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Spilling the beans: How coffee has become big business in the Middle East

Experts say there's a growing demand for a more refined and elevated coffee experience in the Middle East

Spilling the beans: How coffee has become big business in the Middle East
[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

For the daily grind and constantly working, coffee helps to keep on producing. But of late, coffee has become something more than just getting a caffeine hit. It’s brewing with innovation. Have you noticed influencer coffee brand launches on social media, people making drip coffee, and new specialty coffee shops popping up in the cities?

In the Arab countries, people have been drinking coffee for hundreds of years. The best coffee bean is still known as Arabica. The earliest cultivation of coffee was in Yemen, and Yemenis gave it the Arabic name Qahwa, from which coffee and cafe both derive. 

However, it may simply have been a sign of things to come: coffee has overtaken all other drinks and snacks as the preferred drink. The trend has primarily been driven by millennials and Gen Z, who prefer coffee to a classic builder’s brew.

What’s so good about coffee anyway? Could it be that coffee is innately a vehicle for affordable luxury and lifestyle expression? Iced coffee, lattes, flat whites, and espresso martinis can fit all occasions. 


“Having coffee is surely much more than having a beverage. It has changed from a standard beverage to a trend,” says Saud Al Nuaimi, founder of CoffeeDesk. “The rise in social media and the ease of creating and sharing content, viral trends are a big part of this.” 

While a staple in the Middle East, coffee culture is continuously booming. Experts say it became a huge trend during COVID-19, creating the need for home brewing, coffee products, and equipment, which persisted long after the pandemic.

“Now more than ever, coffee consumers are showing a newly-found appreciation for freshly roasted flavors and aromas and higher quality produce and artisan cafés,” says Ali Al Ebrahim, Founder & CEO of COFE App, an online coffee marketplace giving coffee lovers access to coffee chain houses as well as specialty coffee roasters.

“The younger generation is rapidly becoming more interested in consuming specialty coffee, for both the quality and the experience.”

There’s also a trend towards premiumization, reflected in not only a growing preference for higher quality coffee but also how it is brewed and where it originates from, as well as different types and flavors.

In Dubai, Doha, and Riyadh, there are roasteries serving super-premium beans that undergo a complex fermentation process with notes of jasmine, plums, and pineapple before being poured into cups; they use beans from Uganda Chanzo,  Diego Samuel from Colombia, and Maragogype varietal from Panama Hartmann. 

“People now know more about specialty coffee shops, artisanal brewing methods, innovative products, and techniques have all contributed to the rise of coffee culture,” says Al Nuaimi.

“This shift reflects a growing demand for a more refined and elevated coffee experience in the Middle East.” 

A one-stop coffee solution, providing everything from brewing to products for cleaning coffee equipment, Al Nuaimi says CoffeeDesk’s sales have been increasing YoY as it has been introducing new product lines.

COFE, operating in UAE, KSA, Kuwait, and Egypt, has also seen a significant YOY increase in GMV and revenue. It plans to develop a more robust platform for coffee suppliers and vendors to provide end-to-end B2B services and link cafes directly with farmers. 

It has joined hands with the Saudi Coffee Company (SCC) to expand the Saudi coffee industry. SCC plans to invest over $319 million to increase coffee production from 300 tons to over 2,500 tons by 2030.

And while the coffee market is expanding due to a shift in consumer behavior towards an appreciation of premium coffee and a demand for more complex flavors, Al Ebrahim says the region is home to some of the most innovative coffee spots in the world, providing international coffee players the opportunity to expand into new markets.

“As any other industry, coffee trends are largely a reflection of the attitudes and tastes of the communities they cater to,” says Al Ebrahim.


A key trend has been consumer interest skewing towards particular coffee styles, such as Vietnamese and Indonesian kopi, being exported from their original market, along with advancements in at-home brewing equipment and technology.

“As coffee consumers are now becoming more health-conscious, a notable development for the future is coffee with add-ons that boost health and well-being,” says Al Ebrahim.

Now more than ever, consumers are more conscious of the origin of the products they purchase and how they are produced. There’s a demand for certified sustainable brands and labeling. 

“Given that coffee is becoming a more popular target for food counterfeiters, certified coffee offers consumers further assurance regarding the product’s reliability,” says Al Ebrahim.


While recent years have reaffirmed the value in simple pleasures like a cup of coffee, some of the creativity and sense of exploration are driven by social media, where new and inventive brands are drivers of coffee’s coolness.

Al Ebrahim says coffee manufacturers are establishing a direct connection with their audience on social media by sharing engaging photos of their coffee brewing process, providing behind-the-scenes insights, or featuring customer testimonials.

Coffee companies highlight their eco-friendly packaging and farm-to-cup programs, thus creating a sense of community among environmentally-conscious coffee enthusiasts.

“Social media platforms have become an integral part driving the coffee culture influencing consumer’s coffee drinking habits and preferences, how consumers discover and interact with different brands, thereby propelling sales, through customer engagement, product awareness, and eventually, brand exposure,” says Al Ebrahim.

Saying social media influencers have greatly influenced recent trends in coffee consumption, Al Nuaimi adds, “Platforms like Instagram and YouTube showcase visually appealing coffee creations by some creators, trendy cafes, and unique brewing methods, influencing people’s perceptions and preferences,” says Al Nuaimi. “The sharing and engagement culture on social media has made coffee not just a drink but an experience worth sharing and celebrating.”

Interestingly, younger people are increasingly opting for tea in traditionally coffee-drinking US. So, the reason for the coffee trend could simply be a novelty.

In the end, trend or not, our hot beverages are the little breaks we should allow ourselves more often, sitting in a cafeteria or at home with a latte or cup of Builder’s tea, to converse with others.

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Suparna Dutt D’Cunha is the Editor at Fast Company Middle East. She is interested in ideas and culture and cover stories ranging from films and food to startups and technology. She was a Forbes Asia contributor and previously worked at Gulf News and Times Of India. More