All in a day’s grind
UAE coffee company on how your morning brew gets to you
If Dubai is becoming the city that never sleeps, you can probably put it down to one family who’ve turned a handful of roadside coffee stops into a small empire.
When the Middle East wakes up and smells the coffee every morning that’s the culmination of a long and exhaustive process for Coffee Planet.
For Managing Director Robert Jones and his team, it began with trekking their way through the jungles of Brazil or the plantations of Ethiopia to buy directly from farmers, before shipping it to the Gulf.
From their factory in Jebel Ali, they manage the process from plant to cup, roasting between 70 and 100 tonnes per month, which is sent to hotels, restaurants and supermarkets in 10 countries in the Middle East and Asia.
The firm also now trains baristas in hotels to make sure that long process doesn’t come undone at the last minute.
“To get this coffee into your cup it’s probably the result of a process that’s taken nine months and probably involved about 50 people,” says Jones.
“So if that guy at the end burns the hell out of it…”
Jones, who is from a family of British entrepreneurs, showed 7DAYS around the roastery in Jebel Ali, which was recently expanded from 6,000 sqft to 14,000 sqft, the largest in the country.
Coffee Planet has also begun manufacturing coffee capsules for Nespresso machines, now possible after Nestlé’s patent for the technology ran out.
“In the last few months, we’ve been through a rebranding process, we launched the capsules at the beginning of this year and we’ve doubled the size of our facility - it’s been a busy time.”
Piled high around the factory floors are 69kg sacks of green beans from every corner of the globe. ‘Nicaragua, El Bosque’ reads one label. Retailing for Dhs54, it tastes like ‘dessert in a cup’, with hints of chocolate, almonds and caramel.
El Bosque, like all of the varieties in the factory, began life inside a fruit hanging from a coffee tree.
When ripened, the coffee cherry, as it is called, is usually picked by hand. Inside each cherry, are just two beans. They are dried, milled (they’re green by this point) and shipped to the roastery in Dubai.
After an exhaustive quality control process - “some companies have been caught out by foreign objects in batches”, Jones says - they are roasted at up to 205C.
Then they are ready to be bagged up as whole beans or ground to coffee powder.
In a world of coffee giants like Starbucks and Costa, competition must be intense. But Jones says that Coffee Planet has a geographic advantage, at least in the Middle East and Asian market.
“It’s very difficult to compete with the biggest coffee companies in the world, so we focus on quality and managing the entire supply chain ourselves. “We travel to origin, we get to know the farmers, use the best roasting equipment.
“But one of the competitive advantages we have is freshness.
“Some of the bigger brands won’t be roasting locally. If you look at some of the wellknown labels on the shelves, especially consumed in this market, it’s been roasted overseas.
“By the time it’s shipped, distributed, sold and then tasted, it could be six months’ old.
“The message we always try to get across is that coffee is a food product, and you always want to consume food as fresh as possible, coffee is no different.”
Some customers will wonder how much they need to spend to get a good coffee, and after Dhs25 or so, does it get much better?
“Our retail bags sell from about Dhs20Dhs25 for 250g bag, but that goes up to about Dhs175 for the same sized bag of private label coffee - this is essentially the wagyu beef of coffee,” Jones says.
The firm is tight-lipped about its private label clients, who present the coffee with their own branding. But if I ordered a regular coffee in the Armani Hotel, would I be getting the wagyu beef batch?
“If you ordered a coffee there you may well be getting that,” he laughs.
EXHAUSTIVE PROCESS: Workers test the beans at Coffee Planet’s factory in Jebel Ali