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Qahwa, also known as Arabic coffee or kahwa, holds a special place in Middle Eastern and Arab culture, representing more than just a beverage. It is a symbol of hospitality, tradition, and social gatherings. This traditional method of preparing coffee has a rich history that dates back centuries, originating in the Middle East and spreading its influence far beyond its birthplace.

A Brief History of Qahwa

The history of Qahwa, also known as Arabic coffee or kahwa, is a fascinating journey that begins with a legendary tale in the heart of Ethiopia. According to ancient folklore, a curious Ethiopian goatherd named Kaldi noticed an unusual change in his goats' behavior after consuming a particular shrub's red berries. Intrigued by this discovery, Kaldi tasted the berries and experienced newfound energy and alertness. This serendipitous encounter marked the birth of coffee consumption.

From Ethiopia, the knowledge of coffee spread to the Arabian Peninsula, where it found its true home in the region's cultural fabric.

In the 15th century, Sufi monasteries in Yemen cultivated and used coffee. The drink gained popularity among the Sufi mystics, who found it helpful in staying awake during their nighttime devotions and spiritual rituals. Within these monasteries, the earliest forms of Qahwa were brewed and served, laying the foundation for its cultural significance.

As coffee's popularity grew, so did the demand for its beans. Yemeni traders established a network of trade routes that facilitated the spread of coffee beyond Yemen's borders. By the 16th century, the allure of Qahwa reached the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, becoming an essential part of Islamic religious gatherings and social events. The drink's stimulating effects were seen as beneficial during long hours of prayer and religious ceremonies.

Dancers spinning in a circle on a coffee mug

Qahwa's reputation as a symbol of hospitality and a welcome gesture also played a crucial role in its widespread adoption. Across the Arab world, offering a cup of Qahwa to guests became a cherished tradition, reflecting the region's deeply ingrained cultural values. The preparation and serving of Qahwa became an art form, with each country and household adding its unique touch to the brewing process. The coffee was traditionally roasted on the premises, ground, and then carefully brewed in a dallah, a traditional Arabic coffee pot.

Over time, Qahwa continued to captivate hearts and palates beyond the Arab world. The influence of this aromatic brew extended to the Ottoman Empire, where coffeehouses, known as "qahveh khaneh," became popular social hubs, fostering intellectual and cultural exchanges. The Ottoman Turks embraced the art of Qahwa preparation and refined it further, adding cardamom and other spices to enhance its flavor.

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In the 17th and 18th centuries, coffeehouses emerged in Europe, initially sparked by Ottoman influences. Coffee's allure gradually spread throughout the continent, establishing coffeehouses in major European cities. The popularity of coffeehouses as centers of social interaction and intellectual discourse mirrored the role of Qahwa in Arab culture.

Today, Qahwa remains an integral aspect of Arab identity, cherished for its cultural significance and unique serving traditions. The aroma of freshly brewed Qahwa continues to waft through Arab households and social gatherings, fostering a sense of community and connection. Whether it is served during family gatherings, religious holidays, or important events, Qahwa has firmly entrenched itself as more than just a beverage—it is a symbol of warmth, hospitality, and the rich tapestry of Arab heritage.

From its mythical origins in Ethiopian folklore to its position as an enduring cultural icon in Arab societies, Qahwa's journey is a testament to the power of a simple beverage to unite people and enrich their lives with shared traditions and cherished customs. As the legacy of Qahwa continues to evolve and adapt to modern times, it remains a treasured symbol of Arab hospitality and a testament to the enduring bond between coffee and the Arab world.

Dallah and a cup of coffee

A Deeper Look at Our Picks

AL MASNOON EMARATI QAHWA Dark Roast

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4 out of 5 • Buy it for $51 at Amazon

AL MASNOON EMARATI QAHWA Dark RoastAL MASNOON EMARATI QAHWA Dark Roast

Features

AL MASNOON EMARATI QAHWA is a perfect blend of dark roasted coffee, rich with saffron and cardamom. It exudes aromatic flavors that would transport you to the heart of the Emirates. Apart from its robust flavor profile, the package being 100 gms, it lasts quite long. With every sip, you'll enjoy a remarkable and authentic Arabic coffee experience.

