Arabic Coffee "Qahwa Arabiyeh"
By: Blanche Shaheen/Arab America Contributing Writer
The Arabica coffee bean is likely the very first coffee that was ever consumed on this planet. The first written record of coffee made from roasted coffee beans comes from Arab scholars, who wrote that it was useful in prolonging their working hours, clearly the understatement of the century! Arabs in Yemen started making a brew from the roasted beans, and this method spread to the Egyptians, the Turks, and eventually around the world to a local Starbucks near you. The Arabica bean is like the Rolls Royce of coffees, with an intense and complex aroma that smells like flowers, fruit, honey, chocolate, caramel, or even toasted bread.
Because the coffee is so rich and strong, the hot brew is served in small 2 ounce coffee cups. Each tiny cup has the strength of a can of Red Bull, but that doesn’t deter Arabs from serving this beverage any time of day or night. When visiting any home in Arab countries across the Middle East, coffee is served to show warmth and hospitality. Arabic coffee is ubiquitous in any casual visit in the Middle East, served with dates, rich sweets like baklava, or shortbread style cookies like ghraybeh and barazek. The coffee is also served after meals to help with digestion, hence the addition of cardamom, which helps soothe the stomach.
People often wonder what the difference is between Arabic coffee and Turkish coffee. They are actually one the same, except the methods of preparation are different. Arabic coffee, also called Al Qahwa, is prepared using heavily roasted beans. For instance, bedouin cultures roast the beans over a charcoal or wood fire for days, adding even more depth to the coffee. Turkish coffee is made with roasted and finely grounded Arabica coffee beans, generally made in a traditional coffee pot. Both may add rich spices to the ground beans like cardamom, cloves, or saffron.
The symbolism of Arabic coffee is as rich and as varied as the flavor. Arabic coffee finds a prominent position in traditional Arabic celebrations, feasts, weddings, and special occasions such as Ramadan and Eid. With a happy occasion, the coffee is sweetened with a lot of sugar to commemorate the sweet event. At funerals the coffee is served without sugar, to reflect the bitterness of mourning a loved one lost. Coffee is ever present in business meetings as well. The finjaan, the tiny and delicate cup, is the vessel of choice. Usually it is filled half way, and the custom is to drink three cups, but usually not more than that.
This coffee is also considered “psychic” in many Middle Eastern circles. After drinking the coffee, turning the cups upside down on the saucer allows the leftover coffee grounds to settle, often making ornate patterns and symbols in the cups. As aunties or grandmothers read coffee ground fortunes to the younger generation, they invariably find a “ring” in the cup, as a nudge for them to get married. If they are married then they would find symbols of children in the cup as a nudge to have children. So many times these “fortunes” turn into a wishlist from the older generation.
Regardless of the occasion, there are many rich traditions and symbols that surround Arabic coffee. Some companies today, like Levant Blends, are trying to adapt ancient coffee with modern culture by putting the ground Arabica bean flavored with cardamom into K-cups for convenience. In the video below, you can see the techniques for both the modern and traditional methods on how you can create this coffee tradition in your home.
- 2 rounded tbsp ground Arabica coffee, the finest grind you can find (finer than espresso)
- 2 tsp ground cardamom (or 2-3 cardamom pods)
- 2 cups water
- 1 Tbsp sugar (or more if you like the coffee sweeter)
In a saucepan or Arabic style coffee pot, add the coffee, sugar, water, and cardamom and stir until the coffee boils. Lower the heat, stirring the whole time for another 3 minutes until the coffee is dissolved. The longer you simmer the coffee, the richer the coffee will be. The coffee will rise and foam several times, make sure you allow the coffee to rise and foam at least 3 times to ensure the coffee is dissolved. To make sure the coffee doesn’t foam out of the pot, remove from heat source, then put over the heat source again. Serve in small two ounce coffee cups with any of the sweets included in this cookbook.
Blanche Shaheen is a journalist, host of the YouTube cooking show called Feast in the Middle East and cookbook author. For more authentic and classical Middle Eastern recipes, you can now purchase her brand new cookbook: “Feast in the Middle East, A Personal Journey of Family and Cuisine” by clicking HERE:https://secure.mybookorders.com/Orderpage/2189
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