The view from a coffee professional working in the ever-expanding and wildly intriguing city of Dubai.
Words and Dubai Cityscapes by Arno Quentin Els
Imagine for a few seconds that you are a coffee professional from South Africa. Maybe you’re a roaster, a barista, a barista trainer or one of the many other off-shoots of the industry. You receive a call from a UK number and someone with a British accent offers you a job opportunity. The opportunity is to work as a coffee professional in the United Arab Emirates. Wait, the UAE? What’s with the accent and the phone number and how does that relate to a job opportunity in Dubai? Well, that’s an article for an HR Magazine. And seeing as this is a Coffee Magazine, today we are going to talk about coffee but more specifically, the coffee scene in the UAE. Because I received that call and I’ve been here in Dubai for the last few years.
Coffee culture in the UAE is a little more complex due to it’s multicultural nature. You have people from all over the world drinking coffee in all sorts of traditional or modern ways depending on where they come from. Most cafes specialise in a specific style or traditional method of coffee. And although specialty coffee has been in the UAE since 2007, the specialty coffee wave only really hit around 4 or 5 years ago.
Now before I continue I should discuss traditional Arabic coffee. It’s widely believed that coffee cultivation originated in the Arabian Peninsula and because of this there is a proud sense of identity with coffee in the Middle East. The traditional method of roasting and brewing is a little different to what you might be used to drinking at your local cafe. Traditionally, the coffee is roasted incredibly light (underdeveloped by specialty standards), ground slightly finer than your average filter paper, mixed with spices like cardamom, and brewed for about 16 minutes in a kettle that is called a Dallah. It's served in tiny wide lipped cups in a method with customary nuances that goes above my ability to understand colloquial etiquette. This tradition goes back more than a thousand years and is considered part of middle eastern hospitality when you visit someone’s home. So naturally there is an appreciation for both traditional- and specialty coffee in the UAE, often dividing the younger generation from the older generation, when it comes to coffee preference. So without further babbling let's talk about specialty coffee.
Specialty coffee is, for the most part, enjoyed by a younger generation of Emiratis. And it’s this generation that is responsible for the specialty coffee culture in the UAE, bringing back equipment, concepts, and a desire to open a cafe from their frequent travels abroad. For this reason I will be focusing on Emiratis/locals and their coffee trends because expats here have the same coffee interests as they do back home. And let's face it, there are only so many opinion pieces you can read about almond milk, decaf skinnies, and freelancers who think it's fair to exchange all-day wifi for one beverage.
Because of the before mentioned monstrosities enjoyed by Europeans and Westerners globally, I would like to introduce you to a whole new monster that seems to be unique to the Middle East. The ‘Spanish’ Latte is a single shot of espresso with about 30-40 gram condensed milk, and topped up with steamed milk or, more often, milk and ice. This drink makes up about 50 to 70 percent of any cafe's coffee turnover. That being said, the largest amount of the remaining coffee drinks are piccolos, followed by espresso, and then cortado, in that order. So in reality, even within the speciality coffee industry there is a juxtaposition. On one hand there is a large percent of coffee drinks that don’t need the high level of skills we’ve come to expect within the industry and as a result baristas (and often even roasters) become disenchanted with the industry and what they do. It simply doesn’t feel that special anymore when you’re throwing a single shot into a 12oz cup with condensed milk. On the other hand, the customers who do order espresso or piccolo or cortado really want to talk about the coffee. And these customers often try a few single origins in one visit. They’d try out different single origins and contemplate if they’d want to brew it at home as these customers tend to have a single group espresso machine or brew bar at home. So I suppose, keeping that in mind the specialty coffee following in UAE is still very young and niche, but developing. There are a few reasons for this and, as is often the case, it boils down to education.
In the UAE there is a misconception that specialty coffee is determined by the equipment that you are using, rather than the beans you are brewing. So as an example, someone might buy an elegant and expensive espresso machine and then assume they have a specialty coffee cafe. There is also a trend of believing that slow/alternative brew methods are what make you a specialty coffee establishment. So you might go to a cafe and ask "do you serve specialty coffee" and you may hear "yes, we have v60, Aeropress, Chemex" etc.
Something else that I found peculiar in cafes are owners that aren't as knowledgeable as you would expect. Virtually any cafe that you go to anywhere in the world has a grassroots story. You're likely to meet the owner behind an espresso machine, in the roastery, or often at a table behind a laptop crunching some numbers (usually the awkward one that customers don't like to sit at). In the UAE owners often have a full-time job, an interest in coffee, and a bit of disposable income to make a cafe happen. As a result there is a large chasm in their knowledge of the industry. Although this is slowly changing, it does create either a frustrating work relationship for baristas and roasters or a lot of unnecessary pitfalls for the company as a whole. But one of the most common misconceptions is international coffee professionals, suppliers of equipment and coffee, and experts who think that the UAE is a pool of endless money. And in reality, it is not. That’s not to say that there is no money here. But also, come on guys, we know what an espresso machine costs and we know at what price you usually sell your green coffee. So wipe the dollar signs from your eyes when someone with a +971 country code phones you with an enquiry.
