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Three Coffee's Drew Dennehy on the rise of specialty coffee and much more

Words by Nathan Irvine

Three is the magic number

We spoke to Three Coffee's co-founder and GM, Drew Dennehy about the competitiveness of Dubai's roasting scene, why there's a coffee for everyone and why the likes of gummy bears are the future of specialty coffee industry.

Supplied Drew Dennehy, co-founder and GM of Three Coffee

On coffee preferences…

The more you’re in the coffee world the more you realise there’s objectively bad coffee, but there’s also a coffee for everyone. Even though people think 3-in-1 sachets are bad it’s still a great product for the consumer it was made for. Same with other big chain coffees too.

I feel like I’m a rarity in the specialty coffee business as I believe that what you’re drinking is what’s right for you. It’s less about discovering good coffee and more about the expectation of what it should taste like. Educating someone by telling them that this isn’t like their usual coffee and these are the flavours they should expect to get from it helps. I think setting the right expectations is key to trying specialty coffee.

On Dubai coffee wars…

It’s very competitive, yes. We have a good investor that understands the costs of building a brand right now in this industry. Eight to ten years ago there were only around eight registered roasters in Dubai. Today there are 60 and around 40 of these are specialty roasters.

There are a lot of people here that have a lot of expendable cash and think “let’s just start a roastery”. They don’t realise that the business isn’t viable until they’re around two years down the road with it though. What we did [to avoid this] is double-down on visuals. And the quality of the coffee that we buy is higher than our competitors. After just a year and a half, people recognise us as one of the top three quality roasters in Dubai.

On the rise of specialty coffee...

There is demand in places such as Australia, the US and the UK, but a big part of those consumer bases just want a regular coffee. Here, there’s a big damned for fruit-driven coffees, so it’s a great space to be in, because you’ve got lots of people that want an experience in a cup. There are those that are passive coffee consumers that just want to have what they had yesterday. They don’t want great coffee; they just don’t want a bad one. But there are lots more experience-driven coffee drinkers in Dubai and this allows us to buy coffee types that are a little more expensive, fruitier.

On farming…

Basically, our USP – pre-Covid – was to visit [coffee] farms. A lot of people claim to visit them, but we actually go and build relationships with these farmers.

One of the partners of Three Coffee is a former world barista champion and he is very science-minded. He goes and helps these farmers in places like Colombia and Indonesia to process coffee. Doing this enables us to impact the way the coffee tastes before it even gets to us.

Traditional coffee is often a product of bad farming, processing, roasting and brewing. What specialty coffee is trying to do is improve all of these things and get people drinking coffee that has been well farmed, well processed, well roasted and well brewed.

On the Three Coffee difference…

We make sure that whenever we setup a new account [read: have a new venue use their beans] we go in and recalibrate their brewing equipment for them. We give them the recipe, tell them what the margin of error is in producing a great cup of coffee and then follow-up every 20 days and make sure that everything is still calibrated correctly.

What we’re essentially offering is a service where these outlets outsource their coffee operations to us. So we charge more money for our coffee, but they don’t have any headaches with the quality of it. We even train the staff too. All roasteries need to be thinking like this – that these places are an extension of your brand. If someone goes and has a bad coffee they will instinctively think badly of both the coffee and the venue.

On future growth…

The biggest impediment to our growth right now is not having a venue where people can come in and touch and feel the brand. I’ve been trying to decide whether or not to move our entire roasting operation to a venue or to open up a smaller place where we have an espresso bar and training facility.

On the branding and name…

One of the reasons that we’re called Three Coffee is because we categorise our coffee with three different colours - green, purple and brown. The reason for this is because when you buy a bag of coffee you won't always remember the name of it, but you're more likely to remember the colour of the bag.

Brown is more traditional, chocolate and caramel flavours. Purples are about their sweetness, so florals and berries, and other fruits in the red tropical spectrum. And green is more fresh – citrus, stone fruit and floral white flowers. The reason we did this so that we could profile our customers. So you might be a purple coffee person, and if you go on the website you might not remember the name but you’ll find something you like in the purple area. And we want to build this colour system into our venues for a more immersive experience.

On home baristas…

You have a lot of people that want that natural progression of going from instant to specialty coffee. They start to think “right, how do I get that type of coffee at home?”, buy a machine, and then try to understand how to use it properly. All of sudden they’re going deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole [of home coffee brewing] and they want guidance.

It’s the inevitable step for anything that’s deemed a craft. Like making cheese , kombucha… they want to feel like they can do it better, by themselves at home.

On the future of Three…

We have capsules coming. We’ve just had batches of our instant coffee come through for testing too. Lots of companies are afraid of putting their high-quality coffees in capsules, but it’s definitely possible to do it well. Obviously, to keep them fresh and give them a long shelf life they are flushed with nitrogen that ruins the flavours, but we’re going to do small batches, which will remain fresh.

Of course, it’s not going to be the same as brewing an espresso in the traditional sense, but it’ll be incredibly close. But the convenience side of things is where specialty coffee needs to go. We’ve got coffee ice-cream pops coming. And cold brew gummy bears too. We’re always thinking about how we can introduce coffee to people in ways that they want to consume it. And this is the only way we can grow the specialty coffee industry.

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