Pros

  • Perfect blend of robust flavors
  • Rich with aromatic saffron and cardamom
  • Generously portioned 100 gram package
  • Provides authentic Arabic coffee experience

Cons

Café Najjar Turkish Coffee with Cardamom

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4.3 out of 5 • Buy it for $13 at Amazon

Café Najjar Turkish Coffee with CardamomCafé Najjar Turkish Coffee with Cardamom

Features

Café Najjar's Turkish Coffee with Cardamom is a taste sensation. It's made with 100% Arabica beans and has a dark roast, giving it a robust, rich flavor. It is Lebanese style coffee that works well with a Turkish coffee machine. A 450 gram package ensures you'll have plenty to enjoy.

Pros

  • Rich, robust flavor
  • Made with 100% Arabica beans
  • Works well with Turkish coffee machine
  • Generous 450 gram package
  • Includes Cardamom for unique taste

Cons

Al Ameed Gourmet Turkish - Medium Roast

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4.5 out of 5 • Buy it for $20 at Amazon

Al Ameed Gourmet Turkish - Medium RoastAl Ameed Gourmet Turkish - Medium Roast

Features

Experience the rich aroma of Al Ameed Gourmet Turkish Coffee. With its medium roast with a hint of cardamom, it's guaranteed to kick-start your day. This 100% authentic Arabica coffee is freshly and finely ground and comes in an 8oz pack.

Pros

  • Rich aroma
  • Hint of cardamom adds unique flavor
  • Freshly and finely ground
  • 100% authentic Arabica kind
  • Convenient 8oz pack

Cons

Kahwa Coffee Sirocco Medium Dark Roast Blend

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4.4 out of 5 • Buy it for $15 at Amazon

Kahwa Coffee Sirocco Medium Dark Roast BlendKahwa Coffee Sirocco Medium Dark Roast Blend

Features

  • Full-bodied coffee
  • Beans sourced from four different countries
  • Ground Coffee, 1 lb Bag
The Sirocco is Kahwa Coffee's delightful medium dark roast blend. With beans sourced from four different countries, it offers a rare balance in flavor, featuring subtle notes of dark cherry and honey. The coffee concludes with an extremely smooth finish and minimal acidity, making it an ideal choice for every day sipping.

Pros

  • Medium dark roast provides balance in flavor
  • Subtle notes of dark cherry and honey
  • Extremely smooth finish
  • Minimal acidity makes it easy on the stomach
  • Great for everyday use

Cons

Saudi Coffee Mix

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4.8 out of 5 • Buy it for $24 at Etsy

Saudi Coffee MixSaudi Coffee Mix

Features

This luxury Saudi coffee mix is made from the highest quality ingredients including coffee beans, saffron, and cardamom.

Pros

  • Made from high-quality ingredients
  • Includes premium saffron and cardamom

Cons

Royal Organic Coffee with a Moroccan Twist

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3.9 out of 5 • Buy it for $24 at Etsy

Royal Organic Coffee with a Moroccan TwistRoyal Organic Coffee with a Moroccan Twist

Features

  • Made with 100% organic coffee beans
  • Enhanced with a special blend of spices
  • Roasted in small batches for maximum freshness
Discover our premium organic coffee blend, that will take you to the exotic markets of Marrakech. Infused with traditional Moroccan spices, our coffee provides a unique flavor and aroma. It is carefully roasted in small batches to ensure quality and freshness. Taste the perfect balance between warm spices and rich, smooth coffee beans. Perfect for those seeking a refreshing and flavorful start to their day, our organic Moroccan coffee is not only delicious but also a sustainable and healthy choice.

Pros

  • Unique flavor and aroma
  • Freshly roasted in small batches
  • Free from harmful chemicals or additives

Cons

Elegant Arabic Thermos Flask

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4.1 out of 5 • Buy it for $76 at Etsy

Elegant Arabic Thermos FlaskElegant Arabic Thermos Flask

Features

The elegant Thermos Flask comes in a striking blend of red, black and white Turkish-themed colours. It's ideal for keeping your tea and coffee hot, however, it's noteworthy that cups are not included with the flask.

Pros

  • Elegant design
  • Turkish-themed colours
  • Keeps beverages hot

Cons

Middle Eastern Dallah Vintage Set

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3.5 out of 5 • Buy it for $40 at Etsy

Middle Eastern Dallah Vintage SetMiddle Eastern Dallah Vintage Set

Features

This vintage 8-piece set includes a Dallah, a tray, and six cups. The set features a beautiful floral yellow decor. Despite showing signs of age with some wear, chipped paint, and patina, it still maintains its charm. The set's measurements are: Dallah - 5.5 inches tall, 4 inches wide from spout to handle; Tray - 1 inch tall, 9 inches wide; Cups - 1.25 inches tall, 2 inches wide.