The UAE has a large amount of really nice equipment. You can walk into most cafes and see Slayers, Sanremo Operas, or Victoria Arduino Black Eagles. Naturally, cafes prefer state-of-the-art equipment because it makes the process easier. Maybe I’m just hitting middle-age but there’s nothing like learning how to make great espresso on garbage equipment. It sort of sets a strong foundation of coffee brewing resilience for the rest of your career. But, again, just a personal opinion. And because of this opinion I think baristas are a bit spoiled. For baristas here, their greatest source of information on developing skills is the internet. As a result there are a lot of very new techniques that get shared and implemented in the coffee community here. This is often good, putting the coffee scene on the forefront of what’s happening. And sometimes bad, as cafes attempt to run before they learn how to walk.
At the end of the day, if you look at any coffee culture in any country they face the same issues, in a largely ambiguous way . For developing coffee cultures like the UAE (or even SA to an extent) there is still very much a sense of FOMO. A need to innovate, push the boundaries, and show countries like the US and Australia that we are equals and innovative and creating our own way. Some countries may have more spending power and less skilled professionals, others may have more skilled professionals and less spending power. Some might have lower graded speciality coffee selling to a larger market, others might have cup of excellence selling to a niche of home brewer geeks. At the end of the we’re all carving our own path to the same end goal. The best cup of coffee we can possibly have. Here are some cafes that have achieved that goal:
THE 5 MUST VISIT CAFES/ROASTERIES IN DUBAI
5. THE ESPRESSO LAB - DUBAI DESIGN DISTRICT
Espresso Lab has arguably the best espresso in town and the quality of their skill is reflected in every cup of coffee. It’s located in the vibrant Design District of Dubai. Espresso Lab has done a lot to advance the specialty coffee movement in the UAE. Dubai Design District, also known as D3 is a hub for creative minds of all mediums, freelancers, and change makers. And lucky for them Espresso Lab is situated in the heart of it all.
4. NIGHT JAR - AL SERKAL AVENUE
Al Serkal Avenue is a renowned cultural district of contemporary art galleries, non-profit organisations, and homegrown businesses. One of these businesses is Night Jar Coffee Roastery. They have a comfortable, cozy, cafe area with an open kitchen serving breakfast and lunch. The music is all played on vinyl and you can easily spend a day there eating good food, drinking great coffee, and listening to well curated vinyls.
3. THE SUM OF US - TRADE CENTRE DUBAI
Situated near Trade Centre Dubai, The Sum Of Us is a lovely change in pace for this business orientated District. To clarify, the trade centre was built in 1979 and the area surrounding it became known as the Trade Centre District. The Sum Of Us is a beautiful, airey, and vibrant cafe with one of the better eggs benedict available. They have a micro roastery located inside their cafe, called Encounter Coffee, that roasts a great varying selection of coffees. They are part of the Bull & Roo umbrella so you can expect the same great quality from their other concepts like Tom & Serge.
2. 1762 STRIPPED - JUMEIRAH LAKE TOWERS
1762 Stripped is several ideas wrapped into one and somehow have managed to execute them all very well. It’s almost like every facet of their endeavour works independently from one another and yet in perfect harmony. It’s not often that a cafe will have an extensive food menu that is as good as the coffee on offer and vice versa. They have a fantastic bakery, offer fresh and well considered fruit juices, immune boosters, excellent food selection, and all inside a comfortable, unpretentious, and welcoming 2 story space. One of the very few places where I can order anything off the menu with confidence.
1. THE CLIMBING GOAT - PALM JUMEIRAH
The Climbing Goat is one of the newest roasteries in the UAE and a few things stand out about this roastery for me. First, it’s situated on Palm Jumeirah and I have been unable to find good coffee in the Palm Jumeirah and Dubai Marina areas so this is fantastic. Second, it's situated in a sort of boutique food court and where other roasteries have tried this but failed miserably, The Climbing Goat has gotten it right. They are surrounded with a cheese tasting room, a wine cellar, a chocolatier, an artisan bakery, and several other bespoke concepts. The last thing that stood out for me about this roastery aside from the quality of their coffee is their directness in taking their time. Where other new roasteries are eager to roast and sell and roast and sell, The Climbing Goat is very open about taking their time perfecting what they do. It’s an earnest attempt on putting the spotlight back on pure quality.
Have you travelled to Dubai or worked in Dubai? Let us know your favourite Cafes and Roasteries; post in the comments below!
The Style and Coffee Block
Shop 9, Lex Hollmann Center
Please tell us a little about yourself and how you came to open a cafe in Malelane?
Coffee has been my go to beverage since the stressful moments during university to my sit back and recharge moments. I got into coffee when I started creating my own mixes of different hot beverages to create a new state whenever I felt like not having a regular cup of coffee- be it whatever brand I chose to try out.
