DUBAI // UAE residents drink the equivalent of 3.5kg of coffee each a year - nearly twice as much as people in any other GCC country, experts say. Ric Rhinehart, the executive director of the Specialty Coffee Association of America, announced the surprising figure at the global Speciality Coffee and Tea Convention, being held for the first time in Dubai. He attributed the boom in coffee drinking to the number of multi-national coffee chains setting up in the UAE, coupled with high disposable incomes, the large number of western expatriates bringing habits from their homeland and a desire locally to adopt western customs.
The next trend, he predicted, would be a spurt of independent, specialist coffee traders opening outlets to sell exclusive, high-end beans from a single source, such as farms in Guatemala or Colombia. "Coffee is deeply embedded in local culture," Mr Rhinehart told delegates from around the world. "In the rest of the GCC, tea is the second biggest selling drink after water, probably because of the British influence. Coffee is a distant third place but is gaining ground." He noted ways in which the UAE, and Dubai in particular, differed from the rest of the GCC. "The 3.5kg of coffee consumed per person is more like the rate seen in western Europe, probably because of the high number of expats and a big move to import western-style brand consumption," he said, noting that others in the GCC drank less than 2kg and that "in Saudi, for example, it is 1.9kg per capita".
Mr Rhinehart pointed to the cultural habit in the UAE of using coffee as the basis for meetings and business transactions. "In the US, that would happen to some degree," he said, "but would be more likely over cocktails - something which of course would not happen here." The UAE's coffee consumption rate puts it above Britain, where the average person drinks slightly more than 3kg a year, but behind the US (4.17kg), Italy (5.98kg), Brazil (5.6kg) and Germany, the world's biggest coffee consumer at 6.97kg per person per year.
José Sette, the head of operations at the UK-based International Coffee Organisation, said: "Coffee is linked firstly to income levels and secondly to westernisation and the association of habit. The UAE has privileged income levels, so that is not a barrier. It is more a question of absorbing western lifestyle and consumption habits." He attributed the lack of variety in specialist coffees to slowness in "building up a culture of coffee".
"We look forward to this happening in the future," he said. "It is about building respect for the craft of making coffee." The three-day conference in Al Bustan Rotana hotel ends today. firstname.lastname@example.org