Among a cluster of indistinct commercial shops, there is a cafe with a decorative feature running across the top of the door and window. Perhaps fringe is the right word. It also resembles an unfinished traditional woven basket, that provides entry into what seems like someone’s living room.
Except that it’s a coffee shop named Alhaql where you can find a brew made from tiny red beans that are indigenous to the area and known for its energy giving properties. The place was opened in the fall of 2019 by sisters Khawla, Norah and Nawal Johali, and has since become a popular spot to stay both caffeinated and connected with friends and family.
On the day of our visit, customers were seen sipping away quietly: One person was tapping away indistinctly on a humming laptop, while another was glued to his phone, perhaps catching up with friends on Snapchat. It’s not unusual to find male customers entering the space adorned with the local headdress, a halo made of fragrant local plants and flowers. It’s a spot that feels both traditionally homely but with a modern vibe. And very Jazan.
Their logo seems reminiscent of a popular coffee chain from Seattle but with locally inspired branding. The illustration looks to me like a faun, that mythological creature that is part human, part goat, which graces every cup, and is a symbol of peace and fertility. The faun’s human arm holds aloft a branch of coffee beans, proudly.
Legend has it that a long, long time ago, a young herder named Khaldi in the southern tip of what has since become part of the Saudi nation, realized that his goats were suddenly energized after nibbling on what looked like tiny beads of cherry. He decided to try it out and was himself given somewhat of a boost. And that’s the story of how those little red coffee beans became an addictive addition to Saudi diets.
The cafe had to press pause when the pandemic shut down everything, but as soon as it was safe, customers were herded back to the little nook in which mellow music, plentiful seating and strong refreshment is abundant.
Abeer Madkhali, who manages the social media channels for the cafe, told Arab News she started out as a customer. “I used to come to the cafe during my first years in college since it was so close. It became our first choice to read and study. It also became the top choice to meet up with friends since it has a comfortable feel — almost like a family environment.”
Madkhali said the cafe already had a stellar reputation in the area for having a traditional look but with a modern feel. Her favorite thing at the cafe is the freshly baked cookies that are made daily — an ooey gooey circle of goodness.
One of the most popular drinks is a classic favorite with a local twist. Since cardamom is so prevalent in Saudi coffee, they decided to create a cardamom latte in which the spice is the star of the cup.
They also offer every visitor water which has been vaporized with charcoal and mastic. The aroma is strong and it feels like it slides to the back of your throat and tingles a little. The aftertaste lingers but not in a terrible way. It is said to provide health benefits and is frequently consumed in the country’s south. The cafe counter has a water cooler in which customers can help themselves to a little of this southern tradition at no extra cost.
Visit them on Instagram @Alhaql_sa. Locals can order via the delivery apps.