I studied Public Relations and Communications and when I did my honours degree I started having this drive towards business and so I started to do the necessary research. I wanted to merge my qualifications to my passion for coffee, travel, fashion and beauty. I believed and still do see these 4 categories to fall under a lifestyle people could easily fall under.
We couldn't agree more, that's what Issue 35 is all about!
How did you get into coffee? And where did you learn the skills to open your own cafe?
Style and Coffee Block is a coffee corner inside a beauty and style boutique. The whole idea behind the space is to merge my profession as a Public Relations and Communications Consultant that focuses on small businesses and personal brands and my passion. The main aim is to allow my customers the spoil of being served coffee when in need of style or PR advice for their business or personal image/identity development.
What coffee are you using at your cafe?
As a start, I am currently serving coffee of different brands and still creating my own mixes from different brands. From your cappuccino to your Mocha mixes - Giving my customers a feel at home service. With my love for the environment I am also part of the Recup SA family, offering my clients and customers reusable and recyclable tumblers.
What is the ethos of your business? And what do you hope people will experience when visiting your space?
Nothing fails when passion is rooted in your purpose. When one is passionate about what they do it is projected easily through customer service and deliver which inevitably leads to business success.
Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about your cafe?
Although I’m located in Mpumalanga Province, I enjoy traveling and trying out different coffee spots that just add that much needed coffee touch to my travel experience.
When the Press Release attached below came across my inbox, I didn't pay it much attention to be honest. And then it hit the mass media! Imagine my surprise that people were interested in a rare, rediscovered varietal of coffee! Good surprise!
Introducing Stenophylla coffee, the coffee tree with black cherries and the capabilities of few other coffee varietals!
Some of you may have asked initially, there's a problem with my supply of coffee?!?! Well yes, this issue has increased year on year. Dr Alessandro Craparo outlined some of the environmental issues coffee faces for us in Issue 30 of the Coffee Magazine. Read it here.
So the fact that there is a coffee that has proved resistant to these factors is very good news for the long term future.
"There are 124 species of coffee, but we rely on just two for 99% of our coffee consumption: Arabica and robusta, making up 56% and 43% of global production respectively. Arabica, originating from the highlands of Ethiopia and South Sudan, is a cool-tropical plant with a mean annual temperature requirement of around 19°C. It is vulnerable to increasing global temperatures and coffee leaf rust, a fungal disease that has severely impacted coffee plantations in Central and South America." - CIRAD
Which brings up another question, is coffee a tricky plant to grow? Yes indeed! I'm sure at some point on your coffee journey and certainly on this website, you will have heard the phrase, The Coffee Belt. These are countries between the tropics and close to the equator that meet the temperature criteria of successful coffee plants. Not too hot and not too cold, as explained by Dr Craparo.
With the new varietal Stenophylla coffee (Coffea stenophylla), there is a new development on the temperature discussion.
"A rare wild species from Upper West Africa, has been found to tolerate much warmer temperatures than Arabica coffee (Coffea arabica), the world’s most popular coffee, whilst boasting a superior flavour. These unique qualities mean that stenophylla could soon be grown commercially, but in much warmer places than Arabica. It also has the potential to be used as a breeding resource, to produce new, climate-resilient coffee crops for global consumption. This discovery comes at a crucial time, as up until this point, experts had not identified any robust means of protecting coffee farming from the climate crisis."
Well, isn't that amazing!
Next question! So if it was rediscovered growing wild in Sierra Leone in 2018, why is it only being spoken about on a broad scale now? Well, because the coffee professionals have actually had a chance to taste it! And it has passed the test!
Even from coffee Youtube celeb James Hoffman, which is always entertaining! See video below.
Now begins the mission to protect the species and find avenues to grow it commercially.
Full Press Release from CIRAD, Agricultural Research for Development
Scientists reveal that Coffea stenophylla – a rare and threatened species from West Africa – has the potential to ensure the future of great-tasting coffee under climate change. The coffee, rediscovered in the wild in 2018 after years of searching, has the unique combination of tolerance to high temperatures and a superior flavour – throwing a lifeline to the multibillion dollar coffee industry, which is vulnerable to climate change. Results from an independent, professional tasting with panellists from Nespresso & Jacobs Douwe Egbert (JDE), show that the flavour of stenophylla is like high-end Arabica (Arabica is the world’s most popular coffee).
In a new paper published today in Nature Plants, scientists from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the University of Greenwich, CIRAD (the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development) and Sierra Leone reveal the results of an in-depth study of a ‘rediscovered’ coffee species that has the potential to help futureproof the coffee industry against climate change.
Stenophylla coffee (Coffea stenophylla), a rare wild species from Upper West Africa, has been found to tolerate much warmer temperatures than Arabica coffee (Coffea arabica), the world’s most popular coffee, whilst boasting a superior flavour. These unique qualities mean that stenophylla could soon be grown commercially, but in much warmer places than Arabica. It also has the potential to be used as a breeding resource, to produce new, climate-resilient coffee crops for global consumption. This discovery comes at a crucial time, as up until this point, experts had not identified any robust means of protecting coffee farming from the climate crisis.
