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KALEI RIDES THE NEXT COFFEE WAVE
Somewhat ironically, the idea of opening Lebanon’s first specialty coffee shop was conceived by Dalia Jaffal during a conversation over what was described as ‘a bad cup of coffee’. HN sat down with Jaffal, who is founder of Kalei Coffee and also Lebanon’s first SCA certified coffee trainer and judge for National SCA championships, for an exclusive interview to gain a better understanding of the various specificities shaping Lebanon’s coffee industry
Nestled in a traditional, century-old Lebanese house at an offshoot of Mar Mikhael, Jaffal, who also is a professional barista and master roaster, explained that there were no short cuts to getting the perfect cup of coffee. “We had to cover the whole supply chain, from bean to cup, which is how Kalei Coffee Co. was born,” she said. “Kalei is a micro-roastery, offering directly sourced single-origin green coffee that has been well cared for from farm to cup, in keeping with consumer demand for specialty coffees. This emphasis on transparency and traceability is more important today than ever before, taking into account that Lebanon consumes more coffee, or ‘kahweh’, per person than anywhere else in the Middle East – about 4.8 kilos per capita annually, according to the International Coffee Organization.”
Tradition vs. technology
While the newest coffee machines might be all about technology, there is still the need for human interaction and a personal touch, according to Jaffal. “In the old days, people would go to a coffee house primarily for social interaction, which coincidentally, took place over coffee. Today, in the current era of specialty coffee, the opposite is true,” she explained. “If I had the option of buying top-notch equipment that doesn’t require a barista as opposed to one that requires a human operator, I’d definitely go for the latter.” The reason is simple, she added. “To summarize, human beings are social creatures who still require that social element, irrespective of how good the coffee is, and today, they can have coffee that is sourced fairly, served with love and a few conversations,” she said.
Trends and adoption
In Europe, there has been talk for a number of years about how specialty coffee is dying, unlike in Lebanon, where it has begun to grow in the past year. Jaffal puts this down to the fact that though plenty of Lebanese travel and are exposed to global trends, very few thought of establishing specialty shops until recently. “This also has to do with the fact that like Italians, we stick to our coffee drinking traditions and have therefore come late to the idea of adopting international trends,” she noted. “Furthermore, importing tried and tested concepts is far easier than developing our own. However, that is slowly changing. The same reality applies to bars and restaurants; we are big on food in Lebanon and always have been, yet we do not have a single Michelin Star restaurant.”
Looking ahead Jaffal said she couldn’t claim that every client who visits does so solely for the coffee. “Rather it is a combination of the social element, intertwined with our offerings, some of which are unavailable elsewhere,” she told HN. “For example, we started the specialty coffee-cocktail menu, a trend that was quickly picked up by other local venues. This is happening more often, especially now that bartenders have more room for experimentation, thereby breathing new life into an age-old industry.” Jaffal added that this is when the possibilities expand and become exciting. “I see this as healthy evolution, as it will elevate the quality of the offering, promote creativity and encourage the use of local elements and ingredients as a whole including local talents. This will hopefully make Lebanon the home for the best and most eclectic coffee and bar scene in the region,” she concluded.