Coffee culture and specialty coffee in the Middle East: Coffee Planet and beyond

Recently, according to Trade Arabia it was announced that Coffee Planet, a coffee roaster and coffee shop chain in the Middle East signed a franchise agreement with HB Brands for 70 shops in Saudi Arabia. Coffee Planet, based in Dubai, embarked on the franchise concept in order to  expand its global presence, adding to its existing franchise agreements in UAE, Qatar, Pakistan and Malaysia.

According to Euromonitor, there are changes taking place in Middle Eastern coffee culture:

“Deeply-ingrained coffee-drinking traditions have collided with investment from international brands and a growing desire among young consumers to partake in Western dining traditions, creating a thriving segment of modern coffee shops that are now battling with traditional cafés” (Euromonitor, 2013)

The Managing Director of Coffee planet was quoted in Arabian business last year to say:

“The Middle East is cultivating more and more coffee drinkers, making it one of the fastest growing markets in the world for coffee consumption… We have observed first-hand how consumers’ knowledge and appreciation for good-quality coffee is constantly improving”.

According to the Coffee Planet website the coffee shops aim to incorporate “a touch of Coffee Planet’s Arabian heritage, the cafe design features a tribute to the UAE’s most iconic buildings while other inspiration has been taken from the crop-to-cup ethos of the brand with warm, earthy tones, exposed brick, brass, black tiling and wood finishes”  (Coffee Planet, 2016).

Coffee planet logoCoffee Planet has been active in the region for many years, first focusing on different aspects of the coffee industry. According the coffee planet website the company has developed as follows:

  • 2005: coffee planet was launched and coffee was sold on-the-go highway convenience stores.
  • 2007: expanded to provide coffee solutions to hotels, catering companies, airlines and offices.
  • 2008: opened a new roaster in Dubai and then expanded into retail across UAE and and GCC region, via selling coffee in supermarkets and specialist food stores.
  • 2009: first franchised café concept opened in UAE.
  • 2011: expansion of franchised cafés into other international markets.

The company emphasise their crop-to-cup approach so they know where their Arabica coffee comes from with relationships with a range of coffee farmers and producers across the world. To some extent, the expansion of such a coffee shop chain in the Middle East is not a surprise; despite a long history of coffee in the region, it is only in recent decades that the second and third wave coffee drinking habits have begun to take off.

There are a number of the western style coffee shop chains which have a presence in the region.  Starbucks has had a presence in the Middle East region since 1999, and now has hundreds of stores through a franchise agreement with Alshaya Group for stores in the region including,  Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (Starbucks, 2014). According to the Alshaya website there are 69 Starbucks in Saudi Arabia, so given the recent announcement from Coffee Planet, they appear to be aiming to become equal competition in terms of the number of outlets.Starbucks Dubai

Other chains include: Costa Coffee entered UAE 1999, and even now have the Middle East’s first drive through coffee shop in Dubai; Gloria Jeans  entered UAE in 1998 and through a franchise agreement with Al Khaja Group operates over 60 stores in the country; and Caribou coffee has ambitious plans for the Middle East with outlets in Kuwait and UAE, but longer term plans for over 250 stores across the region during the next decade.

“While coffee has been a part of daily life for a long time, the tradition has historically been tied to independent cafés that serve low-priced coffee to customers—mostly men—who come in to relax and socialize. Now a transition is underway, and consumers not typically served by such cafés are helping to drive a movement toward more modern, Western-style coffee culture in the tradition of Starbucks or Costa Coffee. Such outlets serve a much wider variety of premium beverages and have become gathering places for women, students and other groups of young people seeking comfortable, premium social destinations” (Euromonitor, 2013).

Beyond the western style coffee shop chains, there has been a growth in the number of specialty coffee shops too. In the Middle East, UAE has been at the more popular location for specialty coffee shop growth, but there appears to be growing interest from across the region. Recent growth has been most impressive in the UAE, where the region’s high disposable incomes, expat population, nightlife, and interest in premium, Western-style dining have encourage coffee shop growth (Euromonitor, 2013)

According to Arabian Business the Middle East is a growing market for coffee shops and specialty coffee with 2,200 new coffee shop licences issued between 2014-2016 alone, and various consultancy reports indicating the Middle East as a region with  growing coffee consumption. For many people it is the expats, and those who have travelled, and have been exposed to greater coffee variety and quality, as well as a range of brewing methods, that are driving increased demand:

“consumers in the region are increasingly drinking coffee for the appreciation of the beverage, as they become more aware of the origin, roasting techniques and even the altitude at which the beans were grown” (Arabian Business, 2016).

Some of the more well known specialty coffee companies in the Middle East include:

Raw Coffee CompanySpecialty Batch  Coffee, a coffee roaster, equipment supplier and coffee educator  all  in one, based in Dubai.  Raw Coffee Company, based in Dubai established in 2007, a specialty coffee chain that focuses on ethically sources coffee. Tom and Serg in Dubai bring a bit of Melbourne style coffee culture to the city, and has been so successful that the owners have also opened the café, roaster, bakery, the Sum of Us.

Stomping Grounds Specialty Coffee Hub in Dubai, where coffee meets science, art and customer service – according to their website. The Espresso Lab, again in Dubai, is a coffee lab and roastery.

