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Catching up with Cairo’s coffee craze

Coffee run, A.N. said on the phone.

A coffee run . in Cairo? Well, sure, I had been away for a while but finding out that some offices in the city send staff out to buy coffee for everyone or order coffee, muffins and even bagels . was all a bit too familiar for me.

Like a scene out of “Ms. Congeniality or something.

Indeed, Cairo is in the throes of a maddening rush for caffeine that in turn gives Cairo a great big rush. As if the traffic jams need any more excitement.

But such is the case with up-and-coming trends. The Cairene coffee craze is everywhere. On one small street in Maadi, Road 9, a toy store shut down and was replaced with a coffee shop. Seems the kids don’t need toys anymore, they’re all grown up now and ready to have their caffeine injections.

If dear Aunt Marie Antoinette were alive in Cairo, she would have likely said, “Give them coffee.

So, on that one street I counted six different coffee shops all nestled across from one another, eyeing each other with suspicion and resentment. One man’s cup of coffee is another man’s tea bag. Honestly, I thought this was a nation of tea-drinkers, but Cairo is now Seattle.

And yes, this does indicate the Scintilla of Seattle is about to touch down in Cairo.

Why this brings back memories of “Frasier, I do not know.

I am not slighting coffee, no, dear me no, I need my drug just like you do, but it is all a dash overwhelming. And I will be the first to stand up and defend the virtues of caffeine – from the pre-gym workout caffeine inhalation to the spicing of the sex life for those over 50 (yes, medical research has shown that caffeine . keeps the sex lives of those over 50 . er . pumping).

But too much of a good thing is not necessarily good. I am sure there are those who frolic the coffee houses with their laptops (the wireless Internet feature means you never have to go home again) and stay there for hours. And hours.

I do think back to the old days, when many of those young addicts drinking coffee now were mere toddlers. Back when pool and billiards and bowling came tumbling towards us as we pinned ourselves to the floor and were struck by what came next.

Pool halls everywhere. In the oddest of places: tucked away in Shubra, on the beach in Agami, even in Dahab, Sinai.

Everyone and his uncle decided it was a sound business venture to open a pool hall and pretty soon the eight ball was rolling down Cairo’s streets. Except no one counted on the law of marginal returns and that damnable supply and demand curve. Supply went up, demand went down, and the pool halls were converted to . yep, coffee houses.

Or koshari stalls. Yes, even that became a fad among the rich and pampered. The high-carbohydrate Egyptian delicacy became so much of an ‘it’ staple that posh and clean koshari restaurants opened up.

But that robbed the koshari adventure of its zest. Koshari is Koshari Tahrir, sorry, that’s just the way it is. But even that place behind AUC up and modernized.

Ah, the old days. Does anyone remember the grandeur that was Groppi down in Talaat Harb Square? An ideal location and quite the reputation. Featured in many classic Egyptian films.

When I first arrived in Cairo in 1987 I was told to go there by one of the concierge at my hotel. Great coffee, cakes and it was just the thing to do.

I wonder what a bellboy or taxi driver would recommend now.

Something from the land of the rising sun, perhaps?

The Big Kahuna is a Cairo resident, stepping in and out for the past 20 years because he can’t get enough of drinking Nile water. Want to comment on his column, rant and rave or simply say hi, email him at [email protected]

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