Barista Magazine

DEC 2017-JAN 2018

Serving People Serving Coffee Since 2005

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FIELD REPORT: MALDIVES MALDIVES IS A COUNTRY made up of 1,192 islands spread across 26 natural atolls. For decades, the country has been known for its crystal-clear turquoise blue water, powdery white-sand beaches, and world-class resorts. With its tropical waters teeming with ma- rine life, Maldives is also a sport-fi shing and scuba-diving haven. Indeed, most outsiders imagine over-water bungalows and seaplanes when they think of the Maldives—and they wouldn't be wrong. Tourism on this little paradise in the middle of the Indian Ocean started in the late 1970s and has grown to become Maldives' number-one industry. Though the country has only around 400,000 permanent residents, it attracts more than 1 million visitors annual- ly. Many beeline for the 100+ resorts, each of which occupies its own exclusive island. Most of the real action of the Maldives, however, takes place with- in the capital city of Malé (pronounced MAH-ley). More than half the population lives and works in this densely populated city-island of 2.2 square miles, making it one of the most crowded cities in the world. Resorts and picturesque waters aside, Maldives is also gaining a reputation for its intense and rapidly developing specialty-coffee cul- ture. Most of the younger members of the population are avid coffee drinkers, which sets Maldives apart from its South Asian neighbors that are known more for tea, the likes of Sri Lanka (Ceylon tea) and India (think Mumbai tea, more popularly know as chai). Illy and Lavazza coffees were fi rst introduced to Maldives resorts in the early 1990s, and the trend caught on fast with locals, who transformed the long-standing local teahouses into coffee spots almost overnight. Hanging out with friends over a coffee quickly became the thing to do. Being that Maldives is a conservative Muslim country, alcohol is prohibited on all the 200 inhabited local islands. No wonder coffee culture caught on with such gusto here. It's not unusual to fi nd young Maldivians sipping coffee well into the night, in cafés all over Malé city. It's a market just beginning to enter the third wave of the industry. I fi rst visited the Maldives in 2008 on a vacation, and was surprised that this world-class tourist destination didn't have any café serving properly done espresso coffee. By this time, most cafés in Male were serving overly dark-roast coffee offered with powdered milk. For the majority of the population, the ubiquitous YéYé coffee and Nescafe became the inexpensive beverage of choice. Armed with the dream of opening a café by the beach on an idyllic island, and a desire to introduce specialty coffee to a new market, I moved to the Maldives in 2013. I got to know Afrah in late 2013 and invited his family to a cupping session in my home. I remember there were probably four or fi ve different origins represented on the cupping table. Afrah was blown away by the intriguing fl avors and aromas of the coffees and, as they say, the rest is history. Afrah went on to become the fi rst licensed Q-Grader from the Maldives. He and I opened a café, the Family Room, in early 2014, and it became the fi rst specialty café in the country. It's situated on a public beach in Hulhumalé, an island 10 minutes by car from the Velana International Airport. The café is a cozy, family-oriented third-space Opposite page, at top: Location, location, location: Café on Hulhumalé is right on the beach with an alfresco si ing area and a view that can't be beat. Below: Mabrouq Azeez, founder of Meraki Coff ee Roaster, thinks living the coff ee life in Maldives is pre y great. This page: The beautiful bar at Meraki Coff ee Roaster in Malé City. 41 www.baristamagazine.com

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