coffee than Portland.
Obviously, I'm biased, but for a good reason!
To me, coffee in Portland is THE standard, and in some sense, it will be for quite some time. However, that belief might be destabilized the more I'm exposed to what some coffee roasters in Kuwait are producing.
I was under the impression that I won't be able to enjoy good coffee outside of Portland. Kuwait was not even on my radar as a place to find drinkable coffee, let alone good coffee!
To me, a good cup of coffee isn't limited to what's inside the cup but rather about the whole atmosphere and the values of the roastery. I loved the welcoming and unassuming vibe of coffee shops in Portland, as I've always sensed that I belonged there, no matter the person.
I was concerned that I won't find anything like that in Kuwait. A sense of community, that is, and not just good coffee. In other words, I didn't want that experience to be purely transactional.
Over the past 3 months, I found myself amid the coffee scene in Kuwait; and I was blown away by what I saw. This was when I got to know the folks at Altitude Roasters. I was truly surprised but very skeptical as well. Part of me resisted the idea that good coffee exists outside of Portland. However, I was met with excellence, craftsmanship, dedication, and passion.
Altitude Roasters was established in 2020 by Mohamad AlAdsani, a wizard that traversed the dimensions of flavor and curiosity. He was on a mission to try to understand the mysterious bean that captivated nations for thousands of years all around the world. To the folks at Altitude, coffee beans are the key to entering that realm of absolute sensory experience.
Rooted in an epistemophilia that mesmerized them from the first encounter with great coffee, their philosophy was to take a scientific approach to build on that knowledge.
The abundance of information online was a good start, but that only made them more curious about what they could learn from coffee experts worldwide. So as good students, they ventured beyond Kuwait and into the Specialty Coffee Association outlets in the UK and the US, completing the required courses to help them understand the bean!
What I find interesting in coffee roasting is that Arabs have a strong relationship with coffee, as it is inseparable from their culture and history. For over a thousand years, Arabs cultivated coffee brought over by surges of invaders from Ethiopia. Those beans have been grown in the Southwest Mountainous corner of the Arabic Peninsula ever since.
To my limited knowledge, some families in Kuwait have their own coffee recipes. However, it is a secret that is sometimes safeguarded in their elders' minds, as was the case with my late grandfather.
That relationship is one that challenged changes over time and throughout generations, remaining unchanged and proper"?" to its origins. Growing up in Kuwait, I only knew one kind of coffee, which is what my grandfather roasted in his kitchen every Friday morning. Later I was introduced to Turkish coffee and Nescafe. For some reason, I refused to recognize the latter as "coffee" as it seemed "wrong". Perhaps part of the reason is that I had some experience roasting, sorting, and grinding the beans with my grandfather. While Turkish coffee and Nescafe came in cans, safe to say they were not equal to my grandfather's coffee.
I was curious about what the locals would think of "specialty coffee", which is just coffee for those of y'all back home in the US. The short blurb about the juxtaposition of coffee and Arabic culture was at the forefront of my conversations with many of the roasters in Kuwait. I wanted to know where specialty coffee stands when it comes to a drink that's supposed to be enjoyed in the company of others. I find it hard for someone living in a collective society to be into something that is so individualistic.
To me, specialty coffee is prepared for a person, not a group. Whereas Arabic coffee is prepared for a few people or more in the spirit of hanging out together.
This is an apparent challenge for roasters across the board, within the Arabic Peninsula, and around the world. Customers might not understand or care about what, why, or how specialty coffee is a form of art that transforms a pit of a cherry into liquid gold.
Again, roasters in the Arabic Peninsula are in an interesting position, one that seeks to shed light on a form of art showcasing the wonders of the coffee world.
Speaking of wonders, have you had Altitude's coffee yet? If not, let me say that YOU ARE MISSING OUT!
No, this is not a paid ad, collab, or anything other than me sharing a talent that deserves the recognition it should have.
AlAdsani surprised me with his wealth of information, attention to detail, and love for what he does. I've enjoyed our coffee conversations as much as I loved what he produced.
Over the past month, I've enjoyed a few bags of Ethiopian beans that elevated my mornings to a higher altitude, with notes of strawberry, citrus, and black tea. It is a very complex cup that mirrors the roaster's understanding of what they are producing. I love the approach Altitude takes in allowing the beans to be the star of the show, which is not relatively easy to achieve, from what I gathered. Different beans tend to have different personalities, and they must be treated differently in that respect.
In other words, it takes knowledge to understand, feel and bring out the natural flavor notes of every bean. A delicate process that takes shape in a matter of minutes, but a second off can alter the flavors of the batch.
At Altitude, it's all about fine-tuning and maximizing the potential of their coffee. It is a multifaceted approach that celebrates coffee farmers' efforts and the roasters' dedication. Coffee is a very misunderstood product that hasn't gotten the attention it needs and deserves. However, thanks to the devotion of roasters like the folks at Altitude Roastery, the future of coffee is looking brighter and, more importantly, delicious.
To Altitude Roasters, thank you so much for enlightening me and sharing insights about your values, coffee, and vision. I'm excited to see what the future holds!