Espresso Lab

While there is a concentration of specialty coffee providers in the UAE, and in particular in Dubai, there are places appearing across the region. For example in Saudi Arabia, there are a range of specialty coffee shops both in Riyadh (e.g . coffee Tale, Manual Brew Café, 12 Cups, J Café, Golden Kangaroo, The Roasting house, Mekyal Café, Brew Crew, Alchemy Coffee Roasters, Drip Coffee) and  in Jeddah (e.g. Warm and Frosty Café, Medd Cafe and Roastery, Brew 92, and Cup and Couch). Then there is Camel Step Coffee Roasters based in Riyadh, established in 2014 and have the vision to grow the Arabica coffee supply chain in a sustainable way through collaborative agricultural research and development. In Qatar , Flat White in Doha appears popular with those seeking specialty coffee.

These are just some examples of developments in the specialty coffee scene in the Middle East, which does go beyond the UAE and Saudi Arabia. It will be interesting to see how the coffee shop and specialty coffee industries continue to develop in the region in the coming years.

While there are many positive trends in terms of coffee and coffee shop growth in the middle East,  co-owner of Mokha 1450, Garfield Kerr highlights that there are issues for future potential growth of the specialty coffee industry in the region, talking about the UAE specifically he said:

“There are also a limited number of individuals with the disposable income to pay for a cup of specialty coffee in the UAE so the market is quite limited, though the growth trend is positive.  Someone who wants to get in should know it is not as easy as it looks and they should do their homework and acquire the necessary SCAE certifications before moving forward.”

There is clear interest in coffee shops and specialty coffee in the region, as shown by the ambition of Coffee Planet, although greater research is needed to explore how the coffee industry is developing in different countries across the region, and to consider the potential future pathways for growth.


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New adventures of a latte parent

I first came across the terms ‘latte mums’ and ‘latte dads’ when reading about how for many parents on extended parental leave in Scandinavia, spending time in cafés is part of the norm (Wiklund, 2008; Eriksson, 2005).  I later read about ‘lattes mammas’ and ‘latte pappas’ in Sweden in an article entitled ‘Lattes on Leave’ in Drift Magazine, which explores how extended parental leave in Sweden has led to the popularity of coffee shops among parents in the country.

‘fika is central when you are on parental leave, because you’re extremely tired, and you need tons of strong coffee… Whether you’re in the historic district of Gmala Stan,or the more residential upscale neighbourhood of Östermalm, it’s hard not to notice strollers, or prams, lining the sidewalks outside nearly every café….I think there are two or three cafes in all of Stockholm that don’t have high chairs for babies’ (Almedia and Surico in Drift Magazine, 2016).

At the outset of my project on cafés I had already identified parents as a key consumer group, but it wasn’t at the time something I had first-hand experience of. This was however, about to change.

Before having a baby I’d noticed how some cafés tend to be more ‘baby friendly’ than others, but when you have a baby, you really notice it. Little things like a step to get in the shop can act as a real barrier, or not enough space to get the pushchair anywhere close to the coffee bar is really frustrating, and sometimes the silence of the café is just too intimidating to take the baby inside. On the flip side when you see a stack of baby books in the corner, or a small box of toys near one of the tables, it’s usually a good sign. Then of course, there are the attitudes of other consumers, and sometimes even staff which can provide unwelcoming environments to parents with young children. Although, in many places staff can be very welcoming and helpful, which for some mothers who feel isolated as they enter a new stage of their lives, this is so important. Fortunately, the experiences I’ve had have been more of the latter, particularly in Coventry and Birmingham, with very few issues, but unfortunately I have friends who have not had the same experience.

I’ve been extremely lucky by having such a wonderful baby that in general when you take her into a café, in fact anywhere in public, she tends to just put on a beaming smile and look like the epitome of contentment, but this isn’t always the case. When you have a screaming baby, the last thing you want is people looking at you, and so a quiet coffee shop becomes the last place you want to enter, even if you are desperate for a sit down and something to eat or drink, or somewhere to feed the baby, or some kind of interaction with another human being that isn’t the baby.

Shortly before going on maternity leave a colleague mentioned a couple of times how ‘cafés were a lifeline’ when she was on maternity leave, and in many ways they have been for me too. There are very few places that you can go to in a city centre where you can pretty much guarantee a friendly welcome, a sit down, a safe space to be with your baby, and get much needed replenishment! Although as I’ve already noted, not all of these places feel welcoming!

It’s not just in the city I live where cafés have been important. Whenever we have travelled to visit friends, or for work, we have to think of places where we can feed the baby, and inevitably we head for a café. One in particular that has been a favourite was a different kind of café: Ziferblat in Manchester, where you pay for the amount of time you spend there rather than the goods you consume. I’ve written about Ziferblat before; it’s an interesting model, and is clearly very popular for people who don’t have a fixed office to work in, but it’s also a very welcoming space for someone with a young child. The branch in Manchester feels very much like a large living room and kitchen. When travelling with a very small baby it was a relief to arrive in Manchester and have somewhere we felt we could relax and would provide a calm environment where we could feed/change/entertain the baby, and refresh ourselves too.

A particular issue that has reached the media a number of times in relation to coffee shops and parents is about the treatment of breastfeeding mothers, with stories of mothers being made to feel uncomfortable either by other customers, or staff, or thankfully in some cases, stories of supportive staff too!  Just before I had the baby I was given a leaflet which had a list of ‘breastfeeding friendly’ places around the city. It hadn’t really occurred to me at the time, that there would be breastfeeding unfriendly places, and at the end of the day if the baby needs feeding it should be fed! It’s sad that breastfeeding remains an issue that has to be discussed in terms of friendly and unfriendly places, but that discussion is for another time and another place.

