Ahmad Issa still remembers the smell of Turkish coffee wafting through his childhood home in Jordan’s capital, Amman. It was his father’s favourite. The aroma—earthy, nutty—lingered in Issa’s memory when he relocated to Halifax in the 1990s. It was that same indelible fragrance that started a lifelong love affair with the coffee beans that would become part of his own morning ritual—one that Issa and his brother, Hamza, are now ready to share with the city they’ve called home for more than half their lifetimes.
It’s a rainy Friday morning in January when East Cup Cafe (1936 Robie Street) opens its doors across from the Common for the first time in the shop’s history. Ahmad and Hamza are whirring behind the counter, greeting customers, taking coffee orders—chai lattes, espressos, cappuccinos, dark roast, medium roast, decaf—grinding beans and offering a mini-history of the dream they’ve worked the past year to build. It’s busy for the brothers’ first day—especially considering the downpour of rain battering Robie Street beyond East Cup’s near floor-to-ceiling windows. But inside, it’s cozy. A soft piano melody dances over the conversation in the room.
“All the efforts we went through, when someone drinks a cup of tea and says, ‘Thank you,’ it’s really rewarding,” Issa tells The Coast. “It's more than enough when you can see a smile on someone’s face.”
East Cup Cafe is the first foray into the food business for either of the Issa brothers. Beyond their love for coffee, Hamza plies his trade as a homebuilder, and Ahmad works as an interior designer. Both of their backgrounds shine through in the cafe’s design: Bright, spacious, inviting and not a detail overlooked. Above the coffee creamers and sugar, one wall—bedecked in Nova Scotia tartan—pays homage to the towns and villages across the province. Near the Pepperell Street entrance, another wall boasts a near-six-foot HFX mural made from stacked coffee cups. The on-site coffee roaster, accented in neon blue, can be seen from the sidewalk window.
@thecoasthalifax Hey Halifax theres another new cafe for you to check out! East Cup Cafe is a newly opened coffee roaster owned by brothers Ahmad and Hamza Issa - read all about this new spot at the link in our bio #halifax #halifaxbusiness #halifaxrestaurants #halifaxcafe #halifaxns ♬ Aesthetic - Tollan Kim
The roasting end is Ahmad’s domain: Last year, he studied the craft of roasting a good coffee blend in Milan, Italy. (“A good coffee needs good beans,” he says.) All of the beans East Cup uses are roasted in-house in small batches and named after Nova Scotia landmarks. Its Lunenburg blend, a medium roast, comes with tasting notes of hazelnut and caramel. The brothers also offer sandwiches—smoked salmon, chicken pesto, roasted red pepper—teas (the chai latte is milky perfection) and desserts, from chocolate croissants to pistachio cake and strawberry mousse.
The dream, Issa tells The Coast, is to one day expand beyond the Robie Street location to other locales in Halifax—and if all goes well, farther afield. The brothers are already selling their own beans and roasted nuts. In March, the plan is to add gelato to their menu. For now, though, there are cappuccinos to serve and new faces to greet. A steady stream flows in from Robie.
“Welcome,” Issa says to another visitor, as he extends a hand in greeting.