What’s Brewing in Jeddah
A new coffee roaster has the Saudi city buzzing—and it’s not just the caffeine.
It’s a balmy Monday morning in Jeddah, and by the Corniche, the city’s alluring seaside promenade, Jeddah’s java junkies are getting their caffeine fix. The scene unfolding inside Medd Café & Roastery could be playing out in Brooklyn, Melbourne or London: a hip local clientele immersed in their laptops, hessian sacks overflowing with coffee beans placed artfully on plush carpets, industrial fittings descending from the ceiling, and murals and canvases splashed across cement walls. But glimpses of abayas on immaculately attired women upstairs and red-checkered ghutra headdresses on some men on the ground floor will reorient you to the fact that you’re still in Saudi Arabia.
While the Middle East is often synonymous with brass pots brimming with heady tea, a group of young friends is determined to revive a long-standing coffee culture in the Red Sea city. By some accounts, coffee originated in the neighboring nation of Yemen (though many would argue Ethiopia is where it all began), and strong cardamom-laced Arabic coffee is still popular throughout the region. But Medd is the city’s first purveyor of craft-brewed coffee and the creative culture it inspires—and Jeddah may never be the same again.
Salem Bajnaid, co-founder and roaster at the operation, credits his global background with introducing him to artisanal coffee. He was raised in Jeddah, lived in Houston for a spell, and did stints in Canada, Dubai, and the UK; London is where he first learned about the third-wave coffee movement. “I realized you could have coffee without sugar,” he recalls with a laugh. He went on to train with a Turkish roastmaster in Russia before opening Medd in October 2015 with three friends, all of whom take turns working at the café.
“I was involved with a group of friends in social community projects—theater work, film screenings, philosophical discussions,” he says. “We were doing social activities and we wanted to crystallize it into something. A coffeeshop is a medium, it’s the best space that you can create in order to alter mindsets, to introduce new concepts and ideas — ever since coffeeshops emerged they’ve played a significant role in social transformation. We’re in this business with this mindset, to influence progress, positive change, positive thinking.”
And so far, it’s doing just that. Medd hosts book launches and board game events, has pop-ups at popular citywide arts events, and invites a constantly rotating roster of local artists to display their work on Medd’s walls, giving them exposure and access to a whole new audience (all the artwork is for sale, and Medd doesn’t take a commission). As the Kingdom gradually relaxes its strict rules on entertainment and gender mixing in public spaces, Medd is poised to lead the city into a new era of exchanging ideas. Not only is it a place where locals congregate, but it’s the kind of place they’d tell out-of-towners to visit as well, to showcase their city’s rising cool factor.
And aside from creating a much-needed cultural gathering space, it’s also taking on Starbucks and introducing locals to seriously good coffee—something that’s much appreciated by well-traveled Saudis used to sipping the best brews on their jaunts across the world, but also by newbies introduced to coffee for the very first time. “We’re doing our bit for education,” Bajnaid adds.
“There isn’t a lack of coffee consumption here, it’s just a matter of offering good coffee so that people can drink it and enjoy it,” says Bajnaid. Judging by the crowd congregating on a busy weekday morning, it might really be just that simple.
Medd Café and Roastery: Beach Tower, Northern Corniche, Jeddah; +966 12 613 2122