Coffee is an important part of Middle Eastern culture and culinary tradition. As with much of the culinary tradition, coffee is prepared and served quite differently in the Middle East than in its Western culture counterparts. In fact, the term “Arabic coffee” generally refers to one primary method of coffee preparation (Turkish) with several variations. In the Middle East, coffee is generally called ahwa, though there are other similar variations of the word depending on the dialect. When given the opportunity to order coffee, it is most impressive to understand your options.
Turkish coffee refers to the special brewing method that is most common in the Levant. Turkish coffee is made unfiltered with finely ground coffee beans (so fine that they resemble the texture of cocoa powder). The ground beans are boiled in a special pot called a cezve or ibrik. The coffee is also boiled with sugar and cardamom. It is an important distinction to be made that Turkish coffee is actually cooked with sugar rather than adding the sweetener later. The coffee is served in small cups and allowed to sit for a few moments before serving to allow the grounds to sink to the bottom of the cup and settle.
Saudi coffee, or al-qahwa, is made from roasted coffee beans, which can be roasted lightly or heavily, as well as a mix of spices like cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, or saffron. Saudi coffee is generally prepared start to finish in the presence of the guests to whom it will be served, meaning that the beans are commonly roasted, ground, and brewed all as part of the ritual. The coffee is served from a special pot called a dallah and small, handle less cups called fenjan. Guests are typically served dates or candied fruit along with their coffee. Many argue that Saudi coffee is simply a version of Turkish coffee, which simply refers to the method of preparation. Those who hold to this mentality, any variations in the ingredients or flavors are simply regional such as “Egyptian coffee” or “Lebanese coffee.”
How to Order Your Arabic Coffee
When ordering Arabic coffee, or when offered coffee, it is important to specify how much sugar, if any, you prefer. In Arabic coffee preparation, sugar is actually added during the cooking or brewing process, not after. There are several styles of sugar use in Arabic coffee:
- awha sada: black coffee (or no sugar)
- ahwa ariha: lightly sweetened
- ahwa mazboot: medium amount of sugar
- ahwaziyada: very sweet
The other variations of Arabic coffee are generally regionally-based, which can include a preferred type of coffee beans, roasting preference, or spice preference.
How to Make Arabic Coffee
Learn how to make Turkish coffee and find the style you like best. Note that Arabic coffee is never served with cream or milk, but is always served with a thick foam on top. In fact, in many regions, if there is no foam, it is considered an insult. If you don't like foam, you can carefully blow it back from your mouth as you sip.
Sip slowly! You may consume a lot of coffee grinds if you don't. Sipping slowly allows the grounds to settle to the bottom of the cup.