Ingredient focus: coffee
What's the latest in the world of the bean?
When it comes to the bean there are profits to be made, but are you a purist or a flavour fan, a milk mixer or an ethical enthusiast? There’s plenty to discuss… and Jamie Knights dives straight in
Custom Blends on the rise
Custom blends have always had their place in the market for two prominent reasons: supply and price.
But the blend is blossoming in popularity, according to Pantry Café vice chairperson Yana Kalwani.
“Increasingly cafés are creating their own unique coffee combinations in order to create an identity that helps reflect their concept,” Kalwani asserts.
Bean Machine owner Paul Farrance believes that the UAE is following the trend of coffee drinkers in Europe, South Africa and Australia, becoming “more knowledgeable about coffee and demanding more variety and better quality”.
And for Rob Jones, managing director Coffee Planet, there are so many different blends available now that coffee drinkers don’t need to “go through the hassle” of finding a custom blend.
“It’s more important to invest in good quality coffee and finding the right flavour and intensity for you,” he adds.
But Ryan Godinho, event director International Coffee & Tea Festival (ICTF), warns that while skilled roasters are able to offer a consistent flavour profile supply “the problem arises when customers are non-critical about the quality of the product and more focused on the price”.
He adds: “While blending, roasters are also keeping their costs down in some instances by mixing in lower grade coffees for sale to the non-discerning customer.
“In the UAE, this is also the case, more so compared to the rest of the world.”
Traceability on Trend
Knowing where products are from is an increasingly common demand from consumers and coffee is no exception. “Customers are concerned about coffee beans as awareness is increasing,” says Kalwani.
“This is due to several factors; one being trends like barista competitions in the region, as well as the introduction of specialty coffees by leading coffee suppliers and cafés.”
Godinho agrees and says many UAE residents are gradually becoming more aware of bean origins and their flavour characteristics.
“Yet, there remains a common misconception whereby people request coffee from say Italy, under the presumption that the beans are actually grown there rather than only being roasted there,” he says.
“Without proper guidance and corporate responsibility from roaster and café operator, it will remain relatively difficult to develop an understanding in the public, until exposure to a highly competitive coffee quality, service and knowledge, as is in many of the third-wave, coffee-developed countries.”
Pierre Debayle, regional manager, Nespresso MEAC says it only gets coffee from traceable sources. “It is important not only from quality perspective, but also to produce coffee in a sustainable way,” he continues. “We began embedding sustainability in our value chain in 2003, with the launch of the Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality Programme.”
Tech-ing to the next level
While Yael Mejia brand consultant to eco-café Baker & Spice says the rise in technology “means less control by baristas”, Melitta key account manager international Falko Plückebaum says the market is full of innovation at the moment: “The trend we are seeing is the desire for a smaller ‘foodprint’ and in warm regions there is a rise in demand for cold milk foam.”
Fadi Hijazi, sales manager Middle-East & India for Bunn says increasingly technology is being put in the machines to provide baristas with more control. “On some of our Bunn equipment, such as the ICB, the barista can control how long it brews for, and stops in intervals, the amount of water that bypasses the coffee and the total brewing time,” he says.
Older tech is also making a resurgence such as the traditional lever machine. When you get it right, it is an espresso machine that can pull the finest shot of coffee you ever could taste, Matt Wade, Coffee Planet roast master asserts. “It is so much fun to work with because it’s mechanical.”
Using coffee in food
Coffee has long been a favourite ingredient in dessert items and features in various marinades and sauces, but there is more to come.
Nespresso currently has a partnership with the Michelin-starred chef Yannick Alléno to explore coffee recipes. “This month we held a dinner at Stay in One&Only The Palm with some unique dishes created by chef Alléno using Nespresso,” says Debayle.
But Godinho says coffee bean quality and roast quality has had “little to no impact on the recipe developments”. “In food preparation, coffee serves a minimum requirement to provide a particular boost to the gastronomic experience as a whole,” he continues.
“Although having said this, there are a few chefs out there who are beginning to play with coffee as a more active ingredient in their recipes. The next step would be to match coffees of particular origins with certain foods that can complement each other as separate items.”
Bean Machine uses espresso to enhance the flavour of its dark chocolate cakes, but Pantry Caf é’s Kalwani says the rise of coffee in food “is very insignificant” when compared to traditional use of coffee at the moment in UAE.
International coffee brands were quick to note the opportunities in the Middle East market, but an uptake in home-grown brands has begun.
ICTF’s Godinho says the trend “was inevitable” and has been gradually evolving since 2010.
“Independent cafés are essential to the development of a unique café culture,” he enthuses.
“There still undoubtedly remains a considerable market gap in terms of coffee quality and staff efficiency by direct comparison to international specialty cafés.”
Through the addition of new roasters to the local market that look to aim higher and broaden the quality and competition landscape, the future remains bright, Godinho adds.
Coffee Planet’s Wade notes a definite rise in home-grown and independent stores throughout the UAE. “It is so refreshing to see, as previously people spent the majority of their time in malls but that is clearly changing,” he says.
He continues: “We’ve recently started taking part in the Baker & Spice Farmers Market which has proved to be immensely popular. There are so many different art events and pop up markets now which encapsulate the spirit of independent and smaller stores.”
However, Bunn’s Hijazi warns that the UAE is not growing its own production and believes it is clear that international coffee chains have an important potential on the UAE market.
“It is expected that more international players will be looking to gain a foothold,” he adds.
