Image Credit: Supplied

Sustainability, the impact on health and wellness and a desire for the luxury experience at home are stimulating the home-brew market for hot drinks in the UAE and the Middle East, brand insiders tell GN Focus.

Both coffee and tea brands report a resurgence in the UAE, reflecting international trends. Worldwide, sales of tea, coffee and other hot drinks are forecast to rise at a compounded annual rate of 6.4 per cent over the five years to 2021, percolating at $261 billion (Dh959 billion) annually, according to Fitch Solutions.

“The resurgence in tea that is a result of growing awareness of the health and wellness benefits in tea herb is now being complemented by more adventurous taste in tea,” Dilhan Fernando, CEO of the Sri Lankan family-owned Dilmah Ceylon Tea Company, tells GN Focus.

Meanwhile, Raef Labaky, Nescafé Business Executive Officer at Nestlé Middle East, says demand for coffee is also stronger than ever. “Over the past few years, the coffee market has been the fastest-growing segment within hot beverages in the UAE. Nescafé Coffee Business has been growing steadily and we foresee the overall coffee market to continue to bring more opportunities for new launches and expansion to cater to the growing population and taste profiles in the country,” he says.

“This growth mirrors the global trend, where coffee is becoming more popular across nations and continents. The rise of the coffee shop is a key driving force for growth and change in coffee consumption habits in the region and in the UAE specifically.” With tastes shaped by this wide range of café beverages (Starbucks’ sparkling black tea lemonade, for example, earned itself a tiny cult following in Dubai this year), as well as by the different approaches of the UAE’s multicultural community, the nation’s consumers are now also spoilt for choice when it comes to home brews. An astonishing assortment of brands is now available in supermarkets and specialty stores, far beyond the once-regulation black or green tea variants and instant and drip coffee machines, leading to a maturing of consumer tastes and preferences.

“As the UAE consumer becomes more educated about the specialty coffee market, there has been a discernible trend wherein the consumer demands a similar level of coffee quality at home,” says Garfield Kerr, CEO of the Mokha 1450 coffee boutiques in Dubai, which retail specialty brews from Ethiopia and Yemen.

Dipping point

People are now more comfortable experimenting with hot beverages at home rather than simply brewing them as their parents did.

When it comes to tea, although traditional black tea remains the core of the category in the UAE, it is the niche, speciality variants reflecting specific terroirs and regional characteristics are driving consumption, Fernando says. “The experiential aspect of tea is being fuelled by tea gastronomy, tea mixology and a very 21st-century approach to tea.”

At the GulfHost trade show next month, Dilmah will present its Afternoon Tea for the 21st Century, an experience Fernando says combines authenticity, provenance, quality, natural goodness and innovation linked to tea pairing, tea mixology and tea gastronomy.

“Tea is being offered in more adventurous ways in UAE homes, with tea drinkers going beyond traditional hot tea to experiment in cooking with tea, pairing tea with chocolate, cheese and complementing their meals with tea while occasionally also trying out tea mixology — producing tea-based cocktails.”

That spirit of experimentation is also driving interest in wellness — particularly as consumers look for products with a beneficial health effects. Matcha, for instance, is finding favour with residents eager to benefit from its cancer-fighting properties. After being available in UAE cafés for a few years now, supermarkets such as Carrefour now retail the Japanese tea on their website.

Capsule collection

On the coffee front, Labaky reports an increasing demand for capsule coffee at home. The UAE is familiar with both Nestlé single-serve machines, Dolce Gusto and Nespresso. With its easy-to-use pods and range of flavours, the former promises shop-quality coffee at home for consumers — and their families — who enjoy a variety of drinks. Choices include cappuccino, macchiato, chococino, cappuccino ice, espresso, lungo and decaffeinato.

Nespresso, on the other hand, is a more premium choice favoured by purists who enjoy drinks based around the sharply focused shot that is espresso and the range of flavours that come with it.

“We are witnessing the growth of coffee capsules such as Nespresso,” Labaky says. Other brands, such as Starbucks and the Dubai-based Coffee Planet have launched capsules compatible with Nestlé’s machines, widening the market with their own flavour propositions. Tea lovers, don’t lose hope — tea capsules should soon be here.

Top brews

With our love for the luxury life, is it any wonder our tea and coffee tastes are equally elevated? When the Dubai Multi-Commodities Centre launched Shai Dubai, a luxury tea brand offering flavours such as pistachio, cocoa, nutmeg, sweet dates and herbal tea last year, it was tapping into an increasing appetite for premium brews.

The UAE is also home to other brands — followers of Coffee Planet and RAW Coffee swear by their home roasts. Kerr sees a similar process with coffee and points to a significant shift from mass-market coffee towards specialty coffee at the top end. “Consumers are buying single-origin whole bean coffee as well as precision high-priced coffee grinders so they can brew coffee at home that is similar in quality to what they have become accustomed to in specialty coffee cafés.”

Premium doesn’t have to mean pricey, Kerr adds. “Some customers are opting for brewing at home manually with inexpensive and easy-to-operate brewing gadgets such as the Chemex or an Aeropress."