I recently read about a café in Nottingham which is the UK’s first purpose built breastfeeding café. The Milk Lounge, is designed to be a friendly and welcoming space for those breastfeeding, and for those with young children more generally, with facilities such as a baby sensory room, as well as a range of activities scheduled such as baby massage. Charlotte Purdie who established the café explains her motivations here. The café has been so successful that a second branch has opened. There are a number of examples  of coffee shops that were designed with family in mind, including: in Coventry, Coffee Tots, a coffee shop which is designed to be welcoming to parents, and has various activities associated with it; in Bristol, the Hungry Caterpillar, a play café; and the Bear and Wolf in London which has a play area at the back. If you know of any other interesting examples, please do let me know.

“The Hungry Caterpillar is one of a number of play cafés opening up across the country, as parents increasingly look to bridge the gap between soft play centres and the trendy coffee shops they went to before they had children. While the kindercafé movement took off in Berlin five years ago, making the city a great destination for families, the trend has only just started to gain momentum here.” (Telegraph 20/04/2015)

As this article from the Telegraph from a couple of years ago suggests there is a growing number of these family focused cafés, whether it is those with a focus on soft play, or those still with a focus on the food and coffee as well as providing a toddler friendly space; it would be interesting to explore how many of these there really are. I’m pretty sure I would have a willing research assistant!

Undoubtedly, as my colleague suggested, cafés have been (and are likely to continue to be) a ‘lifeline’ over the last year, and fortunately the staff in our ‘local’ café have been fantastic, and very welcoming from the beginning. As a consequence baby Ferreira is very happy when visiting cafés, particularly where there is the opportunity to people watch.

This has been a much more personal blog post than you will usually find on ‘café spaces’, but given the amount of time I have spent in cafés on maternity leave, and the importance they have had in my well-being during this time, I felt it important to highlight that as a social space, for many parents and carers, cafés are really important.


  • Almeida, A. and Surico, J. (2016) ‘Lattes on Leave’ Drift. p.50-53.
  • Eriksson, T. (2005) Nu kommer lattepapporna. Aftonbladet.
  • Wiklund, L. (2008) Lattemamman vågar ta plats. Dagens Nyheter.
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Exploring the journey from a research idea to research reality: inspiration to impact

This week I took part in the Coventry University 2017 Conference to talk about the how the research featured on the café spaces blog got started, and how it has developed. ‘Exploring the journey from a research idea to research reality: inspiration to impact’ was a short talk which explored how I have developed the café industry research over the last few years. It covered how I turned a research idea into a research project, and since then have sought to consider opportunities for research impact, and engaged research with continued dialogue and interaction with stakeholders.

As well as talking about the development of the initial research proposal I explored how I have used a variety of strategies and tools to transform a few research ideas into a broad research agenda with many research avenues to follow, including: academic, publications and conferences; building networks (with academics, industry the public and policy), industry interaction, publications, a research blog and social media.

If you’re interested, the slides are available here.

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Sustainable coffee cups: HuskeeCup

Readers of this blog will know that I’m interested in how the coffee shop industry is trying to make itself more sustainable. A key issue, particularly in the UK recently, has been about the sustainability of coffee cups, in particular the disposable ones, and the amount of landfill  they create. With an ongoing interest on this issue I’ve been collecting various examples of companies that produce ‘more sustainable’ coffee cups either those for use in the coffee shop or as a reusable or takeaway option.

There have been various attempts to use some of the byproducts of coffee from cascara to the coffee grounds.  I’ve even heard of examples of cups made from coffee grounds. But recently I learnt about another coffee cup made from coffee husks, or chaff. HuskeeCup use coffee husks (the layer around the coffee bean) in order to produce a reusable, recyclable cup. I have seen examples where coffee husks have been used for composting, and even as fuel, but this is the first time I had heard about it being used as part of cup production.

At the end of the harvest, coffee farmers are left with tonnes of this organic material. While it has previously been used as a fertilizer supplement and even a carbonized fuel source, there is currently no economically viable and sustainable way of dealing with it. HuskeeCup is the first solution of its kind to address this issue. (HuskeeCup, 2017)

According to the infographic from HuskeeCup the average coffee drinker is responsible for over 3 kg of coffee husk waste each year, and that 1.35 million tonnes of husk waste is produced each year globally, indicating the scale of the waste issue. In addition to being a more sustainable coffee cup option, it also claims to keep your coffee hotter for longer.


It’s clearly made an impression with a very positive response to their Kickstarter campaign already, and they have also won an award for their Design in the ‘Best Coffee Vessel’ category at this year’s Global Specialty Coffee Expo. Another great example of how companies are attempting to utilise byproducts of coffee production.

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Book Review: What I know about running coffee shops by Colin Harmon

I have no intention of ever opening a coffee shop. I am interested in the coffee shop industry, how it operates, and the impact it has on society; but for me I only ever intend to be on the customer side of the coffee bar. So, why did I read this book? As the introduction highlights, ‘What I know about running coffee shops’ wasn’t just written for those in the coffee community it was meant for a broader audience, and I think the author has successfully managed to do this in.

The author, Colin Harmon is the founder of 3FE (a coffee company with a series of shops in Dublin), an Irish Barista Champion and co-host of the Tamper Tantrum podcast.  3FE is seen as one of the pioneers of specialty coffee in Ireland, and has expanded since it was established in 2009 to now include two shops, a sister café, a subscription service and online store, a wholesale business.

