Having completed a master’s degree in public policy, I moved to Ethiopia from Washington DC with plans to work in the public policy area focusing on development issues. But, alas, life had other plans for me. Three months into my move, I met the love of my life who lived in Dubai. After our wedding, I traded my professional ambitions for a life with my husband in Dubai.
Life in Dubai was exciting, but three kids later, I started getting restless and needed to get back to work. During those years I had noticed that very few coffee roasters brought coffee directly from the source. Most coffee in the UAE and the Middle East were first purchased by large coffee importers, shipped to as far west as the United States or as far east as Australia, before it is blended and exported back to this region.
As a consumer, I missed having the fresh roasted, aromatic, single origin coffees of Harar, Yirgachefe, and Sidama. And more importantly, I felt no one was showcasing Ethiopian coffee as a specialty coffee. After years of roasting small batches and drinking coffee sent to me directly from Ethiopia, I decided it was my mission not only to showcase Ethiopian coffee — the richest, most diverse of all coffees — but I wanted to introduce and highlight the uniqueness of Ethiopian coffee production, processing, terroir, and traceability to small farmers who have been giving this “black gold” to the world without benefiting from the economic returns.
Coming from a family that traces back generations in coffee production and trade, living somewhere where the story of Ethiopian coffee was still absent gave me the motivation to start my roaster in Dubai.
But, penetrating the market was not easy. I was going up against multinationals and other long established chains who had the economic muscle as well as years of branding and brand recognition in the market I did not have yet. Further, I was very eager to show the world not only about coffee, but also Ethiopia. But I first had to literally convince people that Ethiopia is not the destitute country often portrayed on TV, but a beautiful place with diverse culture which grows some of the best coffees of the world. Lastly, six years ago, people in Dubai were more comfortable with the brands imported from Europe and America even if the products originally came from Ethiopia.
It was certainly a challenge to sway public opinion but fortunately, grade one, single origin coffee speaks for itself! An excellent product along with persistent marketing and telling the story of Ethiopia and the origin of coffee has brought Boon a long way.
Along the way I met some great people such as award winning chef Izu Ani and Yael Mejia from Baker and Spice who gave me the encouragement and push to help me realise that no one can narrate the story of Ethiopian coffee from a more personal and honest point of view than me.
Coffee and café culture has come a very long way in the last six years and I am very proud to be a part of this shift. The current growing enthusiasm for better coffee and its origins ensures an exciting future for the production and expression of it. I am confident the UAE is leaving its own mark in the coffee evolution in the Middle East.
Orit Mohammed is the founder of Boon Coffee.