What’s qahwa espresso & how do you put together it?


Qahwa (also referred to as kahwa or Arabic espresso) is a standard technique of getting ready espresso within the Center East – with every nation typically having its personal distinctive recipe.

As a brewing technique, qahwa has lengthy since been an integral facet of Arab tradition, and it’s symbolic of various cultural and spiritual rules which can be commonplace in Center Jap international locations.

I spoke with two native espresso professionals to discover the cultural background of qahwa, in addition to the way it must be used. Learn on to seek out out what they advised me.

You may additionally like our article on the origins of coffee in Africa.

closeup of an old dallah used for brewing qahwa

A quick historical past of qahwa

Turki Alsagoor is the proprietor of Flat Wardo, a specialty espresso store in Saudi Arabia. He explains that “qahwa” is the Arabic phrase for espresso.

“Normally while you order qahwa, you’re asking for an Arabic espresso,” he says.

Qahwa is ready and served equally to Turkish coffee, however there are a variety of variations between the 2 brewing strategies.

Historically, qahwa is brewed in a dallah, which is a standard Arabic espresso pot. The espresso is boiled for round 20 minