Yes, you read that right and before you get the geography books, Riyadh is the capital city of Saudi Arabia (aka KSA). About a year ago, I started a job there as a Director of a Think Tank, which I did for 9 months – now why wouldn’t you take a job entitled Director of Think and where you are asked to think about how to think about how to change the world leveraging AI and robotics to solve healthcare and environmental problems – well, I did. If you want to know more, check my LinkedIn profile here for all the other serious stuff I talk about.
Before I delve into coffee you’d be amazed to learn that they’ve got fantastic scenery just outside Riyadh too, with the famous “edge of the world” a must go see. Here I am at another location.
As this is about coffee and love, you’d be amazed to know that the coffee scene is thriving in the heart of Arabia – after all they called the best coffee variety “arabica”. Reportedly, Saudi spent an estimated US$300m in cafes alone in the first half of 2021 – now that’s a lot of coffee – US$1.6m per day in a city of over 8m people – you could have lots of fun with these facts. Before I move on, I should add that Saudi Arabia have their own coffee culture too. After all, the first officially recognised coffee shop in the World was in Mecca. Now, here’s a summary of what I saw for myself based on what I should say “third wave” coffee;
- there’s a coffee shop almost on every corner or shop cluster
- people queue for coffee shops even at 10pm at night
- people go to cafes to drink coffee even at midnight and beyond
- the La Marzocco distributor must be happy as these machines are in the majority of coffee shops
- there are many speciality coffee shops, serving hard to get Yemeni coffee
- Saudi’s love Ethiopian coffee, importing three times more than the UAE (industry insight)
- Even one of the local chains pays a great attention to detail in preparation
- Yes, cold coffees are very popular, after all in the summer, 45C is normal for weeks
- I visited one of the largest coffee shops in the World
So, here’s a quick summary of my coffee shop experience – drink on….
I’m starting with probably my fave. Don’t be distracted by the impressive muriel but with the coffee on offer. First up you can order their normal brew and they have lots on offer from espresso based, cold brew and filter too, BUT upon close inspection at the till, they offer Cup of Excellence coffees too. Yes. these coffees cost more but if you want to treat yourself you can pick up a really special coffee for about $65 for a 250g bag of coffee.
I opted a for a special Yemeni coffee for about $24 for a 250g. Also on offer is food but the main reason this was one of my faves is the quality of coffee on offer and their attention to detail.
Another one of my faves, recommended by my former colleague, as it’s his fave. They have a few locations but I only went to one – it was after dinner and I really wanted my after dinner coffee, so I opted for a V60 Ethiopian. To continue the experience at hime, I bought a bag of coffee for my travels and to take back with me. Wow! I really enjoyed brewing this coffee at my hotel room every night during Ramadhan and it really showed that their attention birth eh selection of their beans and roast profile was top notch
A bit difficult to pronounce but before I arrived in Riyadh, this was top of my list as a friend of mine had visited and said I had to go there. It was a bit far from my hotel but worth the wait. As I entered I couldn[t believe the size f the place not to emotion the amount of La Marzocco espresso machines they had, including the latest, LEVA.
It was like a factory. I’m sure if they were in the middle of any major city like Lonbdon or NYC, they would be able to serve an espresso based drink very quickly with a lot of baristi to work the machines like a factory. Watch video below to grasp the size of this place.
As soon as you pass the la marzocco gallery, you can spot a very large Loring coffee roaster to your right – defiantly the biggest coffee roasting machine I’ve seen in my life. As you walk to the bag there’s tons of tools galore, right form the entrance on your left all the way to the back with la marzocco linea machines, brewing gadgets and of course coffee. There’s a also a little sitting area at the top. Again, definylt he largest coffee space I’ve ever been but a must visit if you visit Riyadh.
Now, this is unusual for me as I never of hardly ever feature a chain BUT this was my go to every morning or at linch time as one of their shops was located within my work vicinity at the digital city. Of course, the first time I went I was skeptical but once I tasted the depth of the coffee flavours packed with cocoa, berry, caramel and a long lasting finish, not to mention exquisitely poured latte art, I thought, “this is actually good”. It is no wonder that I went there often not just for my daily cortado or flat white fix even in 45C but to hang out with my former colleagues too – and yes they too used a La Marzocco Strada machine.
Located at the bottom of the Panorama Mall, I first heard about the place from Dubai as the owner of this space called HUNA (it means here in Arabic), also owns one of my fave cafes in Dubai, Qahwaty. however for Brew Bar, he invited Huda, who was already famous in Saudi for developing a unique secret recipe cold brew coffee. Ahmed invited Huda to open up a cafe in Riyadh, serving coffee from Cypher of Dubai as well as other roasters. What you have here is an unusual arty and intimate spot, stacked with Arabiac literature, coffee, history and self help books. I went a few times and met friends here because I knew that the coffee would be good.
Newly opened in June but with keen attention to detail, is this new spot, near the new King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD). My friend took me here as I was craving specialty coffee all day and we just beat the queue as literally once we entered a queue of about 10 people formed.
Other spots I visited and worth mentioning
Very well respected with coffee lovers and winner of some awards is Elixir. They’ve got many locations too and I bought a really good but rare to find Democratic Republic of Congo arabic coffee here.
Situated opposite the very popular U-Walk, is Equal, where they serve Sulalat coffee, have a selfie mirror that attracts instagrammers and cool decor (top of the page).
Yes. I know that the name doesn’t sound very inventive, but if you happened to visit U-Walk, which hosts some international restaurant brands, and you are craving coffee, then here’s my to-go- spot. Yes, they’ve got the one of the most advanced espresso machines ever made, the San Marco OPERA and cool gadgets to brew coffee, as well as a roasting spot at the back, but the coffee will satisfy your caffeine crave at midnight after dinner.
Another coffee spot that roasts it’s own coffee, with a great selection of coffee to take home.
I never got to visit this shop as it recently opened but the owner is a World Ibrik Turkish coffee champion and she will offer Turkish coffee as well as Third wave coffee too.
This list is by far not exhaustive and I’m sure since I was last in Riyadh (October 2021), more high end, speciality coffee shops have opened, where queues are forming even at midnight, but I’ve tried to give you a summary so that when you are craving sociality coffee, you have options.
To find the locations, check instagram and google maps.