Coffee farmers in Jazan | Photo credit: Saeed Khan
Europe is the largest coffee market in the world, accounting for almost half of all world coffee imports from Brazil to Vietnam. One coffee market that Europe has failed to tap however, is Saudi Arabia.
The country is synonymous with oil. Its transformative impact on this desert kingdom is indisputable; within less than 90 years, the country has gained unimaginable prosperity.
But beyond the bustle of the port city of Jeddah, the shining skyscrapers of Riyadh and high-speed rail service connecting the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, there is still a side of Saudi Arabia unknown to most in the outside world, and to many Saudis as well: the coffee of Jazan, the verdant southwestern province of the country that is gradually emerging as a coffee epicenter.
Coffee is the ultimate social beverage in Saudi Arabia, enjoyed in societies for whom alcohol is off limits or inappropriate, depending upon the time of day. At home in both business meetings and social settings, coffee doesn’t just adapt to cultures; it is a culture unto itself.
"Coffee is the ultimate social beverage in Saudi Arabia, enjoyed in societies for whom alcohol is off limits or inappropriate, depending upon the time of day"
The Coffee Festival of Ad Dayaar runs for a week in late January, coinciding with the start of the new flowering season. The festival brings together the entire community for a celebration that has performances of traditional dancing and costume displays, as well as several booths of coffee farmers.
Hassan Mohammed Hassan is a local farmer who has been a coffee farmer since the age of five. He runs a family operation with his three sons, and sells approximately 1000kg of coffee a year.
When he was younger, Hassan could rely on wadis and streams for water supply. Now theses sources have dried up, like many farmers, Hassan’s biggest challenge is finding enough water for his coffee production.
Ad Dayaar is not the only location for coffee festivals within the region. Jazan hosts another stylish coffee festival promenade along its corniche on the Red Sea, where a new breed of young, enterprising Jazanis are taking their chief product into new and exciting directions for a new generation of Saudis.
Adeeb Mathari is the co-owner, along with Salman Dureb, of Cove, a modern, boutique café. Cove is the first specialty coffee shop in Jazan, established in April 2019. It takes its name from Jazan’s natural cove. It seeks to use only Saudi, especially locally grown, coffee beans, operating one shop in Jazan, the largest café in southern Saudi Arabia, with plans to open three more.
"The Coffee Festival of Ad Dayaar runs for a week in late January, coinciding with the start of the new flowering season"
Mathari seeks to offer a premium coffee experience, and regards outlets like Starbucks as, “Commercial beans, commercial café.” His biggest challenge is obtaining steady volumes of locally grown coffee. He says Cove currently obtains 60kg of specialty, high quality beans, the Min Milla variety, per month, while its monthly requirement is half a ton of beans.
Mathari says that for farmers, their biggest challenge is knowledge and the learning curve of passing coffee producing techniques to younger generations. At the same time, the age gap also can impede older farmers from learning new techniques that could enhance and expand their coffee output.
Jazan is on the threshold of the world learning about and experiencing its most precious product: a high-quality coffee that is grown with tradition and heritage. A new international airport planned within the next five years, will allow coffee tourists from around the world to travel to this magical region and savour the delights that come from the mountain terraces nearby.
For those lucky enough to have a cup of “Jazan Java”, it promises to be a memorable tour of coffee delight that touches on all five senses.