Market Reports

Coffee culture on show in Dubai

As one of the first regions in the world to develop a sophisticated coffee culture, it is small wonder that the Middle East is still a hot spot for coffee appreciation. However, while the coffee culture of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is steeped in many centuries of tradition, the new wave of coffee culture is sweeping over the region and the local industry is abuzz with the latest trends in specialty coffee consumption. All of this interest and innovation is brought together under one roof for the annual International Coffee and Tea Festival, which is being held in Dubai from 2 – 4 November. Over the past few years the UAE has been the scene of a specialty coffee revolution, with the denizens of the desert nation embracing the newest ways of appreciating the world’s favourite caffeinated beverage. The traditional Arabic coffee culture is centred on the consumption of qahwa, a brew that is made from coffee beans and cardamom, and is traditionally roasted on the premises, ground, brewed and served in front of guests often with dates, dried fruit, candied fruit, or nuts. However in recent years the third wave of specialty coffee has washed over the Arabian Peninsula, bringing with it a focus on the different brewing styles and origins the world of coffee has to offer. “The quality of the coffee and the increasing importance of specialty coffee beverages are two trends that are helping to shape the future,” says Arun Jayaprakash from International Conferences and Exhibitions, which runs the Dubai festival. “Whether a customer is an experienced coffee drinker or is enjoying their first cup, there is a greater expectation for authentic, handcrafted, high-quality coffee beverages.”
While the new trends in coffee are just taking root in the UAE, the traditional role of coffee shops as a centre of social activity means the latest shift has had no trouble finding a home. “In the grand scheme of things the local café culture is tremendous and coffee shops have long since been the chosen venue for many locals across generations,” says Jayaprakash. While many of the big international franchises have found a home in the UAE, Jayaprakash says in more recent years there has been a jump in the number of independent players. “Over the last two or three years, the independents have been on the rise and this is gradually gaining a lot more of a loyal following, especially among the neighbourhood coffee houses and café roasters,” he says. But this development did not come easy Jayaprakash says, due to high set-up and operating costs in Dubai. “Replicating the latest overseas trends here just doesn’t hold up financially as setting up out here is not cheap – this is probably one of the reasons the market was dominated by franchise café brands,” Jayaprakash says. “[However] independent cafes are changing the landscape of the culinary scene as well – much more than big name chefs, it seems that great beverages seem to pair with innovative eats.” And in line with the cold brew phenomenon sweeping the US, so too are the people of Dubai embracing the new, cooler way to drink coffee. This has been a watershed year for cold brew, with a growing number of US specialty and mainstream coffee brands releasing their own ready-to-drink versions, and it seems that the trend is spreading. “People have been exploring ways to brew coffee at cooler temperatures, and it’s exciting,” Jayaprakash says. “The cold brew craze over the last year has set the landscape for the evolution of Draft Lattes, Nitro Brew, and bottled cold drip within the country.”
Jayaprakash credits the rising sophistication of UAE coffee consumers to the efforts of those within the industry who have worked hard to push the country’s coffee culture in new and exciting directions. “It is important to note the increase in homegrown, UAE-based specialty roasters,” he says. “Homage must also be paid to the local barista community who we have seen grow stronger, wiser, and more detail-oriented over the past two years.” All of this is set to be on display at the International Coffee and Tea Festival, which will be held over three days at Dubai’s Meydan Gallery and Convention Centre. The festival will play host to the UAE Barista Championship, giving local coffee professionals the chance to highlight their skills to an audience of coffee enthusiasts who have learned to recognise and appreciate the difference between coffee and specialty coffee. The UAE Cup Taster’s Championship will also be held as part of the Festival. The competition awards the professional coffee cupper who demonstrates speed, skill, and accuracy in distinguishing the taste differences in specialty coffees. And there will also be the Latte Art Championship, giving artistic baristas from throughout the UAE the opportunity to express their skills and creativity with coffee and milk. Returning for the second time to the International Coffee and Tea Festival will be the World’s Champion Baristas, who will showcase their exceptional skills to UAE’s eager coffee fraternity. The champions will display their expert coffee-making skills, demonstrate their in-demand performances, join insightful coffee talk show interviews, and compete in pop quiz contests. The festival will also host the prestigious internationally accredited coffee training program under the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) Education Partnership scheme. The Training modules are conducted by SCAA certified instructors from around the world and carry an internationally recognised certification. “The 2016 edition is to be our largest to date,” Jayaprakash says. “Apart from hosting the World Coffee Events National Level Championships our trade floor is viewed by many as the best trade show both nationally and regionally.” Going into its eighth year, the International Coffee and Tea Festival has grown to the point where this year it will host more than 100 exhibitors and close to 10,000 visitors. Since its inception, the International Coffee and Tea Festival has proved instrumental to the development of the industry, providing professionals and coffee and tea businesses the exposure to promote their products, launch new concepts, and seek new business channels, Jayaprakash tells GCR. This year Jayaprakash says the newly reinvigorated Brew Bar is bound to be a highlight, while the competitions are a great opportunity for the locals to show how far the local coffee culture has come in recent years. “I can’t wait for the local talent to show off their sensitive palates,” he says. “Potentially it is where we will see true expertise compete.” With so much going on in the region, not just for the festival but overall, Jayaprakash says he is bullish about the future of the local industry. “The sky is the limit in the entire region – the café and beverage industry have barely scratched the surface,” he says. “Previously the realm of the large soft drink manufacturers, consumers are understanding that there is more to quenching one’s thirst than soda. And this is a thirsty region!” GCR

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