There's a bazillion things that fascinate me about Jordan, but the art of making a cup of authentic Bedouin coffee is certainly in my top three. Did you know the English word “coffee” comes from the Arabic word for coffee, “qahweh?” To many of us, coffee = Starbucks. If that’s you, you need to get out more. Just sayin.
On a recent trip to Jordan, I was delighted to find out that the Arab nomadic traditions and practices of Bedouin tribes can still be found , quite easily actually. They’re settled in tents driving four-wheeled vehicles, herding sheep and going on for advanced college degrees, but the Bedouin culture is being preserved. Families practice many of the old ways perhaps none more romantic and engaging then the art of crafting a cup of coffee.
I was lucky enough to visit a traditional Bedouin family in their winter (tent) home. There is still a ceremonial welcome for honored guests, which on this visit was for myself and eight other IFWTWA travel wrtiers. In this family, Bedouin men roast the coffee beans on a tray over a fire, and then crush the coffee beans by rhythmically beating them with a mortar and pestle. There’s a sway and song to this event that celebrates hundreds of years of tradition. They brew their coffee much in the same way their fathers did it (coffee is made only by the men), and pour it for honored guests.
Serving coffee has deep cultural meaning, which goes far beyond the pleasure of a delicious roast or even the company of good friends. Preparing and serving coffee is a ceremonial act of extending hospitality and kindness, which honors the guest and brings integrity to the host. When offered a cup of coffee in a Bedouin tent, always drink a little politely, whenever offered. It is very rude to decline. Every social call and every meal is concluded with coffee and a tray of sweets or fruit.
Arabic Coffee Rituals
Arabic coffee is by taste a method of preparation and its flavoring, rather than the type or roast of bean. It is an unfiltered boiled coffee, served black, and if sugar is added, it is added only during preparation. It is boiled in a small pot, called a briq, poured into small delicate cups without handles, called fenjaan. Sometimes, the coffee is transferred to a larger and more beautiful pouring jug to serve in front of guests, called a dallah. I found it rather robust and somewhat bitter. Coffee is always served to oldest to youngest, with men first.
Arabic coffee is traditionally flavored with green cardamom, the expensive and exotic aromatic spice native to India. The coffee beans and cardamom pods are roasted separately and then combined and ground together finely before being brewed.
A long beaked brass coffee pot is filled with water and the grounded coffee mixed with cardamom seeds is poured into it. The mixture is brought to boil 3 times and then it is left to settle for a few minutes.
'Al Heif': The first cup of coffee to be poured and tasted by the Bedouin host to let the guest feel safe.
'Al Keif': The second cup of coffee to be poured and tasted by the guest himself.
'Al Dheif' (The cup of the guest) is the third cup of coffee to be poured. It is drunk by the guest.
When the guest has had enough coffee (the guest should drink at least one), he holds the little coffee cup by placing the hand over the cup and lightly shaking the cup by turning his wrist a few times. This is the sign to the host that the guest has had enough. Note: Do not drink the whole cup otherwise you will be left with a mouth full of coffee grounds.
Making Arabic Coffee
A cup of Arabic coffee shared with a friend is happiness tasted and time well spent
For each half cup serving of coffee, you will need the following ingredients:
1 HEAPED spoonful of finely ground coffee, with ground cardamom seeds
1/2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 little cups of water
Fill pot with water and heat water on stove top. Once the warm is warm, but before it boils, add sugar and stir to dissolve.
Add big heaping spoonful’s of coffee. Add one heaped spoonful per serving of coffee.
Bring coffee to a rapid boil, and stir down the foam, lifting the pot from the heat source to control boiling. Continue to boil and stir until the foam suddenly disperses. Stop stirring and remove from heat.
Cover the pot, and let rest for two minutes so that the coffee grounds settle to the bottom of the bot.
Arrange a tray of small no-handle china cups on a tray. Pour the coffee slowly , and do not fill one cup at a time, but rather move from cup to cup, filling each one just a little, so that you distribute the (tastiest) top layer of coffee into each cup.
Sip slowly, and savor the flavor.
Remember to not drink the last couple of swallows, as they will be grainy with coffee sediment.