Who hasn’t felt like leaving everything behind to open his own business and start new projects? That’s what Nooran Al Bannay, an Emirati woman who left a senior engineer position with a major oil company did, by opening her own coffee shop in Abu Dhab.
More than a year ago, Nooran Al Bannay was still working as an engineer for a large oil and gas company in the United Arab Emirates. She had a comfortable salary and her path seemed to be clear, but her personal and spiritual journey led her to take a new turn.
In 2018, while still working at Adnoc, she began an entrepreneurial career and opened Coffee architecture, a place which offers artisanal Arab coffee to local and international customers. Since then, she took a barista training in Portland, USA and received a certification from the Coffee Quality Institute. Now, she serves her own coffee in the El Reem district of Abu Dhabi which is quite unique in the emirates, where the hospitality sector employs mostly foreign workers.
What brought you from an engineer career to running your own business?
I didn’t study business originally , but as an architectural engineer. It wasn’t easy to quit a stable, well-paid job, but the truth is that I found my fulfilment elsewhere. I’ve always liked to serve coffee to people, even at home. So I had a lot of self talk with myself, I prayed, I meditated, and one day Anthony Robbins (editor’s note: an American essayist and personal development coach) came to give a conference in Dubai. I remember him giving us meditation exercises and tips on how to calm down. In one of them, we had to imagine a tough decision we were afraid to take. I remember him saying that we had to find the answer within our hearts, and I think mine was telling me to quit my job.
Why did you choose the world of coffee?
In the UAE, the coffee culture is widespread. It is a part of Emirati culture and tradition that can be found in every house, village and family. When I was little, my grandmother always made Arabic coffee at home and when people came to the house, the first thing she served them was coffee and dates.. But it was only in 2015 that I really realized I wanted to make it my profession. I discovered that coffee was what made me happy and that I wanted to serve my community by bringing them happiness through coffee. With coffee, I feel also connected with the whole world as it is something that belongs to rituals all over the planet.
What is specific in the way of making Arab artisanal coffee? What are its specificities?
Arab coffee is different in every country, and in every home. At Coffee architecture, we like coffees with a classic chocolate flavor and a medium to light roast. We have a special blend made of 50% Brazilian coffee and 50% Sri Lankan, to which we add saffron and cardamom, the essential ingredients of Arab coffee. But some people add cloves, spices or even ginger or rose water. But in our shop, we also offer coffee from Ethiopia, Brazil, Panama so coffee that people can test and create their own blend with it. In the UAE, I’ve noticed that people prefer coffees from South America like Colombia or Brazil than the African ones.
What was your biggest challenge?
Our biggest challenge today is the coronavirus. I didn’t expect to face this when I opened my business almost two years ago. These are difficult days but my responsibility is to make sure my employees are safe, so I decided to close the place although we still provide coffee to take away.
What would you say to other Emirati women who want to open their own business?
My message to them would be to believe in themselves and if they really find what they love in life, to do everything in their power to achieve it. The problem sometimes in the UAE is that women don’t have enough confidence that they can do things on their own. Because I am an Emirati woman, people wonder why I work in a coffee shop instead of staying at home. But the mentality is slowly changing. I was afraid that people would judge me and not accept what I do, but I was amazed by the feedback I received. Emirati men and women thanked me for what I am doing, and not just the coffee, but just representing our culture. I met Sheikh Muhammad Ben Zayed from Dubai who thanked me for being a role model for women entrepreneurs in the UAE.