ISLAMABAD: Even while standing outside the building of Kim’s, a Saudi coffee chain now open in the heart of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, the aroma of freshly-roasted coffee and riffs of Arabic songs are hard to miss.
Inside the bustling café, shiny, traditional middle-eastern pots are on display on a busy coffee station next to an espresso machine, thick brown brew dripping from it. The wall towards the left of the spacious coffee shop displays a mural painted with notable monuments from the different countries where Kim’s has branches, including Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, London, Egypt, and now Pakistan.
In recent years, many Middle-Eastern eateries and cafes have opened up in Islamabad.
The UAE’s Shaghf cafe chain opened a branch in Islamabad last month. A small coffee shop called KAF has been serving up Arabic qahwa since 2021, launched by three Pakistani friends born and raised in Gulf countries. Arz Lebanon in Islamabad’s upscale Jinnah Super Market is one of the most popular restaurants in the capital, while Serai Bistro in the city’s diplomatic quarter has been serving up Lebanese, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes for years. And of course, the Iranian restaurant Omar Khayyam is considered an Islamabad institution.
Now, Kim’s, with 33 branches in Saudi Arabia, has also entered the Middle Eastern food and beverage scene in the Pakistani capital, opening a cafe in Islamabad in November 2022.
Like Shaghf and KAF, Kim’s too has a speciality: Arabic coffee, locally known as qahwa, a staple drink in Middle-Eastern culture, traditionally prepared with a mix of herbs like cardamom, cloves and saffron, served in a traditional coffee pot called dallah with a side of dates.
“Our coffee beans are produced, roasted, and prepared in Saudi Arabia and brought here. It’s the process of roasting that brings out the taste in the coffee,” Zaid Iqbal, general manager of Kim’s coffee in Islamabad, told Arab News at the cafe, whose walls are covered in large neon signs, and which carries a modern vibe.
Though Kim’s interior is meticulously designed, it is the aroma and taste of the coffee that many customers said had drawn them in.
“Honestly, when we [went] upstairs, we realized that the aroma here [was] quite nice and we thought we might as well try this place,” said Amna, a mother of four who only identified herself by her first name. “We didn’t know this was an Arabic or Turkish coffee house.”
Muhammad Saifullah, a coffee connoisseur in his twenties who had come to Kim’s to taste its authentic Middle Eastern blends, praised the qahwa’s unique taste, saying it was the hint of saffron he enjoyed the most.
“This Arabian qahwa has different spices like saffron and cardamom added to it, and it’s served with a side of dates which makes it different from the European style of coffees that we are used to drinking here in Pakistan,” Saifullah said, adding that he was pleased to have found the cafe as there were “very few places in Pakistan serving authentic Arabic coffee.”
Rumman Khan, a young barista at Kim’s, said he had been trained in preparing the Arabic qahwa by Kim’s staff who came to Pakistan from Saudi Arabia. Explaining the process of preparing the qahwa, he said it took much longer to prepare than coffee brewed in an espresso machine.
The coffee beans used for cappuccinos, lattes and other Western coffee drinks were ground in a grinder machine, Khan said, pointing to the machine behind him.
“But Arabic coffee is prepared in this pot by boiling it in water. That one [qahwah] is totally different from this [Western] coffee.”
Besides the signature Arabic coffee, Kim’s menu also includes western blends, lattes, cappuccino, mochaccino, and flavored teas from across the world, with beverage prices ranging between Rs300-600.
A variety of food options like sandwiches, burgers, and steaks are also available.
“It is healthy, it’s organic, and very light on the stomach,” said Al Hassan, a young businessman who said he liked stopping by at Kim’s after work.
“[The qahwa] is a little stronger than the coffee I’m used to drinking, but the dates help with the taste.”