Diana Farah Dubai
Coffee culture is common to the Middle East and Japan, with both Arabs and Japanese on the lookout for a cup that matches their exacting standards.
With this in mind, Arabica CEO Ahmed Al-Darmaki opened the first Arabica coffee shop, a Japanese brand, in the UAE.
Increasing demand in the UAE for original and quality products from Japan led Al-Darmaki to invest in the Japanese brand.
Speaking to Arab News Japan, Arabica’s CEO said that during one of his visits to Kyoto, he was taking a stroll in a park and came across “a small store with a queue reaching as far as the eye could see, all eager customers waiting in line.”
“We were shocked. What was this is tiny store that was so loved by its community? It was Arabica,” he said.
Al-Darmaki said that Arabica coffee was classified as “third wave” specialty coffee, sourced from “small farms, single-origin coffees and lighter roasts.
“The concept places an emphasis on the coffee being consumed fresh, with the full process from bean to cup taking place in front of the customer,” he added. “The concept has been well received in the UAE and has inspired other coffee brands to take a similar approach.”
Al-Darmaki said that most Emirati customers “can tell the difference between different types of coffee.”
Many customers also think the Arabica brand is Arab due to its name, he said. “I try to give the impression that the brand is Japanese, but most people still assume it is Arabic.”
The Emirati CEO said that all Arabica stores have a similar theme when it comes to color and concept, but each is designed differently.
“Aesthetically, the space is as important as the coffee. We present our baristas as ‘artists,’ skilled in latte art, brewing and roasting,” he said.
Al-Darmaki said he is taking Arabica outside the Middle East, with a store already open in London and plans to open two stores in New York in August.
“When I took the Arabica franchise, it was small, there was only two stores in Kyoto and two in Hong Kong,” he said.
He credited the success of Arabica to the transparency in the simple process of ordering a cup of coffee.
“Arabica’s process engages the customer, with green beans stored in a temperature-controlled case opposite the bar, the roasting done in-house at the back of the shop, and the barista visible from the counter when they make your drink,” he said. “The perfect view for a perfect pour.”
The CEO said that the success of the coffee brand has “motivated us to diversify our business portfolio and bring more Japanese brands to the UAE.”
A master franchise deal has been agreed for a fine-dining Japanese concept called Robataya as well as an exclusive distribution deal for beauty brand HACCI.
Al-Darmaki said he enjoyed and respected Japanese people’s “work ethic and high regard for quality.”
However, their attention to detail means some processes take more time than expected.
“When I saw Arabica coffee and decided to buy the franchise, I searched online and sent an email to the right people. Within two weeks, I had my contract ready; the deal was done quickly. However, it was the other processes that took a lot of time,” he said.