The Best Cafés in Riyadh, According to Local Barista Sara Alali
Find out where to get a great cup of coffee in Riyadh | © Courtesy of Cleto Cordero / EyeEm / Getty Images
At first glance, the popularity of grab-a-coffee drive-throughs and sickly-sweet iced coffees suggests that Riyadh’s coffee culture is as barren as the desert that surrounds it. But scratch beneath the surface and you’ll find a caffeine connoisseur’s dream of local roasters, artisan baristas, stylish coffee spots and even cafés serving locally grown beans.
In fact, Riyadh’s coffee culture is so special, there’s a whole community of passionate coffee lovers if you know where to look, says award-winning local barista and owner of gourmet coffee pop-up That (ذات), Sara Alali. Here, she lists the most likely spots to find them, and where to find the finest coffee in the Saudi capital.
Making coffee in a coffee shop, Riyadh © Abdullah Al-Eisa / Getty Images
Camel Step Roastery
Cafe, Coffee Shop, Coffee, $$$
There’s no seating here, but the coffee – roasted and freshly brewed on site – is excellent. Using quality beans from locations including Ethiopia, Panama and Mexico, this local roastery offers a delicious variety of quality and gourmet coffees. “The Ethiopian V60 is my personal favourite,” says Alali. This is a seasonal coffee, so if it isn’t available, she suggests speaking to the well-informed baristas for suggestions. Camel Step was one of the first companies to introduce specialist coffee to Saudi Arabia and is a big supporter of domestic coffee championships.
Cafe, Coffee Shop, Coffee
This huge café, founded by a husband-and-wife team, doubles as a retail outlet selling specialist coffee machines, some of which were developed by the roaster himself (an aeronautical engineer). “I actually used one of these machines when I took part in a 2016 competition in Dubai,” recalls Alali, who loves the pristine, simple white interior of the Varietal, where the baristas also serve up delicious croissants and cakes.
Tiny and locally owned, Five Elephants has two branches in the Saudi capital, but Alali prefers the one in Riyadh Park. This is not just for the coffee – which is great – but for the café’s European and American brunch and breakfast menu. Sit in the industrial-themed café and tuck into delicious omelettes and pancakes, or Alali’s personal favourite, eggs benedict.
“This is where you go for a spot of luxury,” says Alali, who served her famous sand-heated brew from the lobby of this sumptuous palace-like five-star hotel for a six-week period in 2017. The beans used in the hotel’s classically decorated café come from one of Saudi Arabia’s leading roasteries, The Roasting House. The Ritz serves coffee that is cold-dripped through towers for around eight to 24 hours, and is one of the only places in Riyadh to serve coffee brewed with a syphon.
“I love the way the owners of Elixir Bunn always try to be creative with their coffee and have a number of signature coffees you cannot get anywhere else,” says Alali about this Saudi-owned café, which also roasts its own beans. Opening in 2014, Elixir Bunn was one of Riyadh’s first specialist coffee spots and serves excellent desserts in a simple, white shop with clean lines. Elixir has just opened a new branch in the historic site of Ad Diriyah.
This café is so elite that it can only accommodate four people at a time. But it’s actually not the great-quality coffee that Riyadh’s locals queue up for first thing in the morning. “Everyone in Riyadh loves the home-made cookies. These are soft in the middle and filled with a delicious, gooey, melted chocolate. But you have to get here early, because they sell out very quick!” says Alali.
According to Alali, this is the best café in a district otherwise devoid of quality coffee, Sulaymaniah. Coyard is also a local roastery, roasting and brewing its own exceptional coffee, which can be enjoyed either in the elegantly decorated café or in the hidden garden at the back, where steam sprinklers keep customers cool. Coyard is also a retailer of specialist coffee equipment and serves a host of delicious snacks and desserts.
All white and blue and elegantly refreshing, COBEE has a Mediterranean feel and serves an array of delicious snacks, desserts and gourmet coffee, but the signature drink is a luxury hot chocolate brew sprinkled with grated luxury chocolate. “It is so deliciously indulgent, and feels a tad wicked if I’m honest,” says Alali.
Once a pop-up-style venture that did the rounds at various industry events, La Cabine serves a speciality Turkish coffee which, like Alali’s own signature technique, is brewed on sand-heaters. The beans come from all over the world and customers sit in mustard-coloured armchairs inside an edgy, urban space.
Less of a café and more of a coffee corner, Makana sits inside the Qomrah photography and camera shop. “It is owned by a famous photographer in Saudi Arabia who is a supporter of Saudi farmers. He has even filmed a documentary about coffee plantations in Jazan,” says Alali. Makana offers workshops in art and photography and serves coffee that is home-grown in Jazan, Saudi Arabia.
These recommendations were updated on January 23, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.