3FE Ireland coffee shop

The book would of course be of interest to those working in the coffee industry, and in particular those contemplating opening a coffee shop, or who run one already. But more generally, the book provides interesting insights into the world of running a coffee shop to anyone that visits coffee shops.

After an introduction which documents how Colin’s coffee shops came to fruition, the book is organised into six sections: the building, the café, coffee, staff, culture and numbers, each of which is broken down into a series of small sub-chapters a few pages in length. The organisation of the book really helps its readability, short sections providing a range of vignettes into important considerations for running a coffee shop, from choosing a location, loyalty cards and how to hire people, to social media and understanding margins.

What I know about running coffee shops

Towards the beginning of the book Colin makes a couple of statements which illustrate what I have been trying to explore in my research about cafes to date:

‘Cafes serve a purpose beyond making money. They become a social hub for friends, families, businesses and strangers to meet and interact in a safe, friendly environment’.

‘A neighbourhood café does so much to bring communities together’.

Cafes in many places act as community hubs, whether this is a place for individuals to begin interaction with their local community, or for groups of people to gather for work or leisure; it’s good to see this acknowledged from the industry side too.

I recently wrote about coffee shops and social media, and it was interesting to read Colin’s views on how coffee shops should use social media, and they mirror much of what I have heard from several other coffee shop businesses:

‘…social media accounts need to be reflective of the business itself – and its customers – or it really starts to jar. Small businesses have a huge advantage over large businesses because you’ve a massive opportunity to show your audience that there are real personalities behind the business. That does more to engage your customers than any hashtag ever will’.

There are many highlights to this book, which for anyone running a café (or contemplating doing so) would I’m sure find useful, and for anyone who visits cafes, provides an interesting perspective to consider from the other side of the coffee bar. There’s a lot more to running a coffee shop than just serving coffee.

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Coffee shops and Social Media

Everybody’s got the best coffee on Instagram’ according Jared Truby and Chris Baca, the founders of Cat and Cloud coffee, who recently talked about social media on their podcast. If you have a quick look at the picture of coffee on the social media platform you might think they would be right.

Instagram coffee pictures

So how do cafes use social media to stand out from the crowd if everyone is posting about coffee? I’ve had many conversations with people in the cafe industry about the role of social media, about how businesses and consumers use it, and about some of the issues with it. Recently I listened to a discussion on the Cat and Cloud podcast which touched on some of the issues related to cafes and social media. They raise the point that in some cases the image a cafe projects of itself online is not necessarily the same as what you would experience in person.

‘If you have to play dress up for your social media, you’re doing it wrong’.

This quote from the podcast mirrors discussions I’ve had with many businesses in the cafe industry. While there is a temptation to try to have perfect images to represent your business online to the world, it needs to be an accurate reflection of the business, otherwise if people do visit and it’s not up to the Instagram standard, it leads to disappointment (and people are less likely to visit again).

coffee and cake instagram

For Chris and Jared, social media should be a reflection of what cafes do on a daily basis: ‘if you are not so proud of what you’re doing, that you have to cultivate this fake image on social media – you’re not doing the right things, you’re not connected to your own brand’. And ‘if you’re not so proud of what you’re doing that you have to cultivate this fake image on social media that’s sub par, but acting like you’re doing something amazing, instead you should be focusing your energy on doing something amazing, and sharing that with the world’.

coffee in an easter eggThey highlight that social media has a lot to do with what’s ‘on trend’ at the time, in order to gather followers. And while this is fine – businesses have to move with the times – people often want a more personal connection, through social media, to cafe businesses, and not just to be faced with images and messages about the latest cafe trend whether its cold brew, cronuts,  turmeric lattes or coffee in an easter egg.

If you look on Instagram there’s an endless supply of pictures of coffee, and all things related to cafes. Many of these images, particularly from the larger cafe chains, are set up deliberately and heavily edited.

starbucks instagram

A cafes presence on social media is supposed to reflect what your business is about, providing a channel for people to connect with the business, and not just show customers what comes out of your company, according to many cafe owners I’ve spoken to.

‘If you don’t feel comfortable sharing with the world things you’re doing on a daily basis, you’re probably doing the wrong thing’. Chris and Jared suggest that if you’re going to use social media, use it chronicle what you do on a day-to-day basis. What takes place inside your cafe space? Who are the people behind the coffee?

For some cafes, using social media is about promoting their goods, with the intent to sell more products. But as Jared and Chris point out: ‘selling shouldn’t be based around pitching anything, it should be a reflection of something you’re doing, and should sell itself’. While pictures of cafe products are important, so are people – they help other people connect with a brand. This concept has been picked up by many of the larger cafe chains who have run social media campaigns which ask customers to post a picture of themselves with their favourite drink etc. But equally for smaller independent business, its a way for customers to get to know the brains behind their daily caffeine fix or favourite cafe space, and many independent cafes have used this to their fully advantage. When there isn’t a marketing budget, social media is often the main method of reaching the customer base.

‘Oh cool picture of coffee. Oh cool picture of pastry next to coffee’.

