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Dawn of the $4 coffee in Damascus, Syria

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Sarah Birke

(Read caption) A French cafe chain, Brioche Dorrée, in Damascus, Syria, where young people are enjoying expensive coffee and other specialty drinks.

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Sitting in a new, glassy cafe, well-dressed, well-heeled 20-and 30-somethings lounge around drinking coffee and surfing the Internet; young couples snuggle into comfy sofas for the afternoon. The menu is luxuriously long: coffees, smoothies, and flavored iced drinks, each demanding a princely sum of more than $4.

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Sounds familiar? Yes... but this is Damascus, Syria. Its emergence from international isolation has led to economic improvement, which in turn is making its young people resemble more and more their counterparts across the world. As Syria enjoys more investment, its capital city is blossoming, and the young – those who can afford it, at least – are moving from the traditional Arabic teahouses filled with swirling shisha (water pipe) smoke to the new, upmarket social hot spots.

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The past year has witnessed new shopping malls, bringing international brands like Nike and Lacoste to Syria for the first time. Restaurants pop up like mushrooms. Coffee shops multiply overnight. “Soon, Starbucks will be on every corner,” says Amer Kasser, a coffee aficionado – “once US sanctions are lifted, of course.”

As the economic opening continues, new fads arrive and the chase is on among young people to figure out the next hip place to be seen. This month? It’s got to be one of the new sushi places, naturellement.