Embracing the Coffee Heritage of Saudi Arabia: From Tradition to Sustainability

Exploring Coffee Culture in Saudi Arabia: Tradition Meets Innovation

07 Mar 2024

As a symbol of hospitality and social connection, coffee holds a special position in Saudi Arabian culture. Traditional Saudi coffee, known as qahwa or gahwa, is a blend of lightly roasted Arabica beans infused with spices such as cardamom, saffron, or cloves, often served with dates and candies. The act of serving coffee embodies warmth and generosity, as may be frequently observed at social gatherings and on family occasions.  

In recent years, Saudi Arabia has embraced specialty coffee trends, with a growing interest in high- quality beans and artisanal brewing methods. The country’s coffee production primarily thrives in four key regions: namely Asir, Jazan, Baha, and recently also Najran, each offering suitable conditions for cultivation. These regions play a vital role in Saudi Arabia’s coffee industry, with ongoing efforts directed towards enhancing quality and sustainability. Additionally, there is a strong emphasis on promoting locally produced coffee over imported sources, aiming to support domestic coffee growers and raise awareness among Saudi consumers about the significance of choosing locally sourced products. This is an important part of one of the main goals of Slow Food’s work, which is to preserve the presence of over 80 ancient strains cultivated for over 400 years in Saudi Arabia, highlighting the rich heritage and diversity of the country’s coffee culture.  

Against the enchanting landscapes of Saudi Arabia, the Slow Food Coffee Coalition has embarked on a transformative journey to celebrate and preserve the country’s rich coffee heritage by collaborating with local producers, communities, and the Culinary Arts Commission. 

Here you will discover the vibrant coffee culture of Saudi Arabia and the most recent activities of the Slow Food Coffee Coalition in promoting sustainable practices and fostering community engagement. And find out more about the Culinary Arts and Gastro-Tourism Symposium held in Abha, which highlighted the Coalition’s significant role in shaping the future of Saudi Arabian coffee. 

Coffee Cultivation and Conservation in the Asir Region

Situated in the southwestern region of Saudi Arabia, Asir is an area renowned for its coffee production. At its high-altitudes with their cooler climates, coffee plants thrive in a landscape with a rich cultural and agricultural heritage. 

Here in the Soudha mountains, growers cultivate coffee and other crops on terraced plantations up to altitudes of 2,700 meters above sea level that are unique in the Saudi coffee belt. In the Thaa mountain area, where the producers have passed down their attachment to local varieties for generations, coffee is traditionally consumed without spices. Though they date back 50-80 years, some coffee plants are so resilient to climate change that they still continue to bear fruit. 

Over the past two years, the local branch of the Ministry of Environment, Water, and Agriculture has been actively promoting a seed bank initiative aimed at collecting and analyzing local and cultivated crop varieties with a focus on understanding their adaptation to regional contexts and climates. Working in collaboration with those in the broader scientific community concerned with coffee cultivation in Saudi Arabia, its efforts will be decisive in advancing our knowledge of the resilience of coffee crops to drought, frost, and the diverse altitudes of Saudi Arabia’s unique and awe-inspiring landscapes. 

It was in this region that a pivotal event was organized that triggered the inception of the Slow Food Coffee Coalition in Saudi Arabia. 

The Culinary Arts and Gastro-Tourism Symposium

The Culinary Arts and Gastro-Tourism Symposium, organized by the Saudi Culinary Arts Commission, supported by the Ministry of Culture, plays a pivotal role in preserving and developing the food culture in Saudi Arabia. The symposium, held in Abha on February 25th and 26th, 2024, offered a unique opportunity to celebrate and explore the diverse gastronomic culture of the Asir region, while also drawing inspiration from international experiences.  

 The event  brought together food industry experts, culinary enthusiasts, and tourism operators to delve into local and global culinary traditions, with the presentation of authentic food products and the promotion of gastro-tourism. Interactive workshops, keynote speeches and in-depth discussions prompted participants to engage in learning from case studies and exchange insights on the challenges and opportunities in the gastro-tourism sector.  

The symposium consolidated Asir’s reputation as a notable culinary destination and sparked initiatives to enhance gastronomic excellence and showcase the region’s distinctive culinary offerings. 

Organized by the Culinary Arts Commission, it featured a Slow Food Coffee Coalition workshop that targeted local producers and laid the groundwork for the the Saudi Arabia Coffee Coalition network. Led by Coffee Coalition coordinators Emanuele Dughera and Silvia Rota alongside Mario Cerutti, Director of Sustainability for the Lavazza Group (one of the main partners in the Coffee Coalition), and with the valuable assistance of Ahmad Zaki Kamel of Slow Food Saudi Arabia, the workshop aimed to facilitate collaboration and knowledge-sharing among coffee producers.  

“This initiative marked a first step towards establishing the Slow Food Coffee Coalition in Saudi Arabia, by bringing together more than 30 sustainable coffee stakeholders from all four Saudi Arabia coffee-producing regions. The work of the Coffee Coalition network will be focused on fostering sustainable practices and promoting Saudi Arabian coffee on both national and international platforms. We’ll start doing that by training local farmers and creating the very first Coffee Coalition community in Saudi Arabia, which we’ll include in the Coffee Coalition’s exchanges and invite to events, beginning with “World of Coffee” in Copenhagen in June 2024. In order to highlight Saudi Arabia coffee, activities will be geared to enhance understanding of local varieties and their characteristics.”   "

- Emanuele Dughera, Coffee Coalition coordinator -

More in general, Slow Food Coffee Coalition’s involvement in Saudi Arabia is another significant step toward promoting sustainable agricultural practices, preserving culinary traditions, and enhancing the local gastronomic heritage. Through collaborations such as the one with the Culinary Arts Commission and the establishment of the Saudi Arabia Coffee Coalition, Slow Food continues to play a key role in shaping a more equitable, healthy and environmentally sustainable food system for the future. 

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