Inaugural Gahwa Championships announces winners following impressive participation from the region and beyond

The inaugural Gahwa Championships, an event organised by the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi) to celebrate the rich traditions of the heritage practice of Gahwa (Arabic coffee), concluded today following six days of practice and competition rounds and judging. Winners were announced yesterday evening in an award ceremony attended by H.E. Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, Chairman of DCT Abu Dhabi and H.E. Saif Saeed Ghobash, Undersecretary of DCT Abu Dhabi.

Taking place at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre as part of SIAL Middle East, the leading regional F&B and hospitality fair, the first ever Gahwa Championships was a celebration of the art of Gahwa, shedding light on its importance in local culture and its connection to Arab hospitality traditions across the region. The event saw a varied group of participants compete across five categories, testing their technical skills as well as their knowledge of the origins of coffee preparation, roasting and etiquette.

H.E. Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, Chairman of DCT Abu Dhabi, said: “The first ever Gahwa Championships has been a resounding success, greatly contributing to our mission of not just preserving but revitalising our heritage, and keeping it relevant to our daily lives. The passion shown by contestants and onlookers is a further confirmation of the value that Emirati heritage has as a key element of national identity and belonging.

“I am heartened by the numbers of applications we received and by the large crowds of spectators that came to watch the competition sessions. I feel it is our responsibility to share our unique customs and traditions with the world, and holding the Championships during SIAL Middle East was a fantastic opportunity to do just this, as we were able to reach even wider audiences than we could have hoped for.”

H.E. Saif Saeed Ghobash, Undersecretary of DCT Abu Dhabi, said: “The Gahwa Championships is the latest addition to Abu Dhabi’s packed annual calendar of cultural and entertainment events, providing a sensory experience of Arabic coffee as one of the most prominent flavours of Emirati culture and a pivotal element in its social customs. This unique competition showcased a practice that is at the heart of our culture, representing one of our most cherished values: hospitality. I hope that those attending the Championships have been inspired to learn more about Ghawa as a social drink and one of the pillars of Arabian hospitality.”

Two Sane’ Al Gahwa (coffee maker) categories – Light Roast and Medium/Dark Roast – challenged competitors to achieve the best Gahwa using their own roast preference, while also testing their knowledge of the history and traditions associated with Arabic coffee. Each recognised a winner and a runner-up. Winner of the Sane’ Al Gahwa Light Roast category is Ahmed Al Ahbabi, and for the Medium/Dark Roast category, Afra Alkhyeli triumphed over the competition, with both receiving the top prize of AED 125,000. The runner-up for Sane’ Al Gahwa Light Roast is Hamad Almazrouei, and for Medium/Dark Roast, Zayed Tamimi; both received AED 40,000.

The Gahwa Roaster Award also had both Light Roast and Medium/Dark Roast categories. The competitors in these categories were evaluated in blind tastings by a specialist panel of judges that examined the flavour, body, acidity, sweetness, balance and aftertaste of their Gahwa. They were also assessed on their choice of beans and their roasting skills. Winner of the Gahwa Roaster Award – Light Roast is Hussain Almalki and for the Gahwa Roaster Award – Medium/Dark Roast, Pratama Winarto came out on top. Each winner received a prize of AED 25,000.

In the fifth and final category, a prize of AED 20,000 was bestowed upon Jerry Flores, winner of the Gahwa Beverage Concept Award.  This category recognised the creator of the finest and most innovative hot or cold Gahwa-based beverage, judged not only on the beverage’s taste and appearance but on approach, technique, originality and creativity.

During the ceremony, Al Mubarak noted the importance of Ghawa as an integral aspect of Emirati and wider Arab culture, and its significant place in the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. He said that events such as Gahwa Championships enhance the creative energy of the younger generations, while reinventing traditional methods can aid in preserving historic legacies.

Competition judge Abdullah Bin Kulayb, a trained coffee roaster and the Co-founder of Knoll Coffee Roasters and Kooz Al Qahwa Café in Saudi Arabia, said: “I am very happy to have been a part of the panel judging such a unique event in Abu Dhabi. This event has seen such high engagement levels, reiterating the popularity of Arabic coffee, and its strong current presence and value in the world.”

“The various age groups participating in Gahwa Championships are an indication of the popularity of coffee among all members of our communities. I would like to thank DCT Abu Dhabi for their efforts in organising such a successful event,” he added.

Fellow judge Fatima Al Mughanni, a certified instructor in the UAE’s Sane Programme, said: “I was very glad to collaborate with my fellow judges from the UAE and Saudi Arabia during this inaugural championships, which have helped to shed light on coffee as an important component of cultural heritage with a glorious past full of originality and authenticity. As the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan said, ‘He who does not know his past cannot make the best of his present and future’. Having hosted participants of varying ages, this was made evident during the Championships, highlighting the importance of coffee in our national heritage and understanding how methods of preparation can be used as a tool of communication that further promotes inter-generational exchanges of experience.”

The inaugural Championships attracted 380 applications from the GCC and beyond. The UAE took the lead with the highest number of applicants, at 40%, followed by Saudi Arabia at 27%. The remaining applicants came from other countries in the region and further afield, including countries of the Levant, Africa and Asia. Female applicants made up one third of the total number of applications.

The 2019 champions were selected by a panel of esteemed judges, appointed for their expertise in coffee-related trades and disciplines. They included Abdulla Al Yammahi, Osamah Al-Awwam, Timothy Sturk, Mohammed Al Sharhan, Fatima Al Mughanni, Abdulla bin Kulayb, Abdulla Al Mheiri, Sara Al-Ali and Khaled Al Saadi.

It is noteworthy that Gahwa was inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2015, following a successful campaign by DCT Abu Dhabi. Over the past decade DCT Abu Dhabi has worked closely with UNESCO to register elements of Emirati heritage on the UNESCO lists emanating from the World Heritage Convention, as part of the Department’s efforts to preserve and promote the cultural heritage of the emirate and conserve it for future generations. In addition to Gahwa, the seven other inscribed intangible heritage elements are falconry, Al Sadu, Al Taghrooda, Al Ayyala, Al Razafa, Majlis, and Al Azi.

For more details, please visit www.gahwachampionships.ae.

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