Coffee is nothing new in the Arab world. But while the traditional form of the drink is steeped in Arabic tradition, the third wave of specialty coffee is now washing through the region, driving growth in the industry and bringing massive change. Ryan Godinho, co-owner of the Dubai-based Specialty Batch Coffee, has been watching as the specialty coffee revolution takes hold in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). “A lot of the local consumers are beginning to demand specialty coffee now and they are willing to pay big bucks for a great cup of coffee that is traceable and comes with the entire experience of getting the information from the barista,” Godinho says. While the specialty coffee scene in UAE is still in its infancy, it is growing fast. “You can count the number of roasters here on one hand, so with a population of this size there is definitely room for growth in that area,” Godinho says. The numbers bear this out. According to analysis from Euromonitor the UAE coffee market is growing annually at 8 per cent in terms of retail sales, and it is forecast to reach US$151m in 2018 from US$111.2m this year. This growth is evidenced in the number of individual coffee businesses opening in UAE. The UAE has registered nearly 2200 new café licenses in the last two years while more than 90 in-shop and large-scale coffee roasters are planning to open for business in the next 24 months “We are literally on the verge of a specialty café revolution as we speak,” Godinho says. The growing popularity of specialty coffee in the UAE is most evident in the growing professionalism of the local baristas, he adds. This growing professionalism and expertise is translating into a more rounded experience for the consumer, which in turn is helping to spread the popularity of specialty coffee. “Because of this we have seen a few cafés pop up recently where they have invested in good equipment, they’ve paid more attention to their water filtering systems, they have well-informed staff who are interacting a lot more with their customers and from there it has just taken off,” Godinho says. A lot of these improvements have been driven in part by the rise of competition culture around coffee over the past decade, something that has really taken root in the UAE. “The competitions have been absolutely essential in raising the standard over here,” Godinho says. “It’s driven a lot more people in the industry to ask themselves the question – what is good coffee and how can we make it better?” While the UAE is one of the leading markets for specialty coffee in the Arab world, Godinho says developments there indicate that the potential exists right across the region. “There’s a lot of potential in the specialty coffee industry in this region. Kuwait, Bahrain, wherever you go, there are a lot of gaps in the market that need to be filled,” he says. The full potential of the region will be on show at the International Coffee and Tea Festival (ICTF), being held from November 11 to 13, 2015 at the Meydan Gallery and Convention Centre in Dubai. Now in its seventh year, the ICTF is the UAE’s only dedicated exhibition that showcases specialty coffee and tea products from around the world and attracts industry professionals from across the Gulf, Middle East and North African region and the Indian sub-continent. As educational partners of the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), the world’s largest coffee trade association, the ICTF will incorporate the most engaging and content-driven coffee training modules and certification programs with international recognition each year. ICTF has a variety of features that helps in the promotion and awareness of specialty coffee. The UAE Barista Championship will return for the seventh time to highlight the skills and knowledge of the country’s finest emerging baristas to an audience of coffee enthusiasts who have learnt to recognise and appreciate specialty coffee. Baristas from across the UAE can also battle out their ingenuity at the 4th National UAE Latte Art Championship. The UAE Latte Art Competition has helped baristas highlight their skills and increase the awareness of barista talents. The second Cezve/Ibrik Championship will also be held, focusing on barista skills in the traditional Greek, Turkish and the Middle Eastern cultures. The event will also feature a selection of past World Coffee Champions to showcase some exemplary coffee making skills and allow visitors to taste some world-class brews at the Espresso and Brew Bar. This year there are plenty more new brands and companies set to showcase some amazing products and innovations in the realm of specialty coffee and tea that are new to the region. The show will also be expanding the National-Level Coffee Championship portfolio to include new categories such as the Brewers Cup Championship and Cup Tasters Championship. GCR Image 1: Ryan Godinho, Co-owner/Roastmaster – Specialty Batch Coffee, SCAA Licensed Instructor and National Coordinator – UAE Coffee Championships. Image 2: World Brewers Cup Champion, Stefanos Domatiotis at the 2014 Coffee & Tea Festival in Dubai. Image 3: Overview of the International Coffee & Tea Festival 2014 – Dubai.