Coffee and the Bedouin tradition

Hospitality is part of the Bedouin tradition and is expressed in drinking coffee, in Arabic called gahwa. I often refer to myself as a coffee-aholic, since coffee is my favorite drink, after vodka.

My experience drinking Arabic coffee was usually in the desert with Saudi friends. First the beans are roasted, then crushed. Spices, as cardamom clove, nutmeg, and bits of saffron are added. The coffee was poured back and forth between pots until the host decided the light blonde roast was ready to drink. Served in small cups, the gahwa was smooth and had an aroma depending upon what spices were used. To me it was the best coffee I have ever had.

UNESCO includes coffee as part of the cultural heritage of the Gulf countries, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman, and Qatar. The dalah, the traditional Arab flat bottom coffee pot, is often found on posters and imprinted on coins.

Coffee provided me with an interesting two-hour conversation with a Saudi director of the utility company. He was seated next to me first class on Saudi Air flying to Jeddah. Both of us were flying on business. We nodded but didn’t speak.

Once airborne, Saudi coffee, light and blonde, was served in the small round cups. I drank one, nodded to the attendant, and chugged another. By the time I got to my third cup, the attendant was setting down chilled dates on my service tray. I love dates as much as I love coffee.

As I ate and drank with gusto, I was conscious that the man sitting next to the window was watching me.  He too was drinking coffee and took a plate of dates. As I started my third cup of coffee, he spoke to me asking about the dates and coffee. We talked for the next two hours about where we both worked and about life in the kingdom. To me there is no doubt that without the coffee and dates, we never would have had such a conversation. The flight to Jeddah was the fastest I ever had.

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