Why coffee shops are causing a stir

Why coffee shops are causing a stir

While coffee culture might have been slower to take root in the Middle East than across some other regions, it has certainly caught up in recent years, with bustling cafés today in malls and on street corners offering countless interpretations of our favorite drink. Christian Salloum, founder and managing director of BrandPortunity Hospitality Consultancy, tells us what’s brewing on the regional coffee scene.

Given that the Middle East has longstanding and rich historical connections with coffee, having likely originated in Yemen, alongside other countries, it’s unsurprising that coffee is a firm favorite on the beverage list and coffee shops are among the most popular meeting places. However, it was only in the last decade that the coffee culture really gathered momentum across the region. Today, a diverse range of coffee trends and initiatives are evolving rapidly in outlets across the region, from the UAE and KSA to Kuwait, with the examples that follow among those leading the way.

Specialty coffee: these have become increasingly popular in the GCC region, with many coffee shops offering high-quality, single-origin coffee. This trend is driven by rapidly growing interest in coffee quality and a desire for a unique and personalized coffee experience.

Third-wave coffee: this movement has as its focus the artisanal and craft aspects of coffee-making. The emphasis is on the quality of the coffee beans, the live roasting process and the brewing method. A significant number of coffee shops have begun offering hand-crafted coffee using traditional brewing methods like pour-over and siphon across the region, where this trend is generating considerable interest.

Arabic coffee: while specialty and third-wave coffee are gaining popularity in the region, traditional Arabic options remain an important part of the culture, with cardamom or other spices still sought after and used to create a variety of flavors in drinks.

Instagrammable coffee shops: Instagram is firmly established as a major platform for sharing photos of food and drinks, and coffee shops in the Middle East have been keen to ensure they’re not left behind. Many coffee shops have designed their interiors with Instagram in mind, featuring eye-catching, minimalist and photogenic décor which encourages customers to take photos and share them on their social media accounts.

Home brewing: with the rise of specialty coffee, many enthusiasts and “coffee-preneurs” have started brewing coffee at home using manual brewing methods like pour-over and French press. This trend has led to a growing demand for high-quality beans and brewing equipment. Keen to tap into rising demand, several coffee shops are now selling this equipment and related products as part of their retail offerings.

Non-dairy milk options: with the number of people adopting plant-based diets or looking for alternative products due to dietary restrictions on the rise, coffee shops in the Middle East have accordingly begun offering non-dairy milk options like soy, almond and oat milk. This trend reflects a growing interest in health and wellness, alongside a desire among owners to be inclusive and cater to diverse customer needs.

Design trends and menu offerings
Coffee shops in the Middle East have seen significant changes when it comes to design and menu offerings in recent years. With coffee culture gaining pace in the region, coffee shops have evolved from places to grab a quick drink into go-to hubs for meeting, gathering and even studying.
For many, they are an integral part of their lifestyle. Against that backdrop, several important factors need to be taken into consideration when designing a coffee shop and planning its offerings.

Menu ranges: coffee shops typically offer
a variety of food menu items, ranging from small snacks and pastries to more substantial meals. Popular options include croissants, muffins and sweet pastries, with more extensive menus containing sandwiches, salads, pasta and other light lunch options.

Specialty drinks: in addition to traditional coffee offerings, many coffee shops in the Middle East now offer specialty drinks, such as matcha and turmeric lattes, and other non-coffee-based options. These drinks cater to customers who are looking for something different or who may not be coffee drinkers.

Healthy options: with interest in health and wellness continuing to rise, more and more outlets are now providing healthy food and drink options, which include not only plant-based milk alternatives, but also gluten-free baked goods, vegetarian savories, sugar-free desserts and superfood smoothies.

Local flavors: incorporating local flavors into a menu is a smart way to adapt products to meet local taste preferences, particularly in markets like Saudi Arabia and the UAE. This can be done by using ingredients such as dates, saffron and cardamom, aligned with specific flavors and preferences, depending on the location.

Stay ahead of trends: it’s also important to keep a close eye on shifts in consumer behaviors in order to provide the experience customers are looking for and meet their changing demands. This could involve experimenting with new flavors and ingredients or introducing new menu items.

Drilling down into design: A significant number of coffee shops in the Middle East have started offering co-working spaces to cater to growing demand from remote workers and freelancers. These spaces are designed to be comfortable, with plenty of natural light and power outlets, and often offer high-speed internet and printing services.
Outlets have also started incorporating other elements into their design, such as bookstores, art galleries and intelligent gaming shelves, which encourage customers to stay for longer and spend more, while offering them an added-value experience.

Keeping it simple
There has also been a significant shift toward simple and minimalist designs that create an inspiring atmosphere and can often help in keeping capital outlays down. Coffee shops are now being designed to reflect their individual brand and concept, with comfortable furniture, appropriate lighting for different times of the day and a color scheme that creates an eye-catching and memorable experience for customers.

More than great coffee
Alongside having excellent products and the right décor in a coffee shop, selecting a location that caters to the local community, whether it be businesses, residents, tourists or other target markets, will be key in determining success. Skilled baristas and well-trained chefs are also critical to support your strategies and provide excellent service to customers.
In addition to strategy, marketing will play a vital role in attracting customers, whether through social media campaigns, local advertising or word-of-mouth referrals to create a buzz. Hosting events or promotions is another way to stand out from the competition and generate excitement.
As any operator will know, being familiar with and implementing the national legal and regulatory requirements before embarking on a coffee shop project is a must. This includes obtaining all the necessary licenses and permits, ensuring food safety guidelines are followed and complying with labor laws. The work involved is extensive and the market competitive. However, there’s no doubt that with coffee shops a firm fixture on today’s F&B scene, the scope for launching an outlet that delivers results is considerable.

Christian Salloum
Managing Director
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