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The Dubai International Coffee and Tea Festival

From the October 2017 issue.

The ninth Dubai International Coffee & Tea Festival aims to promote not only the concept of specialty coffee but also to boost consumer awareness of the mighty bean.

Dubai

Anselm Godinho is a man on a mission to improve the knowledge of quality coffee in the Middle East.
As the founder of the Dubai International Coffee & Tea Festival, which runs from 14-16 December, and with 30 years in event management in Dubai, Godinho sees huge potential for specialty coffee in the Gulf and beyond.

But growth won’t come from the global giants of the coffee business such as Starbucks and Costa, he says; it will come from local entrepreneurs. And it probably won’t come quickly.

“As far as reaching out and developing the coffee industry as a business, as a profession and as a commodity,” he says, “we are very much in our infancy.”

The Dubai International Coffee & Tea Festival, which is in its ninth year, is Godinho’s way of pushing the specialty coffee trade in the region towards – well, if not adulthood yet, then at least closer to its teenage years.

It grew out of Godinho’s involvement with the Specialty Coffee Association of America, the world’s largest trade association for specialty coffee, to improve coffee education. Occupational and vocational training have been Godinho’s lifelong passions.

“So we created a coffee festival around that coffee education program, to encourage people to come and see new equipment, to come and taste coffee,” he says, “and to educate people on specialty coffee.”

Setting it in Dubai made sense, Godinho adds, because the emirate has long prided itself on hospitality, which has become a key earner.

“And if you break that down further, apart from the restaurant management and hotel management, there were little things that at that time we felt we could emphasise – like coffee and tea,” he says. “So we thought we would develop that.”

Three Keys
Godinho says success in the region’s coffee arena needs work in three linked areas: improving the skills of baristas, roasting more green beans in the region, and increasing the knowledge of quality coffee among consumers.

The Dubai International Coffee & Tea Festival – “with the emphasis on the word ‘festival’, because it’s not a trade show and it’s not envisaged to be a trade show” – was established to target those areas.

Godinho, who is also the Managing Director of International Conferences & Exhibitions, a Dubai-based events company, noticed some years ago the emergence of a key trend at local cafés: “They were moving away from depending on imported beans, and more towards setting up in-shop roasteries and roasting their own coffee.”

That, he adds, is a key part of the way forward when it comes to developing a culture of specialty coffee.

“And so we want to see more roasters coming in to the region, and we want to see more in-shop roasters coming,” he says.

However, there is more to great coffee than great beans. The essential link is the baristas.

“But baristas need education, because they need to know what they’re serving, they need to understand taste profiles, and they need to educate the consumer,” he says. “And then the consumer, being educated, will demand better coffee and that will push the whole industry forward.”

That, he says, was a key motivator behind establishing the festival.

“So this is a festival where we have education, we have contests, and we have people on the floor – we have a brew bar,” he says. “It’s a very hyperactive, high-energy event, and people just enjoy it for what it is.”

Who attends the Dubai International Coffee & Tea Festival? It’s not necessarily trade buyers, Godinho says. Indeed, many of the 7000 or so visitors to last year’s event were housewives whose children were grown up and husbands were still working.

“They’ve got time on their hands, they’re thinking of setting up a café as a fun thing to do, and they have the resources to do it,” he says. “So they come to the festival, they educate themselves, they buy some equipment, they start dealing with local roasters, and then they set up a café.”

That, he says, is a key trend in the Gulf’s specialty coffee market: the single-owner entrepreneur who’s interested in setting up a café.

“And this is what we want to encourage, because that creates a neighbourhood café environment, which also then brings a better quality product to the consumer,” he says.

Better Baristas
As the bridge between the customer and the coffee, baristas serve a critical function, says Godinho. It’s a role that, in the Gulf at least, business owners often don’t appreciate.

“At the end of the day, we have to focus on the baristas – though sadly in this region we tend to forget them,” he says. “They can make or break the café experience. But if you allow them to grow, then it’s a win-win for the barista, the customer and the business owner.”

A barista to a coffee bar, he says, “is like a chef to a kitchen”.

“And in the same way, you do not put someone untrained behind a coffee machine,” he says. “There is a saying that if you think education is expensive, try ignorance, and that is so pertinent to this industry. It is far better to have educated baristas than untrained baristas.

“Also in this region we have limitations in terms of professionalism and the level that our local baristas can reach – they need that international experience. We believe that if we can give them an opportunity to interact with international baristas – to rub shoulders with the best – they will learn from them and grow.”

To that end, the festival will host its own barista championships – one for international baristas and another for regional baristas, with a US$10,000 prize for the international barista winner in each category and $2700 for the UAE barista winner in each category. Why divide them?

“Because we are a far cry from Europe, Australia and North America,” he says, “and as the saying goes, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

Perhaps the biggest challenge, however, is not educating baristas – it’s educating the operations managers, who are typically focused on cost-cutting and margins, and far less concerned about the customer experience. Once consumers better understand coffee, they will vote with their wallets and purses – and that is something operations managers will understand.

Future Trends
Looking ahead, Godinho is bullish on the regional market for coffee, and reckons the triple approach of promoting local roasting, training baristas and educating customers will feed a virtuous circle.

“Indeed, roasting is already a growth profile,” he says, “and in the coming years I think Dubai will get more involved in trading coffee as a commodity. After all, we sit on the threshold of some major coffee-growing regions.”

Godinho points out that it isn’t widely known that Dubai is a major global hub for tea, with an entire logistics centre for that commodity already established. There is little reason why the same could not happen for coffee; indeed, Godinho says, the government is now in the process of setting up a coffee logistics centre. “And if we can do the same with coffee as Dubai has done with tea, then I feel that we as residents of the region will have much better access to quality coffee.” GCR

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