It took guts for Orit Mohammed, founder of Boon Coffee to set up her own coffee business from scratch, sourcing beans from her native Ethiopia and roasting them batch by batch to perfection herself. Especially as she didn’t have any experience in the field – just (coffee) bagfuls of passion and drive. Now, despite 2020’s curveballs, she’s smelling the sweet scent of not just the finest Arabica beans but huge success, too.
Your coffee journey is a very personal one, isn’t it?
Moving to Dubai and realising that no coffee was coming directly from the country of origin, I started bringing coffee from Ethiopia for myself, my family and my friends. Soon, I started to see that there was a real demand for good coffee. I decided to bring 500kgs of coffee over. I actually kept it in my house and roasted every batch by hand and to order. That’s how it all started…
How much of what you do is instinctive and how much is taught?
In Ethiopia, coffee is a big part of our culture – it’s integral to our daily lives and I grew up around my relatives preparing coffee. My mother was my first teacher. When I started my business, I took a roasting class to deepen my knowledge. Roasting with an industrial roaster is a science. Everything else, I learned on the job.
What’s your first memory associated with coffee?
Sitting down with my mother at my aunt’s house and being surrounded by the smell of coffee being roasted over charcoal.
What sets Boon apart from other coffee companies in Dubai?
We source and import our beans directly from origin, we roast in-house and produce custom blends. We also source coffee from one of the closest origins in the region, so our coffee has the shortest journey from farm to cup.
What makes the perfect cup of coffee?
High grade beans that are roasted in small batches and made with love.
Is instant really that bad? What makes a coffee ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and is it down to personal taste or are there goalposts?
There is no such thing as bad coffee. It’s about convenience and personal taste. However, single origin, locally roasted coffee has a depth of flavour that goes beyond a jolt of caffeine.
What’s your coffee pet peeve?
People who assume that all coffee has a bitter or burnt taste. They’ve just had coffee that hasn’t been made properly.
The best cup of coffee you have ever tasted was….
When I travel to the farms in Ethiopia and the farmer’s family makes me a cup. There’s nothing better than that and I look forward to it every time I go.
How did the pandemic change your business?
It forced us to look beyond wholesale and move into retail. We already had a café, but we were hesitant about expanding. Our café in Nakheel Mall’s Depachika Food Hall opened at the beginning of the pandemic and has been a lifeline to the business as wholesale slowed down.
What’s your advice to aspiring entrepreneurs?
You have to start. The path may change and you have to be willing to be flexible, but the most important thing is to start.
The biggest surprise to you when opening your own business was…
How many people were willing to give me a chance. It’s a male-dominated industry and perhaps they were taken aback when I walked through the door, but once people tried the coffee, it didn’t matter.
The small businesses you particularly admire are…
Jacqueline and Corinne Bowker, the founders of Lime Tree Café. They’ve stayed true to their original concept and are also very supportive of other small businesses.
Did you have any mentors or anyone who guided you along the way?
Chef Izu Ani has been a big supporter and a mentor. He’s a great example of what is possible.
What was your big break?
I would have to say when La Serre Bistro & Boulangerie became our client. To have our coffee in such a prestigious restaurant really put us on the map.
What achievement are you proudest of?
I’m proud that a lot of local roasters are now using Ethiopian coffee. When we started, the local roasters weren’t even mentioning origins, let alone saying that they were using coffee from Ethiopia.
How do you see coffee culture evolving?
As people continue to care and educate themselves about where their food comes from, especially something as labour intensive as coffee, they will demand better quality and more transparency.
Is there a perfect food to team with coffee?
In Ethiopia, it’s traditional to pair coffee with popcorn.
What is your choice of coffee and how do you brew it?
It has to be Boon’s premium blend, which I designed for my morning Americano.
What’s next for Boon?
To expand into other countries in the region and beyond!
The song that encapsulates 2020 for you would be…
I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor.
You can find Boon Coffee at @booncoffee on Instagram and at Booncoffee.com
Photos: Instagram and supplied