The Middle East is fast emerging as an exciting specialty coffee hub that’s Gruppo Cimbali is exploring with partnerships and its range of espresso machines to suit the needs of the growing coffee community.
The Middle East may be renowned for its hot, arid climate with centuries of rich history, but there’s a new emerging culture that’s fast becoming part of the landscape.
“Coffee brewing is an old tradition in the Middle East but in regards to espresso coffee and specialty coffee, it’s still a relatively new concept. We’re talking about a region that 12 years was doing just five per cent of the volume it does now, so as a market and industry, it’s seen unbelievable growth,” says Gruppo Cimbali DMCC Branch General Manager, Claudio Torresan.
“The market is very lively. Even during COVID-19, the market panicked like everywhere, but business has gone back almost immediately. Similarly, because coffee shops and restaurants play a very important social role for the gathering of people, especially as there is no availability of alcohol, coffee shops are the place where young people and couples hang out.”
An Italian native, with a background working in England, Torresan moved to Dubai in 2019 to help establish Gruppo Cimbali’s official branch in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Since 2020, the company manages all Middle East, Indian and African accounts from its Dubai office.
“It’s the best logistic hub for the region, strategically, economically, and geographically,” Torresan says. “We have built our team steadily and organically, combining sales, account and technical managers, as well a coffee specialist, all in Dubai.”
Torresan says the coffee environment in the UAE has developed alongside the style of the country. For example, coffee shops are trendy, stylish, and very elaborate in incredible settings, and the coffee quality must pair with that high standard.
“The Middle East, I believe, is in the top list of areas that is purchasing high-end, exclusive types of coffee – reserve, auction coffees – because of the evolution of the coffee scene,” Torresan says. “The exclusiveness of some shops paired with the exclusiveness of the beverage made, makes it an attraction for coffee lovers and coffee connoisseurs.”
Torresan notes young Saudi and Emiratis have a tradition of travelling to the United States, United Kingdom or Australia to study, where in turn they become influenced by the coffee culture and return with their newfound skillset and passion for coffee.
“We have more than 20 Slayer machines brought back by Saudis who purchased their machine in the US – where it is crafted and designed in Seattle – and said they couldn’t leave their baby behind, so they brought the machine back with them. We have a number of those cases,” he says.
In addition to young entrepreneurs starting their own independent coffee shops, and the popular % Arabica in the UAE, is still a high presence of local chains, such as Dr. Café and Half Million in Saudi Arabia, Seven Fortunes Coffee Roasters in Egypt and UAE, and Drop Coffee in Kuwait. What’s interesting to note, Torresan adds, is that the UAE and Saudi Arabica have now reached a maturity level where influences come from within the country.
La Cimbali machines have long been in demand in the older markets of North Africa, for example, during the 70s and 80s, which Torresan says represents a Mediterranean style of coffee consumption. From there, the brand developed a presence in the Persian Gulf from 2005 and has evolved in Dubai and Saudi Arabia’s channels of hospitality, including hotels, restaurants, and coffee shops, representing 25-plus per cent of market share.
Faema also has a strong hold with the newly models of the E71 and President meeting the design conscious needs of specialty coffee shop operators. Torresan adds there is strong potential for Faemina for customers with disposable incomes and a keen eye for design.
The most requested coffee machine in the Middle East’s specialty scene, according to Torresan, is the Slayer Espresso, further supported by Slayer’s new enlarged production plant in Seattle. And increasing in popularity, is the customisation of the machine to adapt to the look and feel of customer’s cafés.
The Climbing Goat is a new Dubai roaster that uses a Slayer Espresso machine. Operations Director Elizna Botha says she went through weeks of comparing machines in the market before deciding on Slayer, because it had the most options to control every aspect of the espresso extraction.
“The feedback we got from people who used Slayer and have a Slayer was only good, and we wanted something really special for our roastery,” Botha says.
The Climbing Goat opened in November 2019 with the intention to serve Dubai customers fresh coffee and create “the best coffee experience”, encompassing coffee quality, and education about origin, the farms, and coffee-producing equipment.
Coffee Architecture owner and operator Nooran Albannay says the moment she saw her Slayer Espresso machine, was the moment she fell in love.
“It was the one. I knew it straight away. The taste of espresso on the Slayer takes the profile to a whole different level. It’s such an elegant machine – black with a touch of wood – that suits our café’s minimalistic design. It was perfect for our team, easy to use, manual, and a classic,” she says.
“What I appreciate most as a barista, is the craftsmanship and control I have of the machine. The Slayer is powerful. It makes a perfect espresso extraction, there’s always consistent flow of water through the group head, and because a lot of our customers in Abu Dhabi like milk-based coffees, I like how well it steams milk and gives a nice sweetness. It’s been totally worth it.”
Albannay had always enjoyed serving coffee as a hobby, until she decided to pursue her passion and attend the American Barista & Coffee School in Portland in 2016. When she returned home, she honed her skills, bought a Slayer coffee machine, and opened Coffee Architecture a few years later in 2019.
“At the time, there weren’t many women in the UAE who owned or operated a coffee shop, but I wanted to break that stereotype.
So I quit my UAE government job, became the first female in the UAE to open a coffee shop, and committed to full-time barista work. It was a dream [come true],” she says.
Coffee Architecture has endured two years of business through the global pandemic. To transition through restrictions, Albannay sold a lot of coffee for home consumption, established online training courses to demonstrate to customers how to make coffee at home, and ran Monday live education classes, which has continued.
“We took the time to enhance our operations and processes so that when it was to reopen, we would be ready. Now I’m focused on growth and I’m ready to excel,” Albannay says.
She is in the process of establishing her own roastery to further control the flavour profiles of her own product and has a dream to win the UAE Barista Championship. She first competed in 2018, tried again in 2021, and will keep pursing her goal.
“I feel if I get more deeply involved in competition, it will encourage more woman to get involved in the industry and maybe start their own business,” she says. “I started my business in the UAE because there was no connection between coffee and the people, and I hope Coffee Architecture can help people to taste coffee, and feel happiness thanks to the coffee in the cup.”
Gruppo Cimbali’s Torresan says all eyes will be on the Middle East in the coming years, as the region continues to connect more customers with quality coffee and inspire a new generation of coffee professionals.
“I’m interested to watch the development of coffee in Egypt, Africa, and the UAE, which are already strong markets, but the most developing with a pipeline of governmental, national, and ambitious projects, is Saudi Arabia,” he says. “Now that’s a place that will change radically in the next decade, and will be really entertaining to watch.” GCR
For more information, visit www.gruppocimbali.com/en/
To access Faemina’s e-commerce platform, now live in the United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Italy and Australia, visit www.faema.com
This article was first published in the September/October 2022 edition of Global Coffee Report. Read more HERE.