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Arabic coffee: Concocting a perfect mix of tradition and warmth of hospitality

Arabic coffee: Concocting a perfect mix of tradition and warmth of hospitality
12 Apr 2024 08:44

SARA ALZAABI (ALETIHAD)

Deeply entrenched in Arab culture, coffee holds a coveted space as a symbol of hospitality and a unifying force. Likewise, coffee is highly valued in Emirati society for its role as a sign of respect and etiquette, and its absence can be interpreted as a sign of disrespect.

The Bedouin saying, "When a guest comes, he is a prince", emphasises the importance of hospitality, including a warm reception and appropriate gestures of honor. The departure of a guest without having coffee can diminish the host's social standing and sense of hospitality.

The efforts of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Qatar to highlight the heritage value of Arab coffee came to fruition in 2015, when it was inscribed on UNESCO's List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in December.

The etiquette of serving coffee is considered an art in itself, serving as a vital component of Emirati customs, passed down through generations.

According to the traditions and practices, Arabic coffee is served with precise manners for the server, the guest and the host.

For instance, the server must hold the finjan (cup) in his right hand and the dallah (coffee pot) in his left, with his thumb pointing to the top.

Similarly, while accepting and returning the cup to the server, guests should use their right hand.

The eldest or most significant visitor is served first, with the cup only partially filled. It may then be refilled as needed.

It is customary to consume one cup at least, but no more than three.

Saif Al Dahmani, a poet, heritage researcher, and expert in Arabic coffee, in a recent talk with Aletihad, delved into the making of a perfect cup of coffee in the traditional way.

"We used to buy Arabic coffee from the markets. First, the coffee was roasted and then pounded in a pot called 'Al- Manhas'.  Next, it was brewed in a pot over the fire. The coffee was prepared in three pots: the first called 'Al Talqeemah,' the second, a large pot known as 'Al Khamrah,' to which we kept adding hot water. The final pot, called 'Al Muzalla', held the prepared coffee ready for serving," he said.

Al Dahmani also offered a glimpse into the regional variations in roasting coffee.

The first is a light roast, popular in some Gulf countries, which produces coffee beans with a light colour. The second, medium roast, very common in the UAE and Oman, sees coffee beans come out with a reddish hue. The last one, a dark roast, resulting from roasting for a longer time, creates coffee beans with a dark or near black colour, similar to the one served in the Levant, according to Al Dahmani.

More than a mere traditional beverage, coffee's importance and presence is deeply felt in Arab daily life.

"Arabic coffee has its own etiquette and rituals and has contributed to resolving many family problems. It is considered a symbol of hospitality and generosity. If a person encounters an issue with a relative or neighbour, they bring their complaint to the sheikh of the tribe. The sheikh, in turn, visits the person being complained about and refrains from drinking coffee until the issue is resolved between them," he added.

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