Bean there, drunk that? You won’t be able to say that for long. From gold to garbage, cafés across the UAE are finding new steaming ways to serve coffee and tea. Luxury ingredients, unusual flavours and picture-perfect cups are among the innovations being presented, as restaurants look to stay relevant in an increasingly crowded market.

Over the past decade, coffee and tea consumption has trebled in the Arab World, with the UAE alone registering an 85 per cent increase, says Jan Hollunder, Executive Assistant Manager — Food and Beverage at The Meydan Hotel, citing data from the International Coffee Organisation.

“Offering new coffee and tea experiences — whether new flavours, new presentation — will remain a vital attraction to current and new consumers,” he told GN Focus in an email detailing new drinks at the property’s Millennium Lounge, which serves 20 kinds of coffee and 15 types of tea. 

Tea from coffee

Cascara — the husk of the coffee bean — has been bubbling under for some time now.

Speciality cafés such as the Stomping Grounds have been serving a tea made from this sweet, aromatic peel, but it has now gone mainstream. Market researcher Mintel pegged the connoisseur’s choice as an international ingredient to watch in 2017 and 2018, and Starbucks launched cascara lattes in the US last year, following up with a cold brew. Neither has made it to the UAE yet, but it will soon be visible on more menus, either to eat or drink.

With hibiscus notes reminiscent of the karkadeh drink, and a price that can run to three times regular coffee (according to Bloomberg data), its appeal is clear.

“Cascara is an ingredient that’s already in the wings,” says Molly Howlett-Huggins, Manager at Flow, the healthy eating hub at Jumeirah Emirates Towers. “We’re currently trialling several different ways to include coffee husks on our menu, including a possible coffee flour option,” she tells GN Focus.

Hollunder’s team is also working with the ingredient. “We are planning this year to launch cascara beverages at the Millennium Lounge and are confident of receiving positive feedback when presenting to UAE consumers.”

Chilled-out choices 

So far, so promising. Readers looking for instant gratification will have found cold comfort thus far. For them there are a variety of summery choices on offer from every significant F&B player in the country. 

Caffé Nero, for example, has just launched a range of fresh, handmade iced drinks, a spokesperson tells GN Focus. Its Rossacinno combines red velvet and espresso, a salted Caramel Frappe Crème mixes sweet and salted savoury notes, and a range of Shaken Over Ice drinks aims to send consumers back to a time when lemonade stands were on every neighbourhood corner. 

In April, Costa Coffee combined desserts and drinks in a new range. If those aren’t cold enough for you, The Coffee Club is bringing Nitro Coffee to its outlets in the UAE. “Nitro Coffee charges our smooth cold brew coffee with nitrogen to give it a rich, creamy head — perfect to cool down in the summer heat,” says Ravi Chandran, CEO of Liwa Minor Middle East and North Africa, the group that brought the brand to the UAE. Cold brews are already trending — the chain’s Cold Brew Tonic adds a splash of freshly squeezed orange juice for extra vitamin C. 

Brews with benefits

Numerous researchers from Innova Insights to Comax Flavours have pointed out how health-aware consumers are voting with their wallets. Local players have responded with options such as plant-based milks and other drinks that promote general well-being. 

“UAE consumers want something that is both unique and beneficial to their health,” says Tania Lodi, Owner and Founder of Tania’s Teahouse in Umm Suqeim. She points to ingredients that can be steeped into a delicious brew, such as hibiscus flowers, ginger, nettles and honey bush. “The great thing about teas is that a lot of ingredients harbour amazing health benefits.” The café offers more than 25 flavours of tea. 

Some manufacturers suggest looking closely at what brands are being brewed. New research by Newby Teas recently found that some packaged tea bags sold in supermarkets and served in luxury hotels could contain up to six times as much fluoride as more expensive varieties, leaving consumers’ teeth pitted and their joints painful.

“Such teas are a clear path to slow poisoning of the human immune systems and are dangerous,” says Karina Abzalova, General Manager Marketing, Newby Teas Middle East. 

Local touches

This being the UAE, it makes sense that we would want flavours that tickle our very specific palates. Cue a series of experiments with karak chai. Lattes and ice creams made with the Dubai staple favoured by blue- and white-collar workers alike have been popular for some time now, but two new developments are noteworthy.

FrieslandCampina, the Dutch manufacturer of Rainbow milk, brings the taste to homes and offices with Qubez, a cube of gel that turns into milky tea on adding boiling water. 

And at the boutique and café Two At Symphony, sisters Mouza and Salama Al Abbar serve a menu of nostalgic drinks aimed at residents who grew up in the UAE; alongside karak sit childhood favourites such as golden turmeric milk and rose milk.

Picture perfect

But the UAE is also about the luxury life lived large and loud. Fine arabica coffee is all very well, but does yours come topped with 23-carat gold flakes? If you’re at the Armani/Lounge, it can — the venue launched a gold cappuccino (pictured on page 1) last year. “It is quite popular among UAE residents, especially nationals,” Mark Kirby, General Manager, Armani Hotel, tells GN Focus

Instagram-perfect presentations remain a significant hospitality trend, called out by several forecasters, including Commax, Innova and Campbell’s, and it’s no coincidence that the Culinary Institute of America has begun offering classes on how to take Insta-ready food photos. 

Other players have followed the Armani’s lead. The selfieccino, served at Tub of Butter in Umm Suqeim and at Costa Coffee on Al Wasl Road, lets you have an image of your choice stencilled on to your cappuccino, while at Café Artea in Abu Dhabi, your cuppa comes topped with 3D foam animals such as bears and cats. 

What’s next? Tania’s Teahouse already offers coffee stencils, but Lodi says flower-infused ice cubes will soon be added to iced teas at her restaurant. “Dubai is a hub for coffee shops, and competition is stiff, even though taste is a very important factor, aesthetic appeal is also a key factor for retaining customers and attracting them,” says Lodi. 

Expect a storm of flowers in tea cups everywhere.