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Evolving Coffee Trends in the Middle East

 

Coffee is considered a National drink across the Gulf countries. It is embedded in the local culture as a welcoming drink offered to visitors at home, in the office, at government services … 

When flipping a 1 Dirham coin, you will notice a Coffee serving Dallah on one side; a reminder of the presence of Coffee in the day to day life in the region. 

Before 2015 most cafés served espresso based coffee (with or without milk) following the Italian espresso taste (perfect créma, tiger marks, blend medium-dark roast) combined with a nice kick. Most customers wanted their Espresso, Latte or Americano.

Italy has been and always will be the grand master of these drinks. Many copies exist but at the end of the day, the combined taste of dark chocolate with milk is a delicious drink... well tested and proven by the test of time.

 The most recent noticeable trend was driven by a population with disposable income looking for Coffee characterized by rounded and balanced cup or by a distinctive taste such as fruity/ chocolate/ floral/ nutty; a pleasant acidity or a sense of heaviness on the tongue. Typically, these coffee are sourced from smaller farms following specific more costly processing methods. The name of Specialty Coffee stuck as it is mostly brewed manually with pour overs (HARIO V60 and the likes), Aeropress, Syphon...

The demand for Specialty coffee is driven by home users (increased during COVID19 confinement) and specialized café searching for ways to differentiate themselves and to tap for a more sophisticated customer base with developed sense of flavors… and to increase their revenues/margins. This trend is commonly known as the Third Wave of Coffee, initiated on the US Pacific West Coast in the late nineties and to make the Customer feel Special.

 Around 2016 an unusual phenomena exploded in the region with a request of “Spanish Latte”, an espresso based drink served with ice, condensed milk, heavy on syrups (caramel...). The emphasis is on sweetness and less on the quality of the coffee. This explosion in demand was fueled by a young population shifting their sugar intake from chocolates, sweets... to Spanish Latte as a drink. The demand gained fast momentum through social influence associated with a young population.

 A fourth trend is the growth in demand for COLD brew, understandably given the high summer temperatures in the region. Despite its long period to brew (10-12 hours for a drip), home users are passionate for it. It created a side business for independent home owners preparing cold brew based drinks bottled manually at home and sold through personal digital media campaigns. Café also picked up on the trend selling retail bottles given its ease of accessibility and an incremental source of revenues.

Overall, the demand for coffee did not decline. A good chunk of the loss in volume associated with café/restaurant/hotels mostly due to the decline in visitors (business and holidays) was picked up by an increase in coffee consumption at home as people spend more time at home either working or for family time and a regain of demand by café serving the local demand.

 

Few recent tends had their initial spike but lost their momentum:

 Nitro coffee serving it cold with sparkling effect by injecting pressurized Nitrogen into the coffee. It had an initial spike in 2017-2018. Despite its pleasant taste and foamy look, the complexity for preparation, difficult taste consistency and cost fizzled down its sparks.

 Instant using Specialty grade coffee initially was introduced in the US by a key roaster and copied locally failed to make a dent. The association of high quality expensive coffee with the lower end brewing method did not develop market traction over time. The creative approach did not match the needs of price sensitivity of the low end segment as it used expensive coffee nor the needs of the high end segment as its brewing method did not deliver the unique flavors associate dwith a Specialty grade coffee.

 Capsules using Specialty coffee is a new trend with unclear outcome. Capsule provides convenience (speed of delivery) but lacks the high quality of the espresso machine brew. The largest segment of brewing methods using Specialty Coffee is the one using manual brewing methods. Test of Time will tell how much market traction this method will have.

 There is something about Coffee that hooks us all for it, from one generation to another. It is an addictive drink. Once you find the unique taste that sparkles your senses, there is a high probability that you will get back to this drink again and gain…  

 Test of Time has proven that Italian based Espresso drinks (Volume) and Manual brew of Specialty Coffee (fastest growth segment) are here to stay as long as Consumers continue to pay for their distinctive taste.  

Successful roasters are the ones that source and roast Coffee in a way that generates a distinctive taste to sparkle the customers’ senses. Café chains that will separate themselves from the pack are the ones that focus on the service level (tell the coffee story and make them feel Special) when serving their coffee consistently with the same taste every day of the year and every opening hour of the day.  

 

Finally Coffee is an emotional product, in a region that runs on emotions! Hence the emotions and passion that runs in Italy initially elevated the product globally. With the ease of access to Digital Media brace for for another global push by creative entrepreneurs in a global industry with local taste adaptations.