Dr Aaron Davis, Head of Coffee Research at RBG Kew, and lead author of the paper, says: “Future-proofing the coffee supply chain to deal with climate change is vital – coffee drives a multibillion dollar global industry, supports the economy of several tropical countries, and provides livelihoods for more than 100 million coffee farmers. To find a coffee species that flourishes at higher temperatures and has an excellent flavour is a once in a lifetime scientific discovery – this species could be essential for the future of high-quality coffee.”
There are 124 species of coffee, but we rely on just two for 99% of our coffee consumption: Arabica and robusta, making up 56% and 43% of global production respectively. Arabica, originating from the highlands of Ethiopia and South Sudan, is a cool-tropical plant with a mean annual temperature requirement of around 19âÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ°C. It is vulnerable to increasing global temperatures and coffee leaf rust, a fungal disease that has severely impacted coffee plantations in Central and South America. Robusta fares slightly better – the species grows at low elevations across much of wet-tropical Africa, requires a mean annual temperature of around 23âÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ°C, and is resistant to certain strains of coffee leaf rust. However, robusta falls short in its flavour and is widely regarded as inferior to Arabica, with the majority of its production used for instant coffee.
Until recently (late 2018) stenophylla had not been seen in the wild since 1954. The term ‘forgotten’ is applied to this species because it was once widely farmed in Upper West Africa. Today, its use as a crop species is non-existent, and only a few examples exist in coffee research collections. So, in December 2018, two of the paper’s authors (Dr Davis and Professor Haggar) travelled to Sierra Leone to work with development specialist Daniel Sarmu, to try and locate the species in the wild. They used historical specimens from RBG Kew to provide details of the last known locality of stenophylla coffee. With support of NGO Welthungerhilfe and the Sierra Leone Forestry Department, they visited the main target location, where they found only a single plant of stenophylla coffee. Moving east, they visited another forest area, and after several hours of trekking through dense forest, they finally located a healthy population.
Endemic to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast, stenophylla grows wild in hot-tropical areas at low elevation, only 400 m above sea level. After collecting data for Arabica, robusta, and stenophylla, the paper’s authors set to work to understand their fundamental environmental requirements. They found that stenophylla grows and crops under similar climatic conditions to robusta, but with a higher mean annual temperature requirement of 24.9âÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ°C (1.9âÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ°C higher than that of robusta), and a substantial 6.2–6.8âÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ°C higher than Arabica. Stenophylla coffee is also reported to be drought tolerant, although this attribute requires further research.
There had been no recorded sensory information for stenophylla for 100 years, due to its scarcity in cultivation and rarity in the wild so it was essential for this species to be properly evaluated. Obtaining a small sample from partners in Sierra Leone, stenophylla was assessed by an expert tasting panel at Union Hand-Roasted Coffee in London in the summer of 2020. The panel awarded the coffee a speciality score of 80.25 (based on the protocol of the Specialty Coffee Association) and identified Arabica-like qualities. To reach ‘speciality’ status, a coffee needs a score of 80 points or higher. Jeremy Torz from Union Coffee said, “Arabica is currently our only speciality coffee species, and so this score, particularly from such a small sample, was surprising and remarkable.”
After this initial tasting in London, an additional and much more substantial sample of stenophylla, this time from Ivory Coast, was obtained from the Coffea Biological Resources Center on Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean. The sample was evaluated at CIRAD’s sensorial analysis laboratory in Montpellier by a panel of judges, and then soon afterwards by coffee experts from companies including JDE, Nespresso and Belco. The 15-strong panel blind tested two Arabica samples (one high quality and one low grade), one high-quality robusta sample, and the Ivory Coast stenophylla.
The evaluation revealed that stenophylla has a complex flavour profile, with judges noting its natural sweetness, medium-high acidity, fruitiness, and good body (i.e. its texture; the way it feels in the mouth). Desirable tasting notes included peach, blackcurrant, mandarin, honey, light black tea, jasmine, spice, floral, chocolate, caramel, nuts, and elderflower syrup, as one might find in high-quality Arabica. When asked if the stenophylla sample was an Arabica, 81% of the judges said yes (compared to 98% and 44% for the two Arabica samples, and 7% for the robusta sample). Despite the high ‘Arabica-like’ score for stenophylla, 47% of the judges identified the sample as something new, suggesting a market niche for the rediscovered coffee.
Dr Delphine Mieulet, scientist at CIRAD, who led the tasting says: “These results provide the first credible sensory evaluation for stenophylla coffee, from which we are able to corroborate historical reports of a superior taste. The sensory analysis of stenophylla reveals a complex and unusual flavour profile that the judges unanimously found worthy of interest. For me, as a breeder, this new species is full of hope and allows us to imagine a bright future for quality coffee, despite climate change.”
