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Islamic Cairo, Cairo, Egypt.
Ahwa El Drawesh: Authentic Ahwa in the Heart of Khan Khalili
If your Friday night is torn between a hopping club or a relaxing café, a tourist attraction or baladi getaway, an ideal solution is hidden secretly in one of the most popular districts of Cairo.
Located behind El Hussein Mosque in Khan El Khalili, El Drawesh is a vintage ahwa hosting local singers that draw large crowds on weekend nights. A band of oud, tambourine, drum, and keyboard provides traditional and new folk tunes with hip allure. This 50-year-old establishment is named after acclaimed Palestinian poet and author Mahmoud Darwesh and is owned by Saed Mohamed Yousef.
When entering El Drawesh it feels like entering a private living space, and the experience is very personal. It’s a small area with roughly 60 seats. During show hours, the café is gender-segregated to the exception of couples occasionally seated in the men’s section. The front row and centre are reserved for the business elite of Khan El Khalili. Locals chit-chat intimately as friends and family, and sharing shisha and jokes over warm drinks. Attendees regularly shake, snap their fingers and sing along in their chairs. Singers include Magda and Hussein El Souti.
This home-grown ahwa is proud of its cairo360users, as evidenced by its interior. It is inlayed with beige ceramics, modelling the concept of huge sandstone walls. Brown arch frames where windows once existed and brown-painted wood trimmings lace the ceiling. El Drawesh’s logo is overlaid in the top corner of huge art prints by Kamil Aslanger, a respected Turkish painter of traditional Arab/Orientalist scenes. These prints depicting ahwas and musicians support the intended atmosphere.
Tips for the band are encouraged, preferably 20LE or more, but never less than 10LE. Contributing audience members are thanked publicly by microphone. Ladies, come prepared with polished belly dancing skills. Females from the audience, children and adults, regularly take stage to belly dance with the band and you are invited to dance. It’s all in good fun; so keep in mind the conservative environment. Foreigners are welcomed warmly, but uncommon. Locals are very taken by this ahwa, so consider visiting in small groups. Photography is strictly forbidden as announced on four Arabic-only notices on the café’s central pillar.
Café El Drawesh serves shisha and warm drinks only; coffee costs12LE and tea costs 10LE. A kiosk provides snacks at the front door. Music nights are held every Thursday and Friday after 8PM; Friday is the best night to attend.
Coffee, Java, Joe – no matter what you call it, we can all agree that a cup of it can make or break your day. Coffee houses like Starbucks and Costa have been on the top of the coffee game with a branch on almost every corner, and people have been flocking there for their coffee every time; but now there’s a new player in town.
Turkey-based coffee house, Espresso Lab, has arrived to Egypt, at Point 90 Mall New Cairo to be exact, offering you the unique opportunity to play mad scientist in creating the ideal coffee for you.
With a rustic, industrial aesthetic, Espresso Lab offers a relaxing and inviting environment with mostly wooden seats besides giving off a friendly vibe, it’s a great place for studying, working, or just lounging around drinking your cup of Joe.
The venue is of the self-service variety, where there are two bars each with their own set of features; the first has your typical large espresso machine, with an assortment of both savoury and sweet items and some cold drinks, while the other is where the ‘lab’ part comes in.
We picked up one of their signature cold brew coffee (30LE) from the main bar, which came in a small glass bottle reminiscent of a glass whiskey flask; the coffee itself was pure concentrated coffee devoid of any additions which had a strong flavour and a slightly acidic aftertaste.
For something from the other side of the spectrum, we had some hazelnut hot chocolate (32LE), which had a sweet, rich texture with a good amount of foam on top, and hazelnut providing a nutty aftertaste.
Looking into their assortment of sandwiches, we opted for the roast beef (35LE). Heated in a toaster oven, it had warm crunchy bread that contrasted with the melted gooey cheese in the middle perfectly, which in turn complemented the earthy roast beef slices and the addition of the tangy pickles and mayonnaise.
To satisfy our sweet tooth, we ordered the chocolate (40LE) and raspberry (40LE) cheesecakes; despite the rather small slices, they both had a rich heavy texture, which made them well worth the price. The chocolate had a creamy, smooth taste, while the raspberry had a slightly tangy aftertaste that complimented the coffee flavoured crust on both of them.
We then moved to the espresso bar, where you can choose one of six different coffee beans – to be made in one of six different ways, including everything from French press and Chemex, to Aeropress and cold brew. The options allow you to adjust everything from the sweetness to the acidity of your coffee and we went for the Syphon (27LE).
With a smooth texture without the strong aftertaste, the coffee had a nice sweetness to it without being too watered down; we opted for some Irish syrup as well as some steamed milk to turn it into a latte which only enhanced the beverage even more.
Espresso Lab provides one of the most unique customisable coffee experiences you can find in the capital; as well as being great place for to grab a quick coffee and bite to eat, it’s also place where coffee snobbery is more than welcome!