Home » Baby bottles for adult drinks spark a fad and a backlash in Gulf Arab states from Kuwait to Dubai

Baby bottles for adult drinks spark a fad and a backlash in Gulf Arab states from Kuwait to Dubai

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The latest craze in the Middle East? Drinking iced coffee out of baby bottles.

Cafes across several Gulf Arab states have started selling coffee and other cold drinks in baby bottles.

The fad began at Einstein Cafe, a slick dessert chain with branches from Dubai to Kuwait to Bahrain. Instead of ordinary paper cups, the cafe, inspired by pictures of trendy-looking bottles shared on social media, decided to serve its thick, milky drinks in plastic baby bottles.

The franchise already had another baby-themed best-seller: milkshakes with cerelac, a rice cereal for infants.

But the fervor over the baby bottles still came as a bit of a shock.

Lines clogged Einstein stores across the Gulf. People of all ages streamed onto sidewalks, waiting for their chance to suck coffee and juice from a plastic bottle. Some even brought their own baby bottles to other cafes, pleading with bewildered baristas to fill them up.

Pictures of baby bottles filled with colorful kaleidoscopes of drinks drew thousands of likes on Instagram and ricocheted across the popular social media app TikTok.

“People called all day, telling us they’re coming with their friends, they’re coming with their father and mother,” said Younes Molla, the chief executive officer of the Einstein franchise in the United Arab Emirates. “After so many months with the pandemic, with all the difficulties, people took photos, they had fun, they remembered their childhood.”

But soon the online haters took note.

“They said horrible things, that we were an ‘aeb,’ to Islam and the Muslim culture,” said Molla, using the Arabic term for shame or dishonor.

Then, Dubai authorities cracked down. Inspection teams burst into cafes and issued fines.

The authorities had been “alerted to the negative practice and its risks by social media users,” according to a government statement that also said: “Such indiscriminate use of baby bottles is not only against local culture and traditions, but the mishandling of the bottle during the filling could also contribute to the spread of COVID-19” — apparently referring to people bringing their own bottles to cafes.

There was also a backlash in Kuwait, where the government temporarily shut down Einstein Cafe, and in Bahrain, where the Ministry of Commerce sent police into cafes and warned establishments that serving drinks in feeding bottles “violates Bahraini customs and traditions.”

In Oman, the government urged people to report baby-bottle sightings to the Consumer Protection Authority hotline.

Saudi Twitter users and media personalities condemned the trend in the harshest terms, with the popular news website Mujaz al-Akhbar lamenting that the kingdom’s “daughters have suffered from a loss of modesty and religion.”

It’s not the first time that guardians of local customs in Gulf Arab countries have focused their ire on social media phenomena. Vague laws across the region lend authorities broad power to stamp out public immorality and indecency.

For instance, Emirati officers arrested a young expat last spring for posting a video on TikTok in which he sneezed into a banknote, accusing him of “harming” the UAE’s reputation and its institutions.