Arabic Coffee

Arabic Coffee

This post is part of my Palestinian cooking series (which includes regional cuisines) following my trip to Nazareth.

Coffee is the traditional beverage across much of the Arab world and historical Ottoman empire. Introduced first in Sufi monasteries in 15th-century Yemen, coffee spread from its origin of Ethiopia across the Middle East, afterwards spreading to Italy and the rest of Europe. The first coffeehouses, and coffeehouse culture, emerged in major cities of Cairo, Aleppo, and Istanbul–about a century before cafes opened in European cities like Venice and Vienna.

Arabic coffee is prepared by brewing fine coffee grinds and serving the drink unfiltered. It’s similar to Turkish coffee, but Arabic coffee is typically brewed with cardamom and served without milk or sugar, giving it a distinct and recognizable taste. Served throughout the day, after meals, and into the evening, Arabic coffee is sipped from small cups holding one or two-ounces. It’s often accompanied by small snacks, like fresh fruit, dates, dried fruit or baklava, to offset the bitterness of unsweetened coffee.

When visiting family in Nazareth, we paused to drink Arabic coffee several times daily. In each instance, whether at home or in a cafe, there was a notable element of care dedicated to preparing, serving, and drinking this style of coffee. Since it’s brewed fresh in a small coffee pot, it lends itself particularly well to multiple servings and small gatherings. It’s often presented with decorative pots, cups and saucers, and sweet treats. The tiny cups invite a delicate touch and small restrained sips. And, more so than single-serving coffee, the moments enjoying Arabic coffee felt reserved for connection and conversation. To me, it became clear that Arabic coffee is best served hot, fresh, and enjoyed with good company.

Arabic Coffee

Serves about four 2oz cups

2 Tbsp Arabic coffee, very finely ground
12 oz water

Add water to a small saucepan and bring to a boil on medium-high heat. Reduce temperature to medium-low and add finely ground Arabic coffee. Stir gently and simmer on stove for about 2 minutes. Watch closely and be careful that the water doesn’t boil rapidly or boil over. After a few minutes, remove from heat and let steep for about 5 minutes.

At this point most of the coffee grinds will have settled to the bottom of the saucepan. Pour slowly into small cups to serve, stopping before the larger coffee grinds pour into the cup. While sipping coffee, be mindful that some of the coffee grinds may have settled into the bottom of the cup. Serve with a small snack or treat on the side.

Arabic coffee can be found in most Middle Eastern grocery stores. But, if unavailable in your area, it can be prepared using very finely ground coffee beans and brewing with small pieces (or ground) cardamom. I haven’t experimented with this method, but have seen recipes with 1/8 tsp of ground cardamom for each tablespoon of coffee.

Note: While Arabic coffee is traditionally served in small cups without milk or sugar, it can also be enjoyed in larger coffee cups with milk and/or sugar, if preferred.

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