Peace is brewing on Bree Street

Nobel Peace Prize laureate opens coffee shop

Muhammed Lameen Abdul-Malik was part of the IAEA team awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2005, for their work in preventing nuclear energy being used for military purposes, while working for the UN in Vienna, Austria. Now you can find him brewing coffee and baking banana bread on Bree Street.

This may seem like quite drastic change, but when I chat to Lameen its clear that he’s applying the same dedication and attention to detail to the coffee he’s making as he did to the work for the International Atomic Energy Agency. “When I do something I put a lot of research into it,” he tells me. This is a man who knows his coffee: he met top roasters and world barista champions during the five years he spent learning about it before opening Escape Caffé.

“I like to find the source of things; for example I don’t buy curry powder, I make it from scratch. I would love to roast my own coffee beans.” At the moment the coffee is from the Espresso Lab. “I like playing around with the different roasts. Coffee is so complicated and for us to narrow it down to just one thing doesn’t do it justice.”

He describes how he tastes the coffee in the morning and throughout the day to make sure each cup that’s served is up to his high standards. As we’re talking someone brings him a toothpick to examine: his banana bread is nearly ready. His baking skills? “I learnt through trial and error, thankfully without too many errors!”

He’s lived in four different countries and has travelled extensively with his previous job, along the way he’s gathered much inspiration. “Coffee and baking are a way of expressing myself creatively”. Apart from the bread, everything else is made in the shop. A particular favorite is the cheesecake, a recipe he perfected for his wife as it’s her favorite.“I tried my best to make one she would really love. It’s really creamy; I don’t like the dry, heavy stuff.”

Food and coffee had always been a passion of his so when he decided it was time to fulfill that dream he turned to Cape Town. “There’s an inspiration here that makes me want to be my best. To reinvent myself and be creative. There’s an eclectic mix of cultures which I enjoy and a slight Anglo-Saxon culture which I can relate to.”

The name of the café has a number of different meanings for Lameen. “It was about escaping back to my dreams—and coffee is the drink of the escapist. Someone can be in New York being served by a barrister from Africa drinking coffee from Columbia. It’s also about coming inside and escaping from the outside.”

The classical jazz and bossa nova playing in the background and the comfortable benches and couches do give the café an escapist feeling. There’s a selection of books and comics on a shelf as well as a quirky series of cartoon panels illustrating the search for a good espresso in Cape Town (which ends in Escape Caffé of course).
Does he miss working at the UN? “I look at it as a chapter in my life and I think it was time to move on to something else. I’ve always wanted to help and serve people, and in a way I’m still doing that.”

By Lindsay Callaghan

Top tip: Coffee tastings are held on the first Saturday of every month, stop by to taste premium blends from all over the world.

Manhattan Place | 130 Bree Street | City Centre | Cape Town | +27 (0)21 422 1325 

Opening times: Monday – Friday: 7am – 5pm

Another fairly new addition to Cape Town’s café culture is the Artisan Baker in Woodstock. To find out about other unique Cape Town spots subscribe to our monthly free newsletter and find us on Facebook and Twitter.

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