Last Updated on December 29, 2020
Usually, the Middle East brings images of the Arabian Nights, colorful and aromatic spices markets, and grandiose architecture. While these may be stereotypes, one cultural element that is present in Arab countries is a fact: hospitality.
An important part of this culture of hospitality is the offering of coffee. So, if you are invited to a house in this region, your hosts will surely offer some Arabic coffee. People are fond of this beverage in the entire region; so, outsiders often refer to it as Middle East coffee.
But connoisseurs, instead of a general term, use more specific denotations to identify the origin of each beverage. There are local variations, which are identified in this way as Jordanian Arabic coffee, Yemenite coffee, Saudi coffee, etc. But in all these cases, the associated Arabic coffee traditions seem to be quite similar. Let’s briefly talk about them.
The Culture of Arabic Coffee
The offering of this beverage is a ceremonial tradition that shows the generosity of a host. He or she will usually prepare the coffee in front of the guests. As said, the procedure may vary from country to country. These variations include the roasting technique, and, more importantly, the spices that are added to obtain a special flavor.
It is very common for every family in Arab countries to have some coffee beans at home reserved for guests. Locals also drink Arabic coffee during breakfast, friend gatherings, and other daily occasions. If you visit the Arab Peninsula or another Arab country, you don’t need to be invited to a local home to enjoy this beverage. It is also available at hotels and restaurants. Of course, the complete Arabic coffee experience includes the cultural aspect of hospitality.
What Characterizes Arabic Coffee
Is Arabic coffee strong? It is a common question asked by first-timers. Well, the answer is ‘yes.’ In Arab countries, coffee is meant to be a high-energy beverage. The name of the coffee beans comes from the Arabic word for strength: qahwah. This word was modified to kahveh because of Turkish influence. Eventually, this word adopted its Dutch form koffie that gave birth to the English word coffee that we know today.
Arabic coffee is unlike any western coffee beverage. Its main characteristic is its high content of caffeine. It is achieved through the roasting process. This can be done in different ways, as we’ve mentioned before. Some people fry the beans with oil, whereas others simply roast them. Whatever the method used, this will define the characteristics of the resulting beverage.
It’s a known fact that the longer the beans are roasted, the less caffeine they contain. The water content decreases with roasting also. To create a strong beverage, the beans are roasted for a very short time. Hence, the resulting Arabic ground coffee has a high content of caffeine and water.
Is that everything that distinguishes Arabic coffee from other coffee beverages? Not at all! Several distinctive characteristics make Arabic coffee so unique. The most important ones are:
- Arabic coffee is boiled. This beverage is not brewed like Italian or American variations, which rely on a filter. In the next section, you will find a detailed explanation of how to make Arabic coffee;
- Sugar isn’t added to traditional Arabic coffee. This beverage is meant to taste bitter. Hence, it’s served with some sweet treats that you can eat while sipping coffee. However, in some hotels and restaurants, sugar is added to please foreigners and tourists. But this is more an exception than a rule;
- Arabic coffee contains spices. It is one of the most noticeable characteristics. Traditionally, some spices are added. This results in a fragrant beverage. Sometimes, the spices are ground together with the beans. Others prefer to add the spices later. Most commonly, cardamom is added.
Arabic coffee often surprises foreigners with a very unique taste. It’s completely different from what you are used to drinking in western countries. Moreover, the preparation procedure and the culture that surrounds it add to the allure of this beverage. More likely than not, after having an Arabic coffee experience, you will also serve it to your guests back home. Now, get ready to learn how to prepare this beverage.
How to Make Arabic Coffee
While there are many regional variations, the procedure to prepare it is more or less the same everywhere. The procedure begins with the selection of the best coffee beans. As said, families usually keep some selected beans of the highest quality for guests.
The next step is roasting. As mentioned, there are several ways of doing it. The common requirement is to roast them for a very short time. This is usually done on a shallow pan. Traditionally, the pan is put on a fire. Light roasting allows for the right chemical composition to get the particular bitter taste of the beverage.
Next, the grinding is done with a mortar. The traditional mortar and pestle are made of copper. The coffee grounds are very fine, almost like powder. This material is then placed into a dallah, which is a large coffee pot, also made of copper. Then, one should fill the dallah with water and place it on a stove top. Usually, 10 or 15 minutes on the stove will be enough to boil the content.