Pros

  • Vintage set
  • 8-piece set
  • Beautiful floral decoration
  • Preserved despite noticeable wear

Cons

Hand Painted Brass Coffee Pot - Arabic Dallah

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4.9 out of 5 • Buy it for $99 at Etsy

Hand Painted Brass Coffee Pot - Arabic DallahHand Painted Brass Coffee Pot - Arabic Dallah

Features

This unique hand-painted brass Arabic Dallah coffee pot from Kaushalam's collection features intricate Mughal art form. Its royal and majestic appearance leaves a powerful impression. However, it should not be placed on any kind of hot plates, flames, or induction. The primary material is brass and it serves hot coffee, Kahwa, or tea. Moreover, it is silver plated from inside, has a height of 27 cm and weighs about 700 g.

Pros

  • Hand painted
  • Intricate Mughal art form
  • Great for serving hot coffee, Kahwa, or tea
  • Silver-plated inside

Cons

Engraved Brass Copper Dallah Arabic Coffee Pot

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4.7 out of 5 • Buy it for $125 at Etsy

Engraved Brass Copper Dallah Arabic Coffee PotEngraved Brass Copper Dallah Arabic Coffee Pot

Features

This product is an impressive vintage item from Israel. It is part of our handmade brass copper Dallah or coffee pots collection. This 100% authentic item can be used regularly or displayed as a decorative piece in homes or offices. We also provide free shipping for your convenience. Please be assured of our highest quality and best service.

Pros

  • Handmade
  • 100% Authentic
  • Could be used as a regular item or a decorative piece
  • Free Shipping
  • Top Quality
  • Excellent Customer Service

Cons

Arabian Design Gold Plated Coffee Pot

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4.2 out of 5 • Buy it for $150 at Etsy

Arabian Design Gold Plated Coffee PotArabian Design Gold Plated Coffee Pot

Features

This is an authentic, Middle Eastern gold-plated 8 piece coffee and tea set. It's functional and also great for decorative display as a home decor. The set includes: 6 coffee cups, a coffee pot, and a serving tray. All pieces, apart from the cup insets and the Teapot body, are made of colored brass. The round tray measures 12 inches in diameter. The Teapot is 11 inches tall. Each piece shows off an elegant design, polished and dressed with a finish of silver or gold. Colorful stones are inset into each piece for a truly luxurious style. This can make an excellent gift for any special occasion.

Pros

  • Functional for serving coffee or tea
  • Great for decorative display
  • Elegant design on each piece
  • Luxurious style with colorful stones

Cons

Cultural Background of Qahwa

The cultural background of Qahwa, also known as Arabic coffee or kahwa, holds a significant place in Middle Eastern and Arab societies. Beyond being just a beverage, it embodies a sense of hospitality, tradition, and social connection. In Arab culture, offering a cup of Qahwa to guests is a deeply rooted tradition, symbolizing warmth and welcome. The preparation and serving of Qahwa have become an art form, and the ceremony of pouring the coffee from the dallah (traditional Arabic coffee pot) into small cups with no handles, known as finjān, has its etiquette. The process of pouring the coffee, with the sound signaling relaxation, enhances the sense of camaraderie during family gatherings and social occasions. Arabic coffee ceremonies are integral to significant events like religious holidays, including Ramadan and Eid, weddings, and other significant milestones. Serving Qahwa is a gesture of respect and a way to express appreciation for the presence of guests. The coffee is often accompanied by sweet treats such as dates or desserts, balancing its bitter flavor and creating a delightful culinary experience. Through generations, Qahwa has become deeply ingrained in Arab identity and continues to serve as a cultural link that connects people, transcending geographical boundaries. As the aroma of freshly brewed Qahwa continues to fill Arab households and gatherings, it fosters a sense of unity, reinforcing the importance of tradition, community, and shared values in Arab societies.

dallah and a cup of dates

How to Prepare Qahwa

Preparing Qahwa, also known as Arabic coffee, is an art form that carefully extracts its rich flavors and aromatic essence. While regional variations and family recipes exist, the fundamental steps to prepare Qahwa remain consistent. Here's a guide on how to prepare this traditional Middle Eastern beverage:

Ingredients:

  • Freshly roasted Arabic coffee beans (light or dark roast, depending on preference)
  • Water
  • Cardamom pods (optional)
  • Other optional spices or flavorings like saffron, rosewater, cloves, or ginger
  • Finely ground dates (optional) for sweetness

Equipment:

  • Dallah (traditional Arabic coffee pot)
  • Fenjals or small coffee cups with no handles
  • Heat source (stovetop or fire)

Instructions:

Roasting the Coffee Beans: If you have green, unroasted Arabic coffee beans, you can roast them yourself on a pan or in the oven until they turn the desired shade of brown. Alternatively, you can purchase already roasted Arabic coffee beans.

