Coffee in the Arabic World

Coffee in the Arabic Culture

It seems that what we call coffee, café, Kaffee, koffie or kahwa relates to the region of Kaffa (Ethiopia), where the coffee plant seems to be native. 

We know that for over 500 years the Arabs drink their kahwa (coffee). A manuscript by Abd-al-Kefir from 1587, which is on display in a museum in Paris, documents coffee as a beverage. The manuscript is based on records of an Arabian man named Shihab-ad-Din. His original records no longer exist, but it is believed they are over 100 years older than the manuscript itself.

fresh turkish coffee

Just before the 16th century begins, the success of coffee outside of Mokka, city in Yemen, begins. Through the cities of Mecca (Saudi Arabia) and Medina (Saudi Arabia), the coffee reaches the city of Cairo and with the growth of the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century, coffee reaches Syria, Asia and finally south eastern Europe. 

Coffee houses became a new institution. Here men met to talk, to play popular games like chess and backgammon and to listen to poets. The coffee houses turned out to be a focus for intellectual life and were seen as an unspoken enemy to the mosque as a meeting place. Some Arabian academics preached that a coffee house was "even worse than the wine room", and the ruling classes noted how these places could easily become holes of treason. However, all the efforts at banning coffee from the society were unsuccessful. Who can imagine that even the death penalty was used during the reign of Murad IV (1623-1640) to fight this new lifestyle. In the end the religious intellectuals came to a consensus that coffee was acceptable.

For decades, the Arab world, especially the Yemen, had the control of the coffee trade. To prevent trading partners from growing their own coffee, the green beans were brewed with hot water. This made them unable of sprouting. The cultivation of coffee was for a very long time an absolute confidential matter, but this changed finally in the 17th century.

How to prepare an Arabic coffee today?

First we need to grind our favourite coffee beans (18 – 20 gr) and the cardamom (3 gr) very finely. Secondly a pot, called Dallah, is filled with 300 ml of hot water and placed on the stove. As a further option the Arabic coffee can also be prepared with rose water instead of normal water.

Place the ground coffee and the ground cardamom into the Dallah and two cloves and a little saffron if needed. Cook the coffee for about 12 minutes.

The Arabic coffee is drunk from Finjaan, small cups without handle. Traditionally some dates can be served to underline the taste of coffee.

Arabic coffee is without milk, since it changes the taste enormously. In contrast to the Turkish mocha, our Arab coffee is unsweetened.