FEATURE3 May 2023

A new blend: Researching coffee culture in the Middle East

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FMCG Features Impact Middle East and Africa Retail Trends

The Middle East is the birthplace of coffee, and café culture newcomers in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are increasingly offering a new ‘third place’ for people, finds Lucy Hobbs.

a woman on her laptop in a costa coffee cafe

I’ve just returned from a particularly fascinating trip to the Middle East, researching Costa’s new international coffee shop store designs, while immersing myself in the café cultures of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

The research featured certain traditional elements such as accompanied store visits and interviews with store colleagues. But, just as importantly, I was tasked by my client to conduct some cultural anthropology and immerse myself in the coffee shop world of each market.

As something of an avid shopper (and caramel frappe lover), it wasn’t exactly a hardship to have to explore the local souks and shopping malls, visiting a few competitors. But it did mean having to step out of my comfort zone into societies that, from a Western viewpoint, aren’t necessarily renowned for their diversity and tolerance. I had to recognise and park my own preconceptions, to look at these cultures with empathy and openness – essential skills for any qualitative researcher.

Without doing this, I wouldn’t have grasped the fascinating role ...