The rise of speciality coffee in the UAE
The emerging coffee markets, many of which are in the GCC, will reach 50 per cent of the global consumption by 2020, making the Gulf an attractive region for coffee entrepreneurs.
With 3.4 billion cups consumed per day, coffee is undoubtedly one of the most popular beverages in the UAE. Internationally, the country occupies the 35th position in terms of coffee consumption, which is growing at the rate of 30 per cent each year.
A market study by Euromonitor states that the UAE's coffee intake could reach up to Dh409 million by 2017, driven by changing lifestyles, robust hospitality, and expanding tourism. Surprising? Not at all; coffee originated in the Arab World and is served as a welcome drink in many homes. However, what is remarkable is the growing awareness and demand for speciality coffee.
More specifically, the UAE is now on the cusp of what the international coffee industry considers as the 'Third wave of Coffee'. For the uninitiated, the first wave was characterised by the easy availability of instant coffee while the rise of blended coffee and café culture, pioneered by brands such as Starbucks, marked the second wave.
In the third wave, coffee is appreciated as more of an experience within a beverage rather than just a daily caffeine fix. In the speciality coffee movement, the emphasis is on transparency so that a consumer can trace their favourite coffee's origin right to the farm it was harvested. Bean variety, altitude grown, surrounding crops, method of processing roast dates and roast styles have become important factors in producing a handcrafted cup that not only exhibits but also preserves the subtle natural flavours and characteristics of single-origin, fresh coffee beans.
What makes speciality coffee completely different from its traditionally styled version are the use of single-origin beans that are 'profile' roasted, used within an 'optimum freshness' period. More specialised equipment has a justified place along with a higher level of product-driven customer service.
While in the second wave, coffee blends were all the rage, the third wave makes way for highlighting the uniqueness of single origin/farm/estate/lot beans, to explore possibilities and potentials in coffee at every step of the process from seed to cup. More importantly, true speciality coffee encompasses only the top 18 per cent of the world's total Arabica-variety coffee production. With 'Dark Roasts' considered to be 'safe' play, speciality coffee roasters view it as a means to mask a lower quality bean.
Although still in its initial phases, the demand for speciality coffee is rapidly increasing within the UAE with more and more people buying coffee based on a more informed choice and progressively more cultivated palate, thanks to the awareness spread by roasters, speciality baristas and the owners of homegrown cafes.
Interestingly, the country has experienced a robust demand for higher quality coffees in the last two years with retail and wholesale demand consuming supplies faster than before. In addition, speciality coffee shops allow consumers to get a more gratifying experience though tailor-made coffee for every mood.
Another point to consider is the expertise and precision of the coffee preparation and attention to detail in the delivery on to the customer - an important detail that reflects the final stretch of the coffee's journey from seed to cup.
Coffee shops investing in exceptional coffee would typically also invest in the highest standards of water filtration and industry leading speciality-brewing equipment. Utilising the latest machinery and its accompanying technologies aid in the production of excellent coffee. Some owners even opt to have their machines customised to give a signature feel and taste to the coffee they serve.
In spite of the presence of many international brands and cafes serving coffee blends, the preference for speciality coffee is increasing with the rising consumer demand. Currently, speciality coffee comprises only one per cent of the UAE's total market with enormous room for growth for more specialised coffee shops outside of the typical franchise model.
A study indicates that by 2020, the emerging coffee markets, many of which are in the GCC, will reach 50 per cent of the global consumption, making the Gulf an attractive region for coffee entrepreneurs. In the US, Stumptown Coffee Roasters of Portland, Blue Bottle from Oakland, Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea in Chicago, and Counter Culture Coffee in North Carolina have been attributed with the growth of speciality coffee. Likewise, the UAE needs its own speciality coffee houses to be a pioneer for all coffee enthusiasts in the region.
So the next time you decide to visit a new café in the UAE, start up a conversation with the barista about their current coffees brewing. If you're presented with at least two fully informed options (origin, farm, process and flavour profile) for your espresso, long black, flat white, or latte; you've likely stepped into one of only a handful of speciality cafes in the country, and chances are you're in for a truly exceptional "Speciality Coffee Experience".