Sustainability in coffee
Many consumers now consider the ethics behind a product before making a purchasing decision and coffee is no exception.
Kalwani explains that Pantry Café’s house coffee is a single origin blend from Bolivia, which is both organic and Fairtrade, adding that the company sees climate changes in the region “as a possible threat in the future”.
For Bean Machine’s Farrance, climate is also currently the biggest issue, especially for Arabica beans which are “quite fussy”.
“There are well documented issues in countries like Brazil who have had severe droughts this year, which may impact their coffee yield,” he continues.
Baker & Spice Dubai’s Mejia says one of the endemic problems with coffee worldwide is that the farmers “always suffer through the activity of global coffee behemoths”.
As with all topics in Caterer, training is the one that almost always sees a consensus and coffee is no different with Godhino leading the cry of “there is a long way to go”.
“Proper training involves complete transfer of the necessary skills to change a trainee’s skill level in a positive way towards providing the ultimate coffee experience for your customer,” he argues.
“For the specialty coffee industry, this usually means that there is a training goal of teaching and inspiring all staff to provide great drinks with outstanding customer service 100% of the time, which ultimately and continuously generates better business for a store.”
Each year SCAA-certified trainings and workshops are put on as an essential component of the International Coffee & Tea Festival.
“Much like the distinction between fast food and fine food, specialty coffee requires knowledge, dedication, skill and precision to consistently prepare exceptional brews,” he adds.
Kalwani agrees and says “unfortunately there are only few certified barista trainers who train according to WBC standard”. “We are fortunate enough to have the team at Cafés Richard (our coffee supplier) who complete training sessions with our staff frequently,” she continues.
“They also hold inter-barista competitions to keep the staff motivated and expand their knowledge of coffee.”
Farrance says a common problem is milk being burnt, or the drink isn’t hot enough.
“Also, shortcuts in cleaning between shots can contaminate and hence spoil a good bean,” he adds.
Savour the flavour?
Nothing beats a great cup of coffee but that means different things to different people.
Are you a purist or a fan of milk and syrup innovation?
Kalwani says Pantry Café recently offered red velvet cappuccinos to its customers in the build up to Valentine’s Day and received a great response from customers.
“Those that enjoy their traditional coffees can continue doing so, but there are a lot of customers that appreciate new and unique flavours to try,” she continues.
“We also did a sampling recently of a carrot cake frappé which although unusual sounding, was delicious and very popular.”
Nespresso is also finding that many of its customers from the Middle East prefer milk recipes “and we have many recipes including local ingredients such as figs, dates, pistachio nuts and so on”, says Debayle.
And people are looking for new taste experiences, according to Melitta’s Plückebaum.
“This might be a trend for some time. But flavoured coffee is becoming more famous,” he argues, although adding that normal coffee or milk-related products will remain stable.
ICTF’s Godinho believes flavoured coffees “are a dessert alternative” that in no way replaces the enjoyment of an “exquisite coffee”.
Farrance agrees and adds that in a country where obesity and diabetes are major issues, he believes sweet options should be restricted, while Hijazi says because flavoured coffees generally have more milk and sugar it “makes one wonder if it really should be called a coffee”.
Mejia simply comments that she “can’t stand them”.
Coffee as an art
Taste is one thing, but as we “eat/drink with our eyes first”, in the fast-paced world of coffee, the barista “pretty up” process should adhere to cleanliness and overall appeal, according to Godinho. “Free-pour latte art skills take little to no extra time by the hand of an exceptional barista and are an impressive added bonus,” he continues to say.
He reveals: “Fast free-pour designs such as the tulip, rosetta and hearts can be truly impressive to watch in progress and appreciated when served.”
A barista is an artist as opposed to a coffee machine that dispenses coffee on the push of a button says Pantry Café’s Kalwani and therefore are “required to add value to their beverages, not only with quality, but also with aesthetics”. “Customers appreciate that baristas put creative effort in to design their lattes or cappuccinos.”
Plückebaum heartily agrees and says if the “presentation of the drink is good,” it leads to “a smile on the customer’s face”.
Mejia adds however that at Baker & Spice “we have our own in-house coffee artist, but if we didn't I would not view it as important”, while Coffee Planet’s Wade says the Middle East is in the early stages of the coffee scene.
“People are still interested in the way coffee looks with less interest in the actual taste, but I definitely see that changing,” he adds.
Coffee sales in the UAE alone are expected to reach US $97.74 million (AED 359 million) by 2016, growing at the rate of 4%.
These figures are certainly healthy, but through constant dealings with coffee traders and coffee growing associations around the world, it may be realistic to say that the growth rate may potentially be higher predominantly due to the demand over the last two years, Godinho asserts.
“We will be exposed to more accurate findings over the next two to three months, which should depict a clearer picture of coffee growth expectations for this year, and by 2018, year on year,” he adds.
Kalwani agrees and says she thinks “it has more to do with the expected rise in population in the UAE” than any other factor.
Plückebaum confirms Melitta has certainly witnessed a surge in the number of full automatic machines being sold, while Wade says Coffee Planet enjoyed more than a 30% growth in sales during 2013 and that trend is continuing into 2014. “Coffee is a relatively recession proof business,” he adds.
A recent report highlighted the UAE’s recent economic development helped to create several new points of entry for higher quality coffees, according to Bunn’s Hijazi.
Surprisingly, growth was driven primarily through the on-trade channel, which continued to reap dividends of the emerging café culture, he adds.