Coffea stenophylla is classified on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as ‘Vulnerable’, so efforts are urgently required to safeguard the future of the species in the wild. Further work is required to fully evaluate its potential as a climate resilient, high-value crop species and breeding resource, including claims of drought tolerance and resistance to coffee leaf rust. This year, the four institutes involved in the paper plan to plant stenophylla seedlings in Sierra Leone and Reunion Island (CIRAD), in order to start assessing its agronomic potential under a range of environmental conditions.
Aaron P. Davis, Delphine Mieulet, Justin Moat, Daniel Sarmu, and Jeremy Haggar. Arabica-like flavour in a heat tolerant wild coffee species. Nature Plants -19 avril 2021
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a world-famous scientific organisation, internationally respected for its outstanding collections as well as its scientific expertise in plant and fungal diversity, conservation and sustainable development in the UK and around the world. Kew Gardens is a major international and a top London visitor attraction. Kew Gardens’ 132 hectares of landscaped gardens, and Wakehurst, Kew’s wild botanic garden in Sussex, attract over 2.5 million visits every year. Kew Gardens was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2003 and celebrated its 260th anniversary in 2019. Wakehurst is home to Kew's Millennium Seed Bank, the largest wild plant seed bank in the world, as well as over 500 acres of designed landscapes, wild woodlands, ornamental gardens and a nature reserve. The Kew Madagascar Conservation Centre is Kew’s third research centre and only overseas office. RBG Kew receives approximately one third of its funding from Government through the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and research councils. Further funding needed to support RBG Kew’s vital work comes from donors, membership and commercial activity including ticket sales.
CIRAD is the French agricultural research and international cooperation organization working for the sustainable development of tropical and Mediterranean regions. It works with its partners to build knowledge and solutions and invent resilient farming systems for a more sustainable, inclusive world. It mobilizes science, innovation and training in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Its expertise supports the entire range of stakeholders, from producers to public policymakers, to foster biodiversity protection, agroecological transitions, food system sustainability, health (of plants, animals and ecosystems), sustainable development of rural territories, and their resilience to climate change. CIRAD works in some fifty countries on every continent, thanks to the expertise of its 1650 staff members, including 1140 scientists, backed by a global network of some 200 partners. As such, it supports French scientific diplomacy operations.
The Natural Resources Institute (NRI), is a specialist research, development and education organisation of the University of Greenwich, UK, with a focus on food, agriculture, environment and sustainable livelihoods. Using an interdisciplinary approach, we undertake research, teaching, training and consultancy to address interrelated global challenges affecting everyone from local farmers and consumers to the UK food industry, to smallholder communities in the developing world. Together with our international partners, we tackle issues including poverty, food and nutrition security, sustainable agriculture, climate change, gender and social equality, responsible production and consumption, exploitation of natural resources and environmental management. NRI’s work addresses the UN Sustainable Development Goals – the globally agreed plan of action to achieve sustainable development for all by 2030 – and is organised through our Research Groups and Development Programmes. NRI’s team is made up of over 100 members of staff including natural and social scientists, technicians, and specialists in project management, administration, communication, finance, IT and other fields.
Fikile Khuzwayo has always inspired us with her tenacity and her positivity. She must be one of the hardest working women in coffee and she does it all with immense grace and a smile through it all.
Fiks has steady employment through the Mr Price Foundation and has been making amazing coffees for the Mr Price Head Office team for many years. She loves her Mr P family! She has always had a dream to start her own business and through the uncertainty of last year, where the offices were empty, Fiks made a decision to take the first steps in that dream. Enter Fiks: The Coffee Queen!
Fiks takes making perfect coffee completely in her stride and she makes a four-tiered tulip and smooth and delicious coffee look so easy! She is using coffee expertly roasted at Lineage Coffee.
The thing is, in the life of the hustler and the entrepreneur, support is always needed. And Fiks with the help of her husband and son, is now working 7 days a week to keep her dream alive, so that one day she will find a space she can call home. The mobile set up in front of the wonderful crew at Hair Inc, who have given Fiks a lot of help, is such an awesome start. You can give her support too, by going to buy an amazing cup of coffee on the weekends. She is currently at this location 9am-2pm Saturday's and Sunday's. She is also available for hire for events!
You won't regret it!
The Breakfast Room is a place of calm, happiness and delicious Kenyan coffee, against all the odds on the Durban Point construction site.
You know, in my experiences of the hospitality world, in which I have spent much time, the attitude of the team is integral to my overall impression of the place. And at The Breakfast Room, the positivity positively smacks you in the face when you walk in the door. Honestly, I couldn't stop smiling the whole time I was there.
And when I had the opportunity to chat with owner, Wanjiru Kinyua, it all made sense.
"The main goal here was to create a place where people feel looked after, something that I feel is largely missing from the hospitality industry these days, and the industry needs to get back to doing that. I feel the only way we can make that change is by first making sure that the Team is looked after, as you can only look after people if you feel looked after yourself."
Ah man! That resonates with me so much. And The Breakfast Room team must be well looked after as they sure know how to look after their customers.
