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Wake Up and Smell the Arabic Coffee

posted on: Nov 12, 2014


BY: Ameera David/Contributing Writer

Just last week, the Arab American National Museum presented their first ever coffee exhibit titled “From Mocha to Latte: Coffee, the Arab World, and the $4 cup”. The showcase, which runs until August 2010, takes visitors on a journey through the history of coffee—from its origins in the Arab world to the coffeehouse culture we know today.

Unbeknownst to most, coffee beans were first cultivated and brewed as rocket fuel by Yemeni tribesmen. Later, when it was learned coffee could be consumed, Arabs began to produce and market the product to the Western World. Coffee production put Yemen on the map, namely the Red Sea port city of Mocha, which is the namesake of the widely popularized mocha known today.

Despite modernized coffee flavors developing in Europe and the US, the most widely consumed coffee in the Arab World remains to be Turkish coffee— which refers not to its origins but rather to a particular way of preparation. Rich with history, the Arabic- Turkish coffee has long stood as a mechanism for social gathering and cultural activity in the Middle East.

“It is not an exaggeration to say that Arabic coffee marks just about every memorable moment of peoples’ lives in the Middle East. Significant moments can’t pass without passing coffee during peace making, marking weddings’ celebrations, and mourning at funerals” says Palestinian American, Suhair Ghannam.

In an Arabic household, coffee is the chief sign of warm hospitality. Usually, the guests receive one cup of coffee when they arrive for basic welcoming. Later, when the guests are ready to leave, they are encouraged to stay for another cup. While two cups of coffee are typical, the number of cups will increase if the host family is captivated by their company.

Another custom associated with Arabic coffee is fortune-telling in which someone (usually an older, wiser woman) can predict the coffee drinkers’ future based on the pattern of the coffee grains that remain at the end of the cup. “I think that the fortune-telling is a very traditional and fun aspect of the Arabic coffee experience” says Palestinian American, Hend Khatib.

While most simply appreciate the coffee’s social appeal, others value its health benefits. “Arabic coffee rejuvenates spared energies and strengthens hearts’ muscles with the added cardamom” says Ghannam, who drinks it for health reasons. In fact, recent studies show coffee may actually decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease in addition to Type 2 diabetes, liver cancer, and liver cirrhosis.

Arabic coffee serves many purposes. It can help extend a welcome in the home, tell a charming fortune, or even fight off a grave illness. Elizabeth Barret, curator of the new coffee culture exhibit, looks forward to teaching visitors all about these great qualities, “We are really excited about having this exhibit. We just know it’s going to be fun.”