This quote from the Cat & Cloud podcast made my laugh a little, because actually when I’ve looked at some Instagram feeds, or twitter feeds, this is actually the kind of thing that I’ve thought in my head. So what’s the point of these images – for them to be beautiful to make me want to visit the cafe? Often they just make me hungry, feel the need to go and make coffee! But really, to effectively use social media, you need to do something a little bit more than just pictures of coffee and pastries (as nice and mouth watering as they are to look at). Jared and Chris stress that it’s important to think about the story you want to share, and you can do that with what ever technology you have, it doesn’t have to be a high-end DSLR camera – that’s not what it’s about. It doesn’t have to be a heavily edited picture perfect cinnamon bun, with a latte with an intricate leaf pattern (at least not all the time). It should give consumers a window into the world of your business.

One comment I’ve heard from some cafe owners about social media is that a huge proportion of their followers won’t ever visit the cafe, or buy their products. So what’s the point? ‘What is the return on you pitching your stuff out there really hard, spending time putting all these things together what’s you’re return in sales? Some have argued that any increased online presence has the potential to increase your customer base in real life, and that generally it can be good to have a huge pool of consumers that you can intersect with to gauge reception to new ideas, products or ways of doing things.

There are of course, many different social media platforms too, which can make it even more challenging for businesses to know which to use. As the Cat & Cloud guys highlight: to get enough followers on twitter, takes a lot of work (and time), and the same can be said for a lot of other platforms too, and for their business they favour Instagram. In different countries too there are preferences for different types of social media platforms – Facebook and Instagram seem to be preference for cafes in Portugal, whereas in the UK many cafes make much more use of Instagram and Twitter. So thinking about the audience is really important in targeting social media efforts – which platforms are customers using?

‘The world is a visual place now’ remarks Chris, any clearly given the popularity of Instagram and other methods of sharing images on social media, this seems to be the case. But as Chris and Jared highlight, the images posted need to be more than just products. ‘It’s ok to have intentionality on your social media’ – Yes, use images to let customer know about your new products, but don’t make that all your social media feed is about.

manmakecoffee instagram

While many cafe businesses are keen to use social media to grow their audience and attract new customers, many are also wary of using it, usually for fear of negative reviews or negative press. Having social media accounts provides an immediate channel for customers to say how great they think your cafe is, but equally if they’re not happy, to say something about it. There are plenty of examples where both large and small cafe business have had a backlash from their activities, whether this is on the large-scale of issues around the tax scandal and Starbucks, or on a small-scale where a disgruntled customer chooses to complain online. Of the businesses I have spoken to, they feel that social media benefits tend to outweigh the disadvantages, acknowledging that it can be used as a great way to access a broader audience quite easily, but recognising that this does take time and effort to do.

starbucks tax twitter

Early in the Cat and Cloud podcast they ask: ‘How do you make a better social media connection and customer experience’? Based on their advice, and evidence I have gathered from talking with people working in the cafe industry, here are a few suggestions:

  • Use social media as way for customers to see what your business is about, an insight into the activities that take place there, and the people who make your business what it is.
  • Use social media to engage with your customers. It’s a great way to connect with your local community, and from those further afield who may end up one day visiting your cafe.
  • Don’t just use social media to try to sell goods or advertise promotions.
  • Choose your platforms carefully. Don’t have a range of social media accounts if they are not suitable for your customer base, or you don’t have time to maintain them all.
  • Try to post regularly on which ever platforms you choose.
  • Should a negative response take place, try to respond promptly.

This post has mainly considered views around the use of social media from the business side of cafes. But as a cafe consumer too, there are benefits. If you like to find new places to visit, social media can often be a great place to find out about places to try – from the social media accounts of cafes themselves, to the multitude of great bloggers who tend to be active on social media that are actively engaged in sharing information about cafes and roasters. And if you don’t want to find somewhere new, it can be a good at to engage with your regular cafe. Perhaps you’ve never really interacted with the business before, other than asking for your drink and a bit of small talk with the staff. So I’m at the stage where I’ve collected various bits of data around social media and the cafe industry, from both the business and consumer side of things, and hopefully it’s something I will get to explore in more detail in the near future. If you have thoughts on the benefits and pitfalls of social media and the cafe industry, get in touch!

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Café culture in Coventry

Coventry is a welcoming city, a changing city, and a city full of culture –  it has submitted a bid to be the UK City of Culture 2021. When you think of café culture, Coventry probably isn’t the first city in the UK you think of, but like most cities across the UK, there is a thriving and growing café culture; one that’s changing all the time too. Last year I wrote a short blog post about some of the cafés in Coventry, but like in many places, there is a churn of businesses, and while some of those written about are no longer here (Urban Coffee Company at Fargo Village, and Meseta), new ones have appeared, albeit in different places (e.g. Myrtles Coffee and Finney’s Coffee Co). I have been working on a project called ‘Spaces of Community: exploring the dynamics of the UK café industry’ which has been investigating the growth and development of the café industry and café culture across the country. Since I am based in Coventry, it made sense to explore what is happening in this city, and it became one of the case studies (alongside Manchester, Birmingham, London, and Bristol). You can read the summary report of the research here).

While Coventry doesn’t necessarily have a huge range of the so-called ‘third wave’ coffee shops, it had an incredibly rich variety of cafés across the city, from your local café where you can guarantee a great breakfast, to coffee houses which have their own blend of coffee, to social enterprises who use profits to fund charity activities. For my research, Coventry was particularly important as many of the cafés display exactly what I was trying to evidence – cafés are important social hubs in cities and communities. Cafés both in the city centre, and out towards the suburbs act as important places for people to meet, work, and socialise.

I’ve made a map of most of the cafés in Coventry – it includes both independent and chain cafés, and has sought to represent the diversity of cafés that are present in Coventry. If I have missed one that you think should be on the map, do get in touch!

