Understanding coffee trends in Saudi Arabia

Maira Kanai-Nasir
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October 18, 2023
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In 2021, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) exported around $16.7 million in coffee, with its main destinations being across the Middle East. In the same year, the region imported a whopping $368 million in coffee, with the majority coming from Ethiopia. 

Notably, the coffee market in Saudi Arabia is expected to reach $5.98 billion by 2029. This prediction may be an indication of the volume of coffee being exported from the region as opposed to the number it imports. 

Beyond this, the kingdom is among the top 10 countries in terms of coffee consumption. According to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) report, Saudi Arabia imports between 70,000 and 90,000 tons every year, and the region spends more than SR1 billion on coffee. More so, coffee consumption in the region is predicted to increase by another 5% by 2026. 

To learn more about specialty coffee trends in Saudi Arabia, I spoke with the co-founder of The Roasting House in Riyadh, Osamah Al-Awwam, and the co-owner of Sulalat Specialty Coffee Roastery, Wayel Al-Wohaibi.

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Saudi Arabia’s history with coffee

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has a rich history of coffee consumption, which is only continuing to grow. “Coffee is entrenched in our culture,” explains Osamah, who also serves as a board member at The Roasting House Saudi Arabia. 

The art of making coffee is so significant to Saudi Arabia’s culture that the traditional method received a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage status in 2015. Making traditional Arabic coffee includes lightly roasting coffee beans in a shallow pan over a fire. Once roasted, the beans are placed into a copper mortar and pounded with a copper pestle. 

The coffee grounds are placed into a large copper coffee pot where water is added and the pot is placed on the fire. Once brewed, it is poured into a smaller coffee pot from which it is poured into small cups. The most important or oldest guest is always served first.

Serving Arabic coffee is an important aspect of hospitality in Arab societies and is considered a ceremonial act of generosity. Traditionally, the coffee is prepared in front of guests. 

“This is why, unlike anywhere else in the world, you’re likely to find 50kg bags of green coffee sold at large supermarkets in the region,” Wayel explains. These beans are often roasted at home to make blonde Saudi coffee, which has been the case since Wayel was a child. 

Osamah adds that the majority of coffee in the region is consumed by those between 18 and 35 years of age – who make up two-thirds of the nation. “Therefore, you can understand why coffee consumption is so high,” he says.  

As coffee consumption is so high, he adds that the region is mindful of how to benefit from it. “This year, the Kingdom received approval from their cabinet to join the International Coffee Agreement, which means the country is now competing at a global level,” Osamah explains. 

Between 2013 and 2014, specialty coffee began evolving. “A few specialty coffee roasteries began sprouting in Riyadh, and today, it is a significant part of Saudi coffee culture. People in the region are now accustomed to specialty coffee,” Osamah says. 

Dr. Massimo Hakim is the owner of Mikah Premium Coffee and has been exporting coffee from Milan to the Middle East since 1984. Currently, his business supplies to 47 countries. “Saudis have purchasing power,” he says about the success of specialty coffee in the region. “They love trying new things and are not afraid to spend.”

Beyond this, Saudi nationals are investing in training and education within the specialty coffee sector. Notably, in November of this year, Saudi Arabia intends to host its 12th HORECA show in Riyadh featuring a Saudi Barista Competition

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Exploring specialty coffee trends in Saudi Arabia

One trend that Osamah has seen within the region is combining coffee with other elements. For instance, he refers to “adding matcha to coffee, or a cold hibiscus foam. There is also a strong focus on iced beverages due to the hot weather.”

He adds that these unique combinations provide consumers with a wider range of choices, and are highly effective in attracting new customers. 

“Coffee is the daily drink in Saudi households,” Wayel adds. “It is often served with dates or something sweet.” This may help explain why the trend of using flavoured syrups in coffee is still quite popular in the region. 

In order to profit from this trend, The Roasting House is experimenting with names for its coffees while still respecting its farms and producers. The brand’s newest collection is called ‘Raspberry Cheesecake’ and comprises a naturally processed coffee from Ethiopia. 

As an Islamic country, alcohol is entirely prohibited within Saudi Arabia. Therefore, coffee is the main beverage in social settings and is often consumed at all times of the day. In other countries, people may gather at bars or pubs. 

In Saudi, social gatherings often take place at a cafe, which explains the country’s unique 24-hour cafe culture. It’s not just cafes either. In 2019, the Saudi Arabian government pushed for businesses to operate 24 hours a day in order to boost economic activities. 

Additionally, Osamah has noticed more instances of coffee processing and experimentation with anaerobic coffees and those that have undergone carbonic maceration and thermal shock. He believes that as the market becomes more educated, coffee roasters are moving towards ‘cleaner coffees.’ 

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Sustainable coffee packaging: Going beyond plastic

Osamah believes the success of specialty coffee within Saudi relies on “developing customer experiences, attending exhibitions and meeting producers in order to share insight into what is happening in our region.” 

Additionally, he believes there can be improvements made in coffee packaging and takeaway coffee cups. As the specialty coffee market is relatively new within the region, many specialty coffee roasters have yet to move away from plastic packaging. 

The Covid-19 pandemic severely impacted the availability and variety of coffee packaging accessible to the Saudi market. More so, the focus at the time was keeping up with consumer demand. While Sulalat Specialty Roasters exclusively uses kraft paper coffee bags, Wayel says the brand is looking to switch to options that are completely recyclable. 

In line with this, Massimo reveals Mikah Premium Coffee has plans to make its coffee packaging “completely sustainable by mid-2024.”

“It is essential to invest in sustainable packaging materials,” Osamah agrees. “At The Roasting House, we are trialling recyclable bags to introduce into one of our lines. Sustainable packaging is a number one priority for us.” 

At MTPak Coffee, we understand the importance of having your brand stand out in the highly competitive specialty coffee market. Therefore, we offer coffee businesses a variety of fully sustainable, 100% customisable coffee packaging options

Images courtesy of The Roasting House and Sulalat Specialty Coffee Roastery

For more information on how we can help you create bespoke coffee bags, contact our team

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Maira Kanai-Nasir
Maira Kanai-Nasir

Discovering specialty coffee whilst working in Australia, Maira has previously worked in Specialty Coffee as a trainer and coffee product buyer for many years. She currently resides in Dubai, UAE working as a specialty coffee writer, with a strong passion for all things coffee.

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