Dubai-based roasters have seen a massive ramp-up in demand for single-origin coffees over the last two years, with retail and wholesale demand consuming it supplies far faster than before, according to Matt Wade, a roastmaster in the UAE. Much of the demand has been driven by a new clutch of high-end cafes and speciality gourmet retailers.
Calling for quality
According to Wade, there has been a shift in attitudes towards speciality coffee. Until recently, many cafes in the UAE would sell older beans that had not been properly stored, delivering a poor experience for coffee drinkers, and potentially putting them off expensive beans.
Recently, though, more cafes have started asking for better-prepared coffee, said Wade: “They asked us to roast them something fresh, so we did some single origins – and they sold out. Just of those ones, not the others – just the fresh ones. So the next crop I got in, of some special stuff, they bought the whole lot.”
Wade suggests that efforts by newer UAE coffee roasters are responsible in part for increasing awareness of speciality coffee. But he also credits a growing coffee culture in the UAE, particularly in Dubai.
“Demand has risen dramatically, but also there are more roasters paying attention to it. Next year you’ll see loads of small roasters dedicated to speciality coffee cropping up. And also it’s thanks to decent cafes opening up – even two years ago they weren’t there,” he said.
Size does matter
Wade also noted that the region’s coffee tastes tended to be driven by many factors beyond taste, particularly tradition and ritual. He said one, perhaps surprising, element in demand was size, with some major wholesale clients frequently buying coffee purely on the size of the coffee beans.
Talking about one of his coffees sold at retail, Wade said: “The Mexican Maragogype beans are the largest coffee beans I’ve ever seen – they’re the size of peanuts. It doesn’t make any difference to the flavour, but it makes it more exciting for a Dubai person who wants everything to be the biggest and best.
“This is how the region works – buyers will choose coffee just because of the region, because that’s where they’ve always bought from. The biggest importer of East Harari coffee is Saudi Arabia, because Harar is one of the holiest sites in Islam. And that’s why Harari coffee is one of the most expensive in the world,” he added.