As you can see from the map there are plenty of places to visit. How you feel about cafés and what they offer is quite personal; different people want different things from a café (at different times, and on different days), so you really do have to try them to find out what you like. Here are a few highlights:

Kahawa Cafe Coventry Coffee ShopKahawa Café (on Union Street). Many people have their ‘local’ café, and for me this is Kahawa. I discovered this place via a conversation on Twitter not long after starting to work in Coventry, and since then its become my usual pit stop, at first for a break from work, and more recently when on maternity leave to take a break with my daughter. The coffee and service here is excellent, they have a broad menu of drinks, and their own blend of coffee which you can buy to drink at home too. I have yet to find a vanilla latte that can beat the one from here. But more importantly, I can always guarantee a friendly welcome, which for many people is what they want when they are visiting a café.

Finney’s Coffee Co opened in 2016 and has become a popular spot in the city, with both indoor and outdoor seating, it provides  a bit of street café culture to the city. Serving Union Coffee, they have information cards about the coffee they serve on the table, so for those where the coffee origin is important, this is a good place to try.

The Rising Café, based in Coventry Cathedral, is often listed at the top of cafés in Coventry on trip advisor. The café is a social enterprise where profits go directly towards the work of the charity Betel.  The 1940s’ theme goes through from décor to the menu, where dishes range from the Clark Gable salad, to the Rising from the Rubble sandwich.  They have a broad menu of food and drink, and have a very popular afternoon tea option.

Fargo Village, often mentioned as the ‘Camden of Coventry’, is a great place in the city, a creative quarter with a range of independent businesses brought together in one location. It has been home to cafes such as Urban Coffee Company in the past, but there are others here which are worth visiting including: Spangles, an American themed cereal café, deli diner & shake bar that has become well known for its Freakshakes; Bubble Boba a bubble tea and milkshake bar; and the Big Comfy Bookshop, an independent book shop which also served tea, coffee and cake (and recently won the What’s On Best Independent Coffee Shop in Coventry & Warwickshire award) which is expanding soon.

Ed’s Coffee, is stall in Coventry Market, not a café – although you can get filter coffee ‘to-go’. It’s an important feature for Coventry though as it is one of the few places where you can buy a range of coffee beans (and have them ground to your requirements) and coffee brewing equipment.  Coventry market is one of the highlights of the city, a fantastic place to buy fresh food and other goods, and definitely one of the friendliest places I visit in the city. I’ve tried a few of the coffees from Ed’s, a particular favourite is the Papua New Guinea beans, but the Kenyan beans ground for aeropress were great too.

As in most cities there is a strong presence of chain cafés across the city – and they make a great contribution to the city too – from the often friendly staff, to the outside seating to take advantage of whenever the sun decides to make an appearance. There are numerous Costa Coffee’s and Starbuck’s in the city centre, and in the retail parks around the city, and one Caffe Nero store in the city centre. The Caffe Nero store has a particularly interesting location in the Lower Precinct Shopping centre, it is a round café which essentially acts like a giant fish bowl, and is great for sitting above the busy hustle of the people below. Like in most of the cafés in Coventry, the staff there are incredibly friendly which always makes the place feel welcoming – and they have fresh pastries too!

A chain which appears to have a growing presence is Esquires Coffee; it  has a couple of locations in Coventry – one in the West Orchards shopping centre, and another in the Coventry Transport Museum. Aside from the food and drinks, the branch in the transport museum holds various events too, such as Coffee and Board games,  a baking club and even a Comedy Night – a great example of how cafés can develop into community hubs.

Esquires Coventry Coffee ShopFor some people ice cream parlours wouldn’t really be considered cafés, but really, they fulfil a lot of the same functions, they just centre around ice cream rather than coffee, and for the purposes of exploring café culture that has developed in Coventry they are important. There are a couple of ice cream cafés in Coventry, but Sprinkles in the city centre (opposite the transport museum) is a particular delight. The coffee is good, but really it’s the choice of ice cream to go for, plus the crepes, waffles or milkshakes!

Café culture in Coventry is not confined to the city centre, there are places spread around the city from the Mocha Lounge in Allesley Park to Conroy’s in the Memorial Park. In particular, Earlsdon has a collection of independent cafés:  Zafiri’s is a great place with a broad food and drinks menu (the milkshakes are definitely worth trying), as well as Millsys, Kendall’s and the Juice House. There are new places opening in Coventry too, and the most recent addition in Earlsdon is Myrtles Coffee. Despite only opening in May 2017 the place seems to be very popular, and it’s easy to see why. The place is welcoming, with very friendly staff, a great selection of cakes, and excellent coffee. They had an interesting food menu too. A fantastic new addition to the cafés of Coventry.

Each of these places adds to the café culture of Coventry in a different way, through the spaces they offer for people to visit, socialise, work and spend time. They all do things differently, offering a variety of food and drink, seating arrangements, and events. Coventry may not be the first place you think of when you hear about café culture, but like many other cities across the country, cafés in Coventry act as spaces of community. In this city there are plenty of these friendly café spaces whether you need a caffeine fix, a place to meet your friends, or  a place to sit and contemplate life while the world goes by.

If you know of a great café in Coventry that isn’t listed, or hasn’t been mentioned here, do get in touch – its always great to find new places – and I hope the growing cafe culture in Coventry continues.