We were eager beavers, there as the doors opened at 8 and we were made to feel right at home. The corner shop was once known to Durbanites as the location of Ciao Bella, but Wanjiru has certainly made the space her own with a beautiful mural and her infectious personality.
"There's something about a corner building! I had a long term plan to open a restaurant having studied at Silwood in Cape Town, but I was down here with a friend for a market and when I saw this building, I felt a real connection to the space and I just decided to throw myself off the cliff, pandemic and all!"
Well, we are so happy she did!
The coffee is from a farm in Kenya, Karunguru Coffee, that belongs to her family friends and that has been producing coffee for close to 100 years! The espresso was sweet and smooth and the flat white was very tasty indeed. Sthabile was our delightful waitress and was very patient with us as we took our time deciding what to order from the mouth-watering All-Day Breakfast menu.
Everything was delicious and we highly recommend you visit and support this team!
In Neil Maree’s monthly column, he explores the importance and detail of the packaging your freshly roasted coffee beans come in.
Don’t you just love opening a new pack of speciality coffee?
It almost becomes a ritual, a crucial part of your coffee drinking experience.
The way the packaging feels; the sneak whiff through the valve (we all do it); the specific way you have to open the pack; and then, of course the explosive aroma that fills the room…bliss!
While coffee packaging was once viewed as mainly useful to store and transport a product, packaging design has developed into an important marketing tool. It is often the first contact a customer will have with your brand. It carries your brand identity and emotionally connects with consumers.
If you are a roaster, I suggest you take a closer look at your own packaging and make sure it ticks all the boxes when it comes to the holistic customer experience.
Deconstructing specialty coffee packaging
Speciality coffee packaging has a dual value. On the one hand, it preserves the freshness of your coffee and on the other it has the potential to tell your brand-story in the most appealing way: through the use of shape and material, fonts, images, colour combinations, textures and patterns.
Package design and its sensory aspects impact the customer journey at different stages. For the purpose of this discussion, I will look at speciality coffee packaging from a sensory experience (outer and inner layers) and from a functional dimension (freshness and quality mechanisms).
It is said that customers buy packaging based on their first impression of the bag.
Use your packaging to tell your brand story, because people identify with stories. Share yours on your pack and it will be read. Be descriptive. People enjoy information when they are really interested in their subject; as speciality coffee drinkers are. Tell your customer about your brand values, your contribution to transparency and sustainability in the coffee industry. Also use the opportunity to explain flavours and roast profiles. Coffee packaging has an informative, and often an educational role to fulfil.
Try and be original in your design and capture the spirit of our brand. Pay attention to colour as people are psychologically drawn to colour. Colour plays a major role in the success of any marketing campaign. Colours tend to stir certain emotions, creating brand relevance and motivating purchases: red is the colour of power and gets people’s attention and holds it, and green is associated with health, environment and goodwill.
The finishing of your packaging material can add to your customers’ tactile experience of your brand, be it a matte or gloss, or textured and rustic. Keep in mind that finishes such as foil and spot-varnished elements can be very interesting but should be in line with your brand and the message you want to communicate.
With the aim to engage and tell their brand story, speciality coffee roasters often use a five-sided flat bottom pouch which will give them more space. Printing on the interior of the coffee pouch is another way to optimise space. Coffee packaging can therefore be totally customised to attract customers. The challenge is to create visual aesthetics that will translate into perceptions of flavour at an almost subconscious level.
Custom printed packaging has become popular all over the world, and this does not only refer to the exterior of the packaging. The customer experience lingers on throughout the after-purchase stage which can greatly influence the customer’s likelihood to re-purchase or recommend your coffee to others. The customer journey should be considered and maximised. Interior packaging design is an innovative way to extend the brand message and convey the desired perception of the taste of your coffee. Opening a coffee bag is an explosive multisensory experience that can now be amplified even further by your customised interior design.
Own your unique style
Packaging allows you to distinguish yourself from your competitors. Your uniqueness can set you apart from the rest as packaging possibilities are endless. Consider your own distinctive measurements of a shaped pouch, a zipper and valve integrated in your pack, an attractive design, different varnishes, and different colours from neon to metallic. Finally, a label on your pack can communicate different origins and batches, giving you all-year-round flexibility. Be sure that you understand your customer when you design the look and feel of your brand - this includes colours, font styles and sizes. Remember, there is no right type of packaging. Your packaging will be determined by your customer preference, the nature and size of your business, and how your coffee bags are filled. There are various coffee packaging experts that will be able to guide you along.
The ultimate aim for roasters is to set their products apart. A visually appealing package can go a long way in creating positive perceptions about the characteristics of the coffee you are representing.
The best coffee packaging cannot only be visually appealing, but it also has to be functional. The number one requirement for any coffee packaging is that it should protect your coffee from the moment it leaves your roastery or warehouse.
As consumers are increasingly becoming more discerning coffee drinkers, there has been a growing need to provide fresher, higher quality roasted coffee beans.
