Virtual Road Trip: Starbucks Stores a Modern Arabian Oasis

The story of coffee in Arabia is rich with legend, intrigue, and romance.

Around 1000 A.D., Arabian traders first smuggled coffee from its birthplace in Ethiopia on the African continent across the Red Sea to Yemen on the south end of the Arabian Peninsula. Here the beans were first roasted and cultivated on plantations. They boiled the beans to create a drink they called qahwa.

Arabians began drinking coffee prepared like a bean broth by 1300, and coffeehouses appeared throughout the Arabian world starting in 1450.

After the discovery of oil on the Arabian Peninsula in the 20th century, cities along its eastern coast on the Persian Gulf began to boom. By the year 2000, modern skylines of Kuwait City, Doha, Abu Dhabi and Dubai rose high above the Arabian Desert.

“The Middle East is one of the fastest-growing retail markets with high design standards from many global brands,” said Ad de Hond, vice president store design and concepts, Starbucks Coffee Europe Middle East and Africa. “Our business partner Alshaya gives us fantastic opportunities to design unique Starbucks experiences.”

In these cosmopolitan cities, shopping malls have become modern-day oases for the community. They are a town center, a cool respite from the desert heat where families and friends gather to connect. Ad de Hond shares some of his favorite Starbucks mall locations along the gulf.

The Avenues, Kuwait City

Starbucks opened its first store in Kuwait City, Kuwait in February 1999, at the northern tip of the Persian Gulf. Starbucks now has more than 70 stores in a variety of spaces in the country. Its 5,000 square-foot store in The Avenues opened a new chapter for Starbucks in the region.

Located on the mall’s elegant Grand Avenue, customers enjoy patio seating under palm trees along a cobblestone walkway filled with light from the glass ceiling high overhead. The store is the first in the Middle East to feature Starbucks Reserve® coffees using the Clover® brewing method, interior space is inspired by the art nouveau movement of the early 20th century, with lacquered woods, plush and textured fabrics, mosaic tiles, and locally poured terrazzo flooring. The design also showcases Arabic coffee history, with custom murals and Arabian motifs.

“Customers here are accustomed to a high level of comfort and luxury which we translate into our product offering with Starbucks Reserve coffees, soft seating and use of materials,” de Hond said. “We combine local design influences with Starbucks signature third place experience to create a whole new space.”

Deira City Centre, Dubai

A two-hour plane ride to the southern end of the Persian Gulf will bring you to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, one of world’s fastest-growing tourist destinations with miles of sandy white beaches, camel safaris, diving, fishing, and culture. Dubai is also a shopper’s paradise, where traditional open-air markets, known as souks, fill narrow alleyways with jewelry, spices, carpets and textiles.

Just a 5-minute cab ride away from the busy Dubai International Airport is the Deira City Centre. Here, designers have created the feeling of a verdant urban oasis with live plants and leafy green walls and upholstery. A glimmering display of traditional Arabic brass coffee pots, called dallah, pay tribute to Arabian coffee heritage.

Dubai Mall, Dubai

Another 15 minutes by car into the city center lies the city’s largest shopping destination – the Dubai Mall. The complex features 1,200 stores, an ice arena, aquarium and underwater zoo, and the gateway to the observation deck at the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building.

“Our design approach is to truly connect with our discerning customers and our store partners (employees),” said de Hond. “We are really inspired by the local coffee culture and heritage but also the love for modernist design which we use a lot in the Middle East.”

Dubai Mall, Fountain

One of the best views of the Dubai Mall’s stunning fountains can be enjoyed from this distinctive Starbucks store. Customers can enjoy the water feature and lush greenery from the store’s patio and indoor veranda. Inside, the store features Starbucks Reserve coffee and an open design concept with high ceilings, decorative lighting, with Arabic artifacts and embroidered coffee art.

Dubai Mall, Level 1 Grand Atrium

Above the main entrance to the Dubai Mall on Level 1 of the Grand Atrium is the mall’s newest Starbucks store. Designed with a palette of finishes and color tones that perfectly complement the mall's interiors, open lounge-style store offers varied seating arrangements to suit customers’ tastes and moods. The centerpiece of the design is the magnificent coffee bar made with treated timber artwork. Warm floor treatments, wall finishes and diffused lighting bring a warm, intimate feeling to the space.

Did You Know?

  • Starbucks opened its first store in the Middle East and North Africa with joint-venture partner Alshaya in Kuwait City on February 9, 1999. Starbucks and Alshaya now have more than 340 stores in the operating region in Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
  • Dubai International Airport (DXB) is ranked the second-busiest airport in the world in terms of international passengers. The airport serves more than 125 airlines flying to more than 260 destinations across six continents.
  • Dubai’s skyline features the distinctive sail-like Burj Al Arab, a luxury hotel on its own island off the coast.

For Your Travels

Customers in the Middle East and North Africa can choose from Starbucks classic Espresso Roast or try an Origin Espresso for their handcrafted beverages. This summer, stores in the region are offering Kenya Origin Espresso, a single-origin coffee that is full-bodied and high in acidity with citrus flavors perfect as a refreshing espresso to savor on its own or to enjoy added to an iced drink.

Our Next Stop

We’ll visit a historical land by the sea known for its rich, intense coffee.

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New, more sustainable Starbucks cold cups are made with up to 20 percent less plastic