When the beverage is brewed, the dallah is left untouched for 1 or 2 minutes. This allows the grounds to fall to the bottom. Then, the beverage is poured into a thermos to keep it hot. Finally, the coffee is served in small Arabia coffee cups. This type of cup, called finjaan, doesn’t have a handle. Traditionally, only one fourth (up to one third) of the finjaan is filled with the beverage.
The procedure is rather straightforward and doesn’t have any major difficulties. If you want to reproduce this preparation method at home, you can purchase an Arabic coffee set. Such a set includes all the Arabian coffee pots to prepare the beverage as well as several cups to drink it.
Below you will find a step-by-step description to make cardamom Arabic coffee. The procedure is very easy. Moreover, you won’t have any issues finding the ingredients. You’ll need roasted Arabic coffee beans, cardamom, and water. You can add other spices such as cloves, saffron, and rosewater. But this is optional.
Grinding the Coffee
Step 1: Buy Arabic coffee. For this, you have several options. The first option is to buy whole roasted beans. However, you’ll have to grind them on your own. In such a case, make sure you get Arabica beans. They are lightly roasted. A medium roast will work too, albeit with a less bitter taste of the beverage. The second option is to buy ground coffee. There are different Arabic coffee blends on the market. They already include some spices and are ready to be put directly into the dallah. The only drawback with this approach is that you cannot adjust the spices to your taste. But, more often than not, these blends have the right proportions for an authentic Arabic coffee taste. After gaining some experience, you may also consider purchasing unroasted Arabica coffee beans. Roasting the beans on your own will add another level of authenticity to your homemade Arabic coffee.
Step 2. Grind the beans. You have to grind the beans first if you bought them whole. A mortar will do the job at home. Arabic coffee is often made with very fine coffee grind. It should be like powder. But you can experiment at home. After several trials, you’ll know the right grind for your taste.
Step 3. Grind the cardamom. Likewise, you should grind the cardamom into a fine powder. Use a manual coffee grinder or a mortar.
Step 4. Preheat the thermos. If you intend to serve the beverage from a thermos, fill it with boiling water before you begin to brew the coffee.
Brewing the Coffee
Step 1. Boil the water. You need to boil three cups of water at medium heat. A dallah adds authenticity to the preparation. But a saucepan or any other similar utensil will do the job too.
Step 2. Add the coffee. Put the dallah aside for half a minute to cool down a little bit. In the meantime, lower the heat of the stove. Add three tablespoons of ground coffee. Then, put the dallah back on the stove. There is no need to stir.
Step 3. Let the coffee brew. Allow 10 minutes (or slightly more) to pass before you check the dallah. If you see that foam is forming on the top, then it means that the beverage is brewing. The coffee should not boil though.
Step 4. Add the cardamom. Put the dallah aside for a minute. When the foam settles, add one tablespoon of ground cardamom. If you want, you can add a few cloves also.
Step 5. Boil a second time. Put the dallah back on the stove and repeat step 3.
Step 6. Pour the coffee into the thermos. Turn the stove off. Put the dallah aside for some minutes. This will allow the grounds to settle to the bottom. Empty the thermos and add a pinch of saffron. This spice is optional. Also, you can add a tablespoon of rosewater if you want. Finally, pour the coffee into the thermos. Stop pouring when the grounds appear. If you wish, you can use a strainer to catch the grounds and sediment.
Serving and Drinking Arabic Coffee
You made it! Now, you have Arabic coffee ready to be served. Wait 10 or 15 minutes before you start serving it to your guests. In Arab countries, the oldest of the most important guest is served first. As mentioned, just one-fourth of the cup is filled. It can be refilled if you wish. Good manners dictate to drink at least one cup, but not more than three. At home, however, these etiquette rules can be relaxed.
Serve this beverage with chocolates or sweet treats. In the Middle East, it is usually served with dates or traditional Arabic sweets to counter the bitterness of the beverage.
Alternative Fragrances for Arabic Coffee
While cardamom is the most used spice to prepare Arabic coffee, other spices can be added. As you saw from the recipe above, you can add cloves, saffron, and rosewater. Ginger is also used to prepare some regional variations of the beverage.
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