The most important aspect of speciality coffee is its aroma and taste, which can be impacted by the packaging. Should the coffee be contaminated by foreign odours, the aroma and taste will be compromised, making it not desirable to drink. It is therefore crucial to choose an effective and high barrier coffee bag to maintain the freshness, flavour and aroma for a longer period of time.
Various types of coffee packaging are manufactured and supplied to specialty coffee roasters. Coffee packaging offers different functional features, including metallic layers, re-sealable zippers, clear oval windows, and one-way degassing valves.
Packaging should protect your coffee and keep out odours
Once your beans have been roasted, they undergo chemical and physical changes that must be taken into account when packaging them. The pore structure of coffee beans is affected by roasting conditions. The bean becomes more porous, the higher the roasting temperature. It then becomes more susceptible to absorbing moisture and unpleasant odours. To prevent this, your packaging should include a barrier that keeps out moisture, odours, direct sunlight, and oxygen, while enabling carbon dioxide (CO2) to escape. While the material you use for the outer layer of your coffee packaging is often determined by your marketing needs, it is the inner layer that needs special attention as it comes into direct contact with the roasted beans.
Barrier properties and the filling process
It is very important that coffee beans stay fresh for as long as possible, and this means that the packaging has to be airtight.
Packaging needs a barrier as coffee is very sensitive to external factors that can affect the profile, through moist and other bacteria. These barriers can range from metalised or pure aluminium to high-barrier polyester. Specialised advice to protect the roasted coffee beans can be provided by packaging manufacturers.
To ensure freshness and for coffee not to become stale faster than it needs to when on its way to your customer or sitting in their coffee shop, one can add a nitrogen flush vacuum sealer to the filling process. This vacuum sealer uses nitrogen gas to replace the oxygen in the bag and then creates a vacuum before sealing your bag of coffee. The absence of oxygen within the packaging helps to extend your coffee’s shelf life as long as the bag remains unopened.
One of the most important chemical changes in the roasting process is the breakdown of sugars to form various compounds, including carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide, trapped inside the coffee beans, gradually leaks out after roasting, through a process called degassing.
Sealed coffee bags without a valve usually inflate and can even explode. The function of a degassing valve is to allow the carbon dioxide, released by roasted coffee beans, to escape from the sealed bag. It is designed to be a one-way value. Carbon dioxide will flow out of the bag, but oxygen will not flow into the bag. This mechanism will only work when the bag is thoroughly sealed.
It is of utmost importance that the one-way degassing valve releases carbon dioxide from the coffee bag but do not allow outside moisture or air to penetrate the bag.
The convenience of your coffee bag can be enhanced with zippers or other easy open mechanisms.
A re-closing feature such as a zipper will make a big difference in the lives of consumers who use and store their coffee beans in the original package – also more opportunity for them to enjoy and appreciated the design of the interior of your coffee package!
Trends that can influence specialty coffee packaging
Sustainable packaging has become very important. These forms of packaging are recyclable and biodegradable. Eco-friendly packaging is normally communicated on the pack, giving a guide on how it should be recycled and the benefits thereof to nature.
If there is one thing millennials around the world have in common, it is a taste for coffee. It is a generation worth taking note of as they make up a large percentage of the world’s coffee drinkers. Looking after our planet is important to them. They demand transparency and good ethics and this is something you should consider throughout the customer journey.
The subscription model is booming and various coffee brands are complimenting their business with a monthly subscription from their customers. Receiving a crafted subscription box will gain massive appeal for your brand. More so now that people are home-bound as a result of the pandemic and have become more comfortable with virtual shopping. You will however, have to do proper research into your potential market, to determine whether there is a gap in the market, and indeed a market in the gap – but surely, it can be very exciting.
Your packaging supplier is there to support you through conceptualising, designing, manufacturing, printing, and delivery your packaging material. This can be a very rewarding relationship as they should keep you abreast of new developments in the packaging industry. It is important to choose an experienced packaging partner you feel comfortable with and whom you can trust with your brand for consistent and superior-quality packaging.
The Specialty Coffee Association, in 2016, launched the annual Coffee Design Awards to honour and showcase the great packaging designs in the speciality coffee industry around the globe. This is a great platform to find new inspiration and keep up with the latest trends and technologies. Onyx Coffee, pictured below, won the 2021 Award for Packaging.
In closing, there are many aspects to consider when it comes to specialty coffee packaging: both in terms of aesthetics and functionality. If you can explore these, you have made good progress in setting up a successful specialty coffee brand.
All of the best in coffee.
Way back in 2018, we introduced you to Kai and Mariska of Firefly biofuel - the firelighters made locally from used coffee grounds. (Read that article here! ) and for this issue of the Coffee Magazine (the new Autumn issue #35 - out now!) they have very generously supplied us with a whole box of the new Firespark JNR firelighters for you, our readers!
So what's the first thing we did? Well, we had a braai of course!
