It’s not just serving coffee. It’s talking and making friends …

portrait of two men outside cafe
Rabah Ali Younes (left) with Mario Schifano

Rabah Ali Younes – who works in Brixton’s San Marino café and bar – makes the best decaff skinny latte that Simone Richardson has ever tasted. She finds out more about its creator and where he works

Rabah Alli Younes has travelled a long way from Algeria to Brixton, which he now calls home and where he works every day at San Marino – set up by Mario Schifano – where he creates the best decaff latte ever.

“I left Algeria when I was 19 and went to Spain.” he says. “I lived there one year and then I came to Brixton. I met the Schifano family through a friend when I was looking for a job.”

That was 28 years ago. Since then Rabah has become part of the family.

San Marino cafe opened in 1993 and Rabah joined in 1995, learning coffee with family head and manager Mario Schifano.

Creating many coffees all day for seven days a week – unless Rabah feels like a day off – ensures he is an expert in all of the coffees on San Marino’s long list.

“There is a lot of choice including decaff latte, latte, cappuccino, macchiato, double expresso,” he says. “All the Thai coffees including the Thai caramel, iced coffees and spiced Thai. Plus different teas and lots of different milks as well! My personal favourite coffee is double macchiato.”

Like so many people, Younes had a difficult lockdown. San Marino was closed. 

“I nearly lost my head because I found it hard – really hard. When you are active and you stop suddenly – ‘bup’ – it stops.

“I just kept myself busy doing a lot of walking round Brixton, up to Streatham and Clapham and coming back.

“I always kept in touch with my Mum visually every day and I still do it now – every morning before I start working.”

Born and bred in Algeria, Rabah grew up with his mum Yasmina and dad Said – who passed away 18 years ago – his brother – Mandi and three sisters. Two – Karima and Ouarda – are still in Algeria; Ghania lives in Canada.

“For me, it is not just making coffee. It is talking to people and making friends,” he says.

His loves working and living in central Brixton: “Brixton is like a little bit of everything – all religions and different cultures and all living together and it doesn’t matter what you believe – it is all about respect. I love that it is multicultural.

“I love The Jamm and the Hootananny still. My favourite music is house, but I like all kinds of music and love the ambience.

“I could be here for another 20 years, even though I have been here for 28 already!” he says.

San Marino
413 Brixton Road, SW9 7DG

020 7978 8417

Café hours
Monday–Saturday: 6.30am–7.30pm
Sunday: 7am–7pm