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Growing coffee shop culture in Nigeria: Cafe Neo and beyond

Historically, African countries are associated with growing coffee, rather than coffee consumption, although recent activity suggests this might be changing. I came across a video from CNN about a coffee company in Nigeria, Café Neo, which demonstrates a growing trends for coffee shops.

Café Neo founded in 2012 describes itself as representing ‘a modern and vibrant approach to celebrating Africa’s coffee heritage’. The company has stores in number countries but with a concentration in Lagos, Nigeria (14 stores at the time of writing), and has ambitions to continue to grow to 20-30 stores over the next few years.

Cafe Neo coffee shop nigeria storesAccording to Ngozi Dozie CEO and co-founder, they want to bring back the best of coffee culture in Africa, and through Café Neo they are using a three-pronged approach: opening stores in downtown locations, opening stores in commercial buildings and selling Neo branded coffee and capsules.

Coffee: Africa’s Gift to business opportunity

The founders of Café Neo, Ngozi and Chijoke Dozie, view coffee as a gift to the continent and want to have the best coffee in Africa, drank in Africa (currently used Arabica beans grown in Rwanda). Having worked abroad, they are attempting to replicate the kinds of spaces they have seen in other countries, a coffee shop business which provides a place to have a drink, to work, with free wi-fi and jazz music, and providing a collaborative space for entrepreneurs to thrive. The menu wouldn’t look out of place in many other Starbucks-like stores around the world with coffee based drinks and juices, and a range of cakes and pastries. Acknowledging that they want to capture the market before Starbucks the founders highlight, “the demand (in Lagos) is very high. There’s a significant minority of people who love coffee and want to drink coffee but haven’t had access to coffee”.

While the Nigerian market might appear challenging to some international companies, not at least because of the infrastructure costs related to keeping electricity going through power shortages, it has not stopped companies such as KFC, Dominos or more recently Krispy Kreme from trying to establish themselves in Nigeria. It will be interesting to see how long it will be before Starbucks or Costa Coffee try to establish themselves there too, given the clear interest in these types of spaces. At present, there is not a huge amount of competition, but the number of coffee shops is beginning to rise.  One example is Umutu Coffee Co, which describes itself as a Nigerian Gather House has a flagship store in Lagos airport, as well as a store in Victoria Island, the area of the city where Café Neo stores concentrate.

Beyond the border

Outside of Nigeria, across Africa, there are signals of coffee shop growth.  Starbucks opened its first store in South Africa in 2016 recognising a market that was ‘vibrant and growing’. As explored in this  Ventures Africa article, there are a number of companies alongside Café Neo who have sought to develop coffee shops in Africa: Deluxe Coffeeworks – Gardens, Cape Town; Café du Livre, Marrakesh; Tomoca Coffee Shop, Ethiopia (established in 1953); and Cuppa Cappuccino, Accra. And there are other successful coffee shop chains:  in Ethiopia, Kaldi’s Coffee was founded in 2005 and has over 30 stores across Addis Ababa; and Java House which established its first outlet in 1999 now has over 35 outlets across Kenya and Uganda. And it’s not just coffee shops trying to emulate the western style chain coffee shops, there are a rising number of independent coffee shops too, as explored in this blog post from Coffey and Cake which highlights some of the best coffee shops in South Africa, or from the Culture Trip on coffee shops in Nairobi, Kenya. Africa is a diverse continent, growing a wide variety of coffees and if current trends continue, most likely it will develop a variety of coffee shop cultures too.


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Coffee and cafe culture in Portugal: revisited

As I mentioned in the previous post, I’ve recently been to Portugal and had the opportunity to explore a bit more of its coffee culture.

In Portugal, unlike the UK, drinks bought in the café tend to stay in the café, and consequently there isn’t a huge amount of coffee cup waste entering into landfill. The most common coffee, espresso, is often drank at the bar, there is no need for a takeaway cup. However, I’ve noticed that in the centre of Porto signs have begun to appear which highlight that some cafés do now have takeaway options – likely to appeal to the tourists in the area. In some ways it’s sad to see more takeaway coffee available, partly because that isn’t really the culture around there – it’s great to be able to sit in a Portuguese café and really experience the place you are in; and secondly there are issues around sustainability and increased waste. Although it was great to see in Mesa325 which did offer takeaway options, had KeepCups for sale too!

As I discussed in a previous post, some international chain cafés have a presence in Portugal with Costa Coffee being placed right outside the arrivals gate at Porto airport (and in the departure lounge too), and in the very centre of Porto near the Clérigos tower. It’s clearly a popular and busy café, but then given it is right next to a popular tourist site, this isn’t surprising. Unlike the Costa’s in the UK, this one stays open much later into the evening.

There is a growing specialty coffee scene in Porto, and I managed to try Mesa325 (after finding about via Brian’s Coffee Spot), one of the pioneers of specialty coffee in Porto; a lovely place just a short walk from the very centre of Porto. They had both Luso Coffee and Vernazza coffee on offer. This café had a lovely feel to it, a range of seating options, and the decor shows the people who run the place clearly know their coffee (Standart magazines hanging at the side is a nice touch), and are supporting other independent businesses (such as micro-roaster Luso Coffee Roasters, and the craft brewer Musa).

We ended up trying Luso Ethiopian Coffee via V60, one of the nicest V60 brews I’ve had anywhere. One thing readers from the UK might notice is how much cheaper the coffee is here compared to UK prices (€1.60 for V60) – although this is still more expensive than the traditional Portuguese cafés (because of the higher quality coffee). While you can see in the photo of the coffee bar there are a number of cakes and pastries on offer, there is also a much wider food menu available too which I would highly recommend. While it would clearly appeal to tourists looking for a third wave style coffee shop, there were plenty of local people in here too. If I lived in Porto this would definitely become a favourite.

