Dubai Has Developed a Competitive Coffee Culture
Dubai may not immediately come to mind as one of the world’s foremost coffee capitals. But over the past five years, the local coffee scene has developed to the point where the city should be considered right up there with global coffee meccas like Melbourne, Seattle, and Portland, Ore., argues local entrepreneur Karim Hassan. “Dubai is definitely top five,” he says.
It is important that he knows. Seven Fortunes was founded by Hassan in 2015. It has grown to be one of the largest of several small-batch roasteries located in Dubai. Many of them are trying new flavors and creating unique blends. Dubai’s coffee scene is booming. In fact, registrations for coffee shops in Dubai jumped nearly 150% in 2015 to 171 compared to the 69 that were received in 2020. Seven Fortunes’ roasts, meanwhile, are now offered at around 100 cafés, hotels, and restaurants around Dubai and elsewhere in the Middle East.
Coffee has deep cultural roots in Dubai—it’s “in the blood of the people,” says culinary expert Holly Williams-Lloyd, founder of the Huntr, a Dubai food site. However, in the past coffee drinkers preferred Arabic-styled beans and larger batches from international chains. Hassan and others like him found success by introducing new, often exotic and complex blends, though his roasts weren’t an immediate hit. “People were expecting traditional dark-chocolate flavors, so when they tried my coffee that had flavor profiles of mango, pineapple, and passion fruit, they freaked out,” he says. “Education was a huge part of the business in the early days.”
Hassan started Seven Fortunes as a “side hustle” when he was 22 and working in finance at HSBC; it’s a product of his personal frustration with the boring local offerings of the time. “I wasn’t satisfied with the quality of the coffee that was being offered in the market, so I started making it myself,” he says. Before long, he was selling his blends to area businesses—including his former employer. However, his initial success was not without cost. “I was super driven, working 19-hour days,” he says. “I burned out many times and should have had a better work-life balance.”
Karim Hassan from Seven Fortunes Coffee Roasters. Photographed in Dubai, February 16, 2022.
Natalie Naccache for TIME
Still, Hassan stuck with it, learning about both beans and bean counting as he went. “I was young when I started the business; I didn’t have a clear vision or years of experience. I had to learn by doing,” he says. Hassan’s dedication and coffee obsession have made him and Seven Fortunes “stand out in [Dubai’s] competitive coffee market,” says local food critic Laura Coughlin.
Like it affected almost all businesses around the globe, Seven Fortunes was hit hard by the COVID-19 epidemic in March 2020. It impacted every aspect of the supply chain. “Some of the farmers are small producers who we order from a year in advance. Their crop is grown based on my expectation of buying it. We all took a hit,” says Hassan.
With restrictions lifted, it’s business as usual in Dubai and Hassan is focused on growth. In 2021, the company earned $4.1 million. This is an increase of 25% from last year. He is particularly proud of Seven Fortunes’ expansion into his home country of Egypt, where he now has 20 outposts. And he’s eagerly awaiting a shipment of a rare coffee variety from East Africa called Eugenioides; Seven Fortunes is one of only 10 roasteries in the world set to receive a share of the crop, which boasts a unique sweet flavor. “It’s a big win for us,” Hassan says. “It’s like a high-end diamond.”
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