This is our honest review of the new JNR firespark, along with some new insights from Mariska and Kai about how to use them, why they are different from the original and how best to braai! Then, we have a competition for you all - it's at the bottom - no skipping ahead now!
Here we go - It's braaitime!
The first thing I noticed is how different they are to regular paraffin based firelighters. They are round, thin, have a hole in the middle and have wicks, like candles do... and they burn much like candles do, melting the firespark material that then burns like a candle.
A unique shape for a unique braaiing experience.
It was a bit of a windy day, so I battled to get them going at first, but once they took...shew!! They burned hot and long! I also didn't know how many to use, so I used two. I also didn't know if I should stand them up or lie them down...who knew there were so many variables!
Look at her burn!
Anyway, after I had had a very enjoyable braai, I was curious and had so many questions for the Team! So I mailed Mariska back with my experience and this is what she had to say...
The Firefly Biofuel was a pleasure to use… tell us again the story behind this product?
Really simple to be honest. When a friend of ours, that owns a furniture company, complained about the sawdust waste that she had to pay someone to remove from their workshop, Kai offered to build them a basic press to make some firewood for their fireplace. Suffice to say she said she didn’t have time for that and Kai can have at it.
He started playing with the idea of making home made firelighters for us as well at the same time. As it happened he spent 18 months changing out ingredients to meet my absolute high standards when it comes to being “safe around food”, “safe around the kids and pets” and of course, no tolerance for the petroleum stink and black smoke it makes when lighting.
He incredibly started experimenting with coffee waste from the house as it not just eliminates odours, but he found it to be an incredible high heat burning fuel along with the fact that burning coffee is a natural insect repellant. Many shapes later and the FireSpark original was born.
The FireSpark original was a bit too much we found (minimum of 20 minute burn and boil 600 mil of water over a firelighter itself) so we started with the FireSpark Jnr.
It must be a trade secret, but what else is in the Firefly FireSpark other than coffee?
No secrets! The FireSpark Jnr consists of used coffee, virgin sawdust, sugar and a vegetable based wax. The vegetable wax we use is of food grade and therefore does not contain ANY petroleum. Not a lot of people know this but even standard candle wax contains petroleum.
Where do you get your coffee grounds from?
We collect if from local coffee shops. :-)
It burns like a candle initially, tell us about the science behind it!
Very true. Due to the lack of petroleum to the product it does not flare up and burn out quick like petroleum firelighters. But we opted for the slow start…one helluva finish. Coffee burns 100 degrees hotter than petroleum which in effect makes it a hotter firelighter. Petroleum does have the quick light but if you give the FireSpark Jnr a chance to get to temperature it has a longer, cleaner and hotter burn. The FireSpark Jnr does have a bit of an educational aspect to it for sure and packing your fire fuel (wood / charcoal) in such a way that creates an oven effect for the FireSpark Jnr you will find that not only does it light faster with the radiated heat but protects it from wind as well for the humble beginning of its start up.
The hole in the middle also plays a significant role into creating a concentrated flame “like a Swedish rocket fire” This concentrated flame has a greater success in the burning process than petroleum fire that “is all over the place”
You will find that people most of the time use half or up to a whole box of petroleum firelighters to get their fires started.
How many should a person use for an ordinary braai. I used two, but does it depend on how big your fire is going to be or how much of a rush you’re in to get the braai going?
We always recommend first time users to use 2 FireSpark Jnr’s. We do find however that people start to get to know the product and realise that 1 is enough. We also love how our clients sends us images of “their” way they use the FireSpark Jnr. It really is up to the users that they find the “Best way for them” to use.
For us personally, 1 is enough for dry wood, and Kai would through in 2 or 3 if the wood is really wet. But other than that it’s also just on how you pack your wood and the ambient temperature. In hotter days….again the burn startup is quick and in colder days, well, the wax coating around the FireSpark Jnr that’s that second or two longer to melt.
The whole idea of the wicks are to assist you in lighting the FireSpark Jnr.
The fire spark was a bit tricky to get going in windy conditions, but the upside is there’s no paraffin like other brands…which must be a good thing?
Yes you are completely right. The FireSpark Jnr does take longer to light but with this one “negative” side of it, the positives that you get over the petroleum firelighters far outweigh this one point. :-)
Give us your tips on how to get the best…do you lie them up, like a wheel, or on their side like a disc?
This is so tricky! We add a business card on how to light the FireSpark Jnr in the box itself for first time users, but as mentioned…there are a million different ways our clients all believe they have found the best way. We love it and fully encourage first time users to give it just that little bit of patience the first couple of times and they will find that not only are they far better than petroleum firelighters, but better on their budgets also. Instead of buying 10 to 12 boxes of R10 firelighters a month, now they only have to buy 1 box of FireSpark Jnr’s.
To win a box of Firespark JNR, all you need to do is send us a photo of the Firespark BioFuel advert in the new issue of the Coffee Magazine! Whatsapp your photo and your name to Iain on 082 397 2792!