FACT talks to Matt Toogood, the CEO of Raw Coffee Company about the UAE’s evolving coffee culture and the rise of local speciality businesses.
If you’ve ever been down to Al Quoz, you may have noticed the Raw Coffee Company, a building that stands out on a busy intersection thanks to its colourful murals depicting exotic locations and coffee plantations.
Raw Coffee Company is the brainchild of Kim Thompson and Matt Toogood two New Zealander’s who have spent the last thirteen years perfecting the art of coffee for consumers in Dubai and the wider GCC region. What started as a small spot in DIP soon moved to Dubai Garden Centre before finally settling in the industrial area of Al Quoz.
Achieving a 30 to 50 per cent growth year on year, Raw Coffee Company is about more than just sourcing premium green coffee beans from around the globe. Matt Toogood CEO and Owner tells us how important it is for the company to ensure that all beans are not only ethically sourced but that the farmers growing the for Raw are treated fairly and can make a sustainable living.
With the United Arab Emirates rapidly evolving and progressive coffee culture catching up with the trends and demands seen in the likes New Zealand and London a decade ago, the team at Raw have re-designed their business methods. Inching away from a commercial model and prioritising their niche and specialised market. Raw see themselves as market educators and have introduced not only a fully-fledged cafe with a retail element but a fully equipped training centre where customers can learn everything from barista skills to brewing processes and sensory training.
In the beginning, a lot of the processes and knowledge obtained by the hard-working Raw team were safeguarded until they become public domain. This certainly ensured they were ahead of the game, but in becoming market leaders there came a time when Raw began to shout about what they were doing and share their processes. This allowed them to help other cafes set up roasteries of their own and develop a whole coffee subculture in Dubai.
With the onset of COVID, you might expect the business to have suffered, but Matt explains that this was not the case. During the recent lockdown, the consumers were forced to adapt and cater to an increased desire for cafe-quality coffee at home. Where else would coffee enthusiasts look for their brewing products and coffee, but Raw Coffee Company.
Post-lockdown this notion had a knock-on effect, and as people ventured out again, they began to seek out independent local venues that aligned with their newfound attitudes and skillsets. As we sit in the industrial-style venue on a busy Thursday morning, surrounded by the smell of freshly roasted coffee and perched upon chairs made from jute bags, business is clearly booming!
When asked about what makes a good cup of coffee Matt explains to us that they have spent many years learning about the products and ensuring that they can offer speciality coffee made from quality products at the same price as you would find in a chain. He informs us that the perfect cup of coffee will ultimately be based upon the preferences of the individual. Customers shouldn’t be perturbed or overwhelmed by the experience of ordering a coffee, and it should instead be welcoming. At Raw, not only the staff, but regular customers will help guide peoples choices. As a qualified coffee grader, Matt informs us that you may not yet have been exposed to exactly what it is that you want from a cup of coffee and that people require the opportunity to experiment and discover.
The coffee at Raw Coffee Company is currently sourced from 17 countries, and the growth of the company has ensured that at Raw they can bypass the suppliers and go directly to the source, to form not only a business relationship but a bond. Having visited 97% of the farms from which their coffee is sourced, Raw is offering a surety for the farmers and producers. In turn, this provides Raw with the first pick of the crop and the ability to decide how the flavour profile of the coffee is manipulated for the benefit of the end consumer. This process of direct trade with the farmers in origin countries, combined with an ethical trading model, means that Raw work with their farmers for more than one season, using their profit margins to contribute to the process.
It’s interesting to hear how a farmer’s full annual crop can be consumed here in Dubai in a matter of weeks, and this goes to show that consumers are seeking out quality products and are educating themselves on the ethos of a brand such as Raw. With coffee having long been a catalyst for socialisation, and as the first specialist coffee spot in town, Raw Coffee Company should be on your agenda when you’re next in need of a caffeine fix.