Coffee Culture in the Middle East: A Detailed Exploration of Brewing Trends, Local Brands, and the Global Influence of Coffee Enthusiasm

  • Nov. 16, 2023
Coffee Culture in the Middle East: A Detailed Exploration of Brewing Trends, Local Brands, and the Global Influence of Coffee Enthusiasm

The local coffee market is expanding, with both foreign and domestic brands present. Apps and influencers are also contributing to this growth. With a cup in hand, Hodema Consulting Services founder and managing partner Nagi Morkos talks about the newest trends enthralling coffee enthusiasts in the Middle East and beyond.

Gulf nations have made a name for themselves as the top location for international business, sporting, and recreational events in recent years. The Middle Eastern invasion has created impetus for the coffee industry, which has long been popular in the US and Europe.

For the second year running, the "World of Coffee" trade expo was held in Dubai in January. This event brought java professionals from around the world to the UAE and dispelled any doubts about the region's current status as a major participant in the coffee market.

Having said that, Arabic coffee has long been a fundamental aspect of the culture of the area across all social classes; in fact, it was designated as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2015. It's only been relatively lately that the Gulf's expat population has given the local coffee scene a fresh angle and brought new options to the table alongside the classics.

The landscape of coffee in the area has changed over time, with many successful worldwide brands opting to establish themselves. Trendy cafés offering a variety of specialty coffees have replaced tiny takeaway kiosks and roadside vans, as well as popular coffee shops that also served hooka pipes and juices.

Dubai continues to take center stage.

The market was able to start on a strong, consistent growth path thanks to the long-standing presence of international franchises in the emirates, which were first introduced by Dunkin' Donuts in 1997 and later by RAW Coffee Company with its specialty coffee.

The authorities established the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre with the goal of "positioning Dubai at the heart of the world's leading coffee supply chains," building on Dubai's reputation as a center for global trends. In addition to processing, roasting, packing, and delivery of the beans, the free trade zone serves as a middleman between farmers and retailers. The Specialty Coffee Association's training programs are also accessible through the center. The first roastery in the region, Coffee Planet, is located in Dubai as well. It began as a network of outlets in 2005, expanded its operations in 2008, and is currently able to produce 300 tons of coffee and 3 million capsules per month.

In the UAE, the number of roasters has increased recently. Coffee Planet has joined forces with RAW, CAFINTO, Gold Box, and Alchemy Coffee to roast beans. One of the first brands to be born in the United Arab Emirates was Café2go, which was founded in 2010. The business is currently targeting the remainder of the region after growing into Qatar and Libya. Slash Coffee, Shot Specialty Café, and Joud Coffee are a few more regional brands.

Saudi Arabia: the nation that has become a leader in coffee production

Saudi Arabia is leading the way in the coffee market by growing and brewing its own coffee from seed to cup, unlike its neighbors who import their coffee. Although many coffee enthusiasts may not be familiar with Saudi "Khawlani" beans, the government made a significant advancement last year when it declared 2022 to be the Year of Saudi Coffee. Through significant advertising campaigns, the Kingdom last year aimed to showcase its domestic output to both domestic consumers and foreign investors through the Saudi Coffee Company, which is overseen by the Public Investment Fund (PIF). Meanwhile, the Jeddah Coffee Festival also demonstrated the people' growing interest in specialty coffee. In order to reach 28,700 tons in 2026, consumption is predicted by the PIF to rise gradually by 5% annually.

Currently, the Jazan, Aseer, and Al Baha regions are home to over 2,500 coffee plantations. Al Baha has been chosen as the nation's next coffee hotspot due to its moderate climate, and plans are on to create a "development city." The majority of the beans are currently sold to Yemen and the United Arab Emirates, two nearby nations.

Brands are resilient.

One of the main information sources for the business, the World Coffee Portal, projects that the Middle East's branded coffee shop market will reach 11,840 outlets by 2027, a 5.9 percent growth rate over the previous five years. Of these, 40% are located in Saudi Arabia.

With over 1,000 locations and a market share of over 70% in the region, Starbucks continues to dominate its competitors. Dunkin' Donuts (788 locations), Costa Coffee, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, and Caffè Nero are next in line. Third in terms of outlets is the Saudi brand Barn's (431 locations), which was among the first drive-thrus in the 1990s. Notable names also include Overdose Coffee, which operates thirty locations around the Kingdom, and Café Bateel, which was nominated for a World Culinary Award in 2021. Now open in London, Bafarat is a landmark in Jeddah.

Outlets that are expanding widely

Surprisingly, Iraq has joined the list of countries with the fastest-growing marketplaces in the area. Its number of stores opened last year increased by 16.7%. Cinnabon, a US-based company, is new to Baghdad, having recently debuted there.

Kuwait's market is developed and competitive. There are 655 locations in this industry, according to the World Coffee Portal, and figures show an increase of 11.8 percent over the previous year. The market is dominated by Caribou Cafe, Costa Coffee, and Starbucks (franchised to Alshaya Group). Recent openings are the British Pret A Manger and the Canadian Tim Hortons. With 26 locations last year, Caf Cafe is the most successful local brand. Independent establishments like 50 Degrees Espresso House, Grind Coffee Co., and Blank Sphere have also left their imprint.

Little, traditional Arabic coffee shops are still quite popular in Egypt, and Qahwa and cilantro are drawing large crowds as the market stays vibrant. Young people in Qatar are drawn to Jordan's Tche Tche and Caffé Strada, while Meesh Cafe and Mokarabia are making waves in the crowded global franchise market. Lebanon still has a large selection of specialty coffee shops, from internationally recognized brands to iconic local businesses like Cafe Younes, BN Coffee Bar, Kalei, Sip, and Concierge Coffee, despite its dire economic circumstances.

Apps and influencers facilitate expansion

The popular Kuwait-based delivery app COFE App is now linking coffee lovers to 700 branded coffee shops around Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates, indicating that the demand for delivery is only growing.

According to the World Coffee Portal, worldwide brands should continue to do well in the future, while independent and mid-sized coffee shop owners should see further expansion. The emergence of "coffee influencers" on social media lends a glamorous touch to the business, but there are danger concerns lurking in the background, such as inflation and potential market saturation.