Coffee drinking during lockdown sparks business idea for Donegal man

A LETTERKENNY teacher who has been living and working in Dubai for the past four years recently launched his own brand of coffee.

The Hills Coffee, which already brings four coffees to the market, is delivered to hundreds of homes across all seven Emirates of the UAE each week.

Conor Gibbons (30) from Hawthorn Heights is the owner and founder of The Hills Coffee.


He lives in Al Warqa and works as a primary school teacher at Raffles World Academy in Dubai.

Speaking to the Donegal News this week, Conor said his company sources its beans from many countries around the world from places as far away as Ethiopia, Guatemala and Brazil.

“We’re always trying to get the right range, selection and blend of bean that best satisfies our customers tastes,” he said.

While The Hills Coffee is based in Dubai, the plan is that some day it will take root in Donegal.

“That would be the plan but, for now, I’m still trying to learn the business,” he said.

The idea to set up the company came during the various Covid-19 lockdowns of 2020 when more and more people were drinking coffee at home.

“The daily routine of grinding and brewing a fresh cup of coffee from my apartment gave a sense of routine and purpose to the day. My enjoyment of a simple cup developed into an understanding of the culture that surrounds coffee and then a want to develop a flavour experience of my own,” he explained.


Conor linked up with Sam Harkous, an established coffee roaster in the Al Quoz area of Dubai, and learned the process of sourcing speciality coffee beans, roasting and delivering a finished product.

After many hours of tasting and careful selection, he introduced his first coffees to the market.

“It’s been an enjoyable experience so far. There’s definitely been plenty of challenges but I’m sure that’s just part of it,” he said.

There is a huge Irish community living in the UAE and it didn’t take long before the ex-pat community started purchasing a bag of ‘Bluestack’ or ‘Derryveagh’, ‘Mamore’ or ‘Terhillion’ as whole beans, or ground coffee.

“You’re never too far from other Donegal folk out here. I was barely off the plane after moving out and I had lads like Paul Yank Boyle, Johnny Harkin, Mark Forker and then Liam Doherty from Kilcar getting in touch to see how things were and if I needed anything.

“Sean and Irene McFadden from Letterkenny are out here too, along with their boys Ruairi and David. They’ve also been brilliant. Looking back at it, that kind of stuff definitely made the move away much easier to adapt to,” he said.

After leaving St Eunan’s College in 2010, Conor spent much of the next decade in Dublin, between college and work. The last two of those years were spent teaching in St Luke’s in Tyrrelstown.

Towards the end of the second year working there Conor and his girlfriend Emma made the decision to move to Dubai.

“We are into our fourth year of working and living here now, the time has flown in,” he said.

A talented GAA footballer, Conor won three County Championships with St Eunan’s (2009, ‘12 and ‘14). He continues to plays with the Dubai Celts but has been out injured for the past eight months.

In January, he’ll link up with the Dubai Irish FC team who have Paul Yank Boyle and Ballyraine man Garbhan Grant in their ranks.

Meanwhile, Declan Boyle and McCafferty’s bars continue to do excellent work with the music scene in Dubai.

“The acts they have on every week are absolute quality and their venues have become a proper hub for live music,” he said.

The youngest son of Michael and Mary Gibbons, Conor has three sisters Eimear, Aine and Niamh. He arrived back home for Christmas earlier this week.

“I enjoy the teaching and I’m looking forward to getting back at it in January. I also enjoy the coffee. Running a business has been a good experience and I’m learning all the time. I don’t expect to give up the day job any time soon but I do have a few plans and ideas for the business in 2023 but I’ll keep them to myself for the time being.

“I would love to bring the coffee over to Ireland and I’m excited about what is to come. It’s still very much a project on the side. I love teaching,” he said.

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