I also dropped by a branch of Armazém do Caffè, a chain of coffee shops in Portugal that are similar to the Costa/Starbucks style, although they sell a wide range of coffee beans here – I was tempted by some of the Jamaica Blue Mountain but we already have so many coffee beans stacking up in the house I decided to hold back this time.

While most of the specialty coffee we found on offer was in the centre of Porto, there is specialty coffee available outside the city too. Combi Coffee, who operate out of a coffee truck, move around and are often based  near beaches where surfing is taking place. The week I was there they were based around the Douro Marina in Vila Nova de Gaia, but we didn’t manage to make it over there. However,we did get to try Combi Coffee, in a smaller city just below Porto: Esphinho. This is a small city, known for its beaches, and as one of the best surfing spots in the north of Portugal. Just outside the train station we noticed a takeawy coffee sign one evening and the next day went back to see what the café was like, and were particularly interested given we couldn’t see the usual coffee branding that is usually outside of Portuguese cafés to indicate what coffee they use (Buondi, Sical, Nicola etc).

Pão de Dó which opened last year is a coffee house which serves Combi coffee. It has a musical theme to it, and even has a large piano inside, and describes itself as an artisanal café. Given the specialty coffee and teas, as well as range of cakes and chocolates on offer, you can see why. There was also a range of food available, and it was interesting to hear from the barista that they had recently changed the menu in order to incorporate more ‘American breakfast’ options (granola, bagels etc). Although we couldn’t buy the Combi coffee here to take home, we weren’t the first to ask, so there is clearly some demand for specialty coffee for home consumption.

And then most of the visits to cafés in Portugal were to the more traditional Portuguese cafés/bakeries that I have come to enjoy so much. And of course we visited the café I mentioned as my favourite place before, for the croissants more than the coffee. Novo Século has become our ‘local’ café and what’s lovely about this place is that despite only visiting a couple of times a year the waitress always remembers what we have; particularly impressive when you see the turnover of people that visit here. It’s a proper community café/bakery, based below some apartments and acting as a hub for the people that live nearby. It’s clearly also on some kind of trekking route as there now often seem to be people in walking gear with backpacks stopping here too.

For someone with an interest in coffee, cafés and coffee culture, Portugal is a fascinating place. It has a long-standing and rich coffee culture, but it is experiencing some shifts, not just in the urban centres, and it will undoubtedly be a country I continue to explore.

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Specialty coffee culture in Portugal: Luso Coffee Roasters

Portugal is famous for its coffee culture; drinking coffee is an important part of every day life across the country. Cafes are present everywhere you can think of, right down to the most remote villages.  However, the specialty coffee industry has recently begun to emerge in Portugal with a handful of specialty coffee roasters and places serving specialty coffee; the industry is clearly growing.

Mesa325 Portugal Specialty Coffee

Inside Mesa325 – specialty coffee for sale

As I mentioned in a previous post about coffee culture in Portugal,  there are a number of specialty coffee businesses concentrated in the big cities for example: in Lisbon (e.g. Fabrica Coffee Roasters, Copenhagen Coffee Lab); and in Porto (e.g. Vernazza, Luso Coffee Roasters, Combi, Mesa 325, BOP, and the Coffee Room). On a recent trip to Porto I had the chance to explore some of these places, and coffee culture more generally in Portugal.

I’m interested how the specialty coffee industry is developing in Portugal given it is a country where coffee culture is so embedded in the lifestyle, and the particular style of coffee (espresso with sugar) is so popular. While in Portugal I had the chance to meet up with Diogo Amorim, founder of Luso Coffee Roasters to talk about specialty coffee culture in Portugal, and about running a specialty coffee roaster business.

Luso Coffee Roaster Portugal Specialty CoffeeLuso Coffee Roaster Sugar Portugal Specialty CoffeeLuso Coffee Roasters is a micro-roaster based outside Porto. There are a variety of coffees on offer including a blend that is designed to appeal somewhat to Portuguese tastes for coffee (the Viriato blend). Importing the beans from a range of countries they are then roasted on demand. Luso has a coffee cart which is used at some events, and there are ambitions for a site in Porto to sell Luso Coffee in the future, but for now it is available and from a variety of places in Porto. I had actually tried some coffee from Luso the previous day in Mesa325; a lovely smooth coffee via V60. While talking to Diogo we tried some of the Viriato blend, and unlike with standard espresso from Portugal, you really don’t need sugar with this one (although Luso does have sugar available – with a helpful hint on the back).

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Demand from tourists, and those who have travelled abroad, seem to be key drivers of specialty coffee growth in Portugal. When you consider the locations of where specialty coffee is on offer in Portugal this makes sense, either in the centre of cities, or relatively close to hotels where tourists might stay (I found specialty coffee on offer outside of Porto, which I will explore in another blog post soon). A potential barrier for a broader consumer base for specialty coffee in Portugal (as in many other markets) is price. A typical espresso in Portugal can cost as little as 0.50. But as Diogo, and many other people who work in the specialty coffee industry have pointed out you are paying for high quality coffee with specialty coffee. Will specialty coffee ever become mainstream in Portugal? Only time will tell, but for now, there are an emerging number of coffee businesses that are worth exploring.


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