Coffee, or ‘Qahwa’, is ingrained deep within Middle Eastern culture, dating back to the 15th century when coffee was first cultivated and traded from within the Arabian Peninsula, to the modern day ‘Dallah’ coffee pot seen on a One Dirham coin, signifying Hospitality as a core value in the rich UAE heritage.
Throughout centuries, the traditions surrounding coffee have evolved through a series of definable phases or, the industry-coined term, ‘Waves’
The First Wave dates back to the 1800s when coffee consumption grew exponentially. The introduction of Instant coffee and vacuum-packaging shifted coffee to become a new basic necessity. This signified a time when convenient, albeit low grade, coffee was becoming more accessible to households across the world. Today, this wave is widely regarded as an era of commodity coffee, with a ‘caffeine kick’ as a priority and with little-to-no focus on quality or traceability.
The Second Wave can be attributed to the rise of brands like Starbucks, Peet’s Coffee and Costa Coffee. In the late 1900’s their stores commercialised coffee as more of an experience and started introducing people to the concept of coffee origins. Starbucks pioneered what used to be considered “specialty coffee drinks” by mixing their espresso with flavoured syrups and other ingredients.
The Third Wave, gradually evolved in the mid to late 1980’s with the help of a niche community that placed emphasis on the story behind the beans, differentiating flavour characteristics of varied coffee origins and the importance of different roasting styles and brewing parameters. This wave further evolved in the late 1990s and began introducing consumers to a more artisanal experience, with fine coffee taking a centre stage, comparable to the experience of fine dining.
Since then, the overall development or evolution of specialty coffee around the world has been sporadic, with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) only seeing the introduction to the Third Wave of coffee within the last decade.
If you start delving into the history of specialty coffee and its progression within the UAE, you’ll easily come across the name Ryan Godinho. Through sheer passion and drive, his efforts in Dubai introduced the UAE to the Global stage thanks to his implementation and coordination of the region-wide UAE Barista Competitions and Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) Certified Coffee Training Programs. For more than decade he has helped nurture a new breed of coffee professionals and consulted many of the well-regarded specialty coffee houses seen across the UAE today.
He not only pioneered this new chapter in the Country’s coffee culture but over the last decade this coffee-centric entrepreneur has also established a multi-million-dollar group of projects that showcase specialty coffee in diverse arenas within the specialised food and beverage segment. , viz Specialty Batch Coffee, Stomping Grounds, and Tyler’s Tavern
On what makes specialty coffee all the rage in the UAE, Ryan says, “This overwhelming trend can largely be attributed to the accessibility of independent coffee bars over all the commercial coffee shops these days; with the number of locations surpassing that of the big franchise names.”
Godinho goes on to explain, “Most of the world’s major franchised coffee houses had already laid a solid foundation in the UAE since the early 2000s. For about 10 years that followed, there had been a somewhat stagnation in conceptualisation as we saw many of the lesser-known franchises also begin to enter. There was still room for something new, something different, something homegrown.”
“Then, with the influx of niche independent coffee bars and cafes over the last 7 years, we saw a larger pool of UAE’s population getting exposed to a higher-quality and/or wider range of coffee and coffee experiences.” adds the coffee-preneur.
“Between 2018 and 2022, there was an average of 6 cafes opening per week, out of which over 65% can be identified as being ‘independent’. The rate these specialty coffee shops opened across the country has had a tremendous impact on the total market reach; with accessibility to specialty coffee becoming easier day by day.”
But why, how and where specifically do we see this investment in coffee being generated and what do you think the future holds for the specialty coffee industry in the UAE?
Godinho adds, “The UAE, being home to more than 200 nationalities, is no doubt one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world and there is no shortage of inspiration or motivation when it comes to the hospitality sector. Interestingly, with every new cafe that opens, comes along another cafe patron-turned-opportunist for a piece of the same pie.
So, to answer those questions fairly we need to understand the current workforce in this sector along with the professional experience, inspiration and motives of the current investors and their conceptualisation trends so far.”
“Based on my many years of local experience, I have obtained valuable insights on the topic. There is a lot that can be said, however, that is definitely a discussion for another day,” concludes Ryan Godinho