If you travel to the Middle East and you’re not a coffee drinker, you will be by the time you leave because coffee in Arabic speaking countries is as much part of everyday culture as it is a culinary tradition.
Get over your ideas of coffee being made by your automatic drip coffee maker that makes your cup of joe at home because in the Middle East it’s prepared quite different. Generally, “Arabic” coffee means coffee that is prepared the Turkish way and there are many with varieties. As a result, when it comes to the variations of ahwa (قهوة) it’s important to know what you’re options are.
Most common in the Levant region, Turkish coffee is brewed without a filter using coffee beans ground so fine, it resembles the texture of cocoa powder). Sugar and cardamom are then added to the coffee and brewed in a special pot called a cezve or ibrik. (Notice that sugar is actually added before the coffee is made, and not after – a very important distinction of Turkish coffee.) After it’s brewed, the coffee is served in small cups which are set aside for a few minutes while the grounds settle at the bottom.
Ritually prepared from beginning to end in front of the guests who will drink it, Saudi coffee, or al–qahwa in Arabic,is made with either lightly roasted or heavily roasted coffee beans and spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, or cloves. It is brewed in a special pot known as the dallah and poured into fenjan (very small cups without handles) and sometimes served with candied fruits or dates.
How to Order Your Arabic Coffee
Whether you’re ordering Arabic coffee in a café or being offered coffee as a quest in someone’s home, whoever is taking your order or offering it to you will surely ask you how much sugar, if any, you prefer in yours. This is important because, as we mentioned before, sugar is actually added during the cooking or brewing process, and never after, so here are some handy expressions (especially if you want to learn to speak Arabic) to get your coffee just the way you like it:
قهوة سوداء / qahwat sawda (black or no sugar)
قهوة على الريحة / qahwat ariha (lightly sweetened)
قهوة مزبوطة / qahwat mazboot (medium amount of sugar)
قهوة زيادة / qahwat ahwaziyada (very sweet)
There are a wide variety of other regionally-based Arabic coffees which vary depending on how the beans are roasted, which spices they use, etc., but all are pretty much brewed in the same Turkish style.
By the way, you will never see cream or milk added to Arabic coffee; rather, Arabic coffee is often served with a thick, foamy head on top. This is so traditional in some regions that, if there is no foam on the top, guests will consider it rude.
Finally, remember to sip Arabic coffee slowly or end up with a mouthful of “mud” from grounds at the bottom of your cup.