Grinding the Coffee Beans: Once the coffee beans are roasted, grind them to a medium-coarse consistency. Avoid grinding them too fine as it may lead to over-extraction and bitterness.

Preparing the Dallah: Fill the Dallah with fresh, cold water, ensuring it's clean and free from any previous coffee residue. The amount of water will depend on the number of cups you wish to serve. A general rule is approximately three cups of water for every two tablespoons of ground coffee.

Adding Coffee and Spices: Add the ground coffee directly to the water in the Dallah. If desired, you can also add a few cardamom pods for a delightful aromatic flavor. You may experiment with other spices like cloves, saffron, ginger, or rosewater, according to your taste preferences.

Brewing the Coffee: Place the Dallah on a heat source, such as a stovetop or fire, and let the coffee slowly come to a boil. It's essential to keep an eye on the coffee to avoid over-boiling, which may result in a bitter taste.

Pouring the Qahwa: Once the coffee has boiled for about 15-20 minutes, remove it from the heat source. To achieve the characteristic froth, pour the coffee into the cups and then back into the Dallah a few times. This step helps in creating the desired texture.

Serving the Qahwa: Pour the Qahwa into small cups with no handles, known as fenjals. It's customary to serve only partway, leaving space for multiple servings. Qahwa is traditionally poured while standing, with guests seated.

Enjoying the Qahwa: Qahwa is typically served alongside dates, dried fruits, or other sweets to complement its flavors. Sip the Qahwa slowly and savor the rich taste and aromatic experience.

Remember, the preparation of Qahwa is not just a recipe; it's a cultural practice that brings people together, symbolizing hospitality, tradition, and the warmth of Arab gatherings.

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The Unique Serving Tradition of Qahwa

Serving Qahwa is an art in itself, with distinct customs and etiquettes. The cups are usually filled only partway, and serving three cups of coffee to each guest is customary. The host, usually standing while the guests are seated, carefully pours the coffee into the cups, with the sound of the pour signaling relaxation for the guests.

Unlike other traditional coffee cultures, Arabic coffee is typically unsweetened (qahwah saada). To balance the bitter flavor, Qahwa is often accompanied by something sweet, such as dates or other desserts, further enhancing the sensory experience.

Dallah, coffee grinder and a

Arabic Coffee Reading

One intriguing aspect of Qahwa culture is Arabic coffee reading, also known as "qirāʾat al-finjān." Like tea-leaf reading, this practice involves consuming Arabic solid coffee and leaving a small amount of liquid in the cup. The cup is then inverted onto a saucer to allow the liquid to drain and dry up. A skilled reader then interprets the patterns formed by the residue inside the cup, looking for symbols and letters to reveal insights into the drinker's future or fate.

Someone reading messages coffee grinds in a cup

Qahwa at Funerals

Arabic coffee is significant in Arab funerals, where families and extended relatives gather to mourn and commemorate the deceased. Bitter and unsweetened coffee is served, providing solace during difficult times. Separate gatherings are held for men and women, and it is customary to employ presentable women whose sole duty is to serve coffee to the women throughout the day.

Conclusion

Qahwa coffee is more than just a traditional beverage; it represents Arab culture and tradition. Its deep-rooted history, unique preparation, and ceremonial serving make it a symbol of hospitality and community. From its humble beginnings in Ethiopian legends to its widespread acceptance across the Middle East and beyond, Arabic coffee remains an integral aspect of Arab identity. As the aroma of freshly brewed Qahwa continues to waft through Arab households and gatherings, it is cultural significance and time-honored customs ensure that this age-old tradition will continue to be cherished and shared for generations.

Meet the expert

Amélie has a dual Bachelor of Biological Sciences and Literature. She wrote a Master's Thesis on the importance of blending scientific knowledge with the arts to create a healthier culture. She also has a Bachelor of Education and has been teaching Biology and Language Arts since 2016. She is happily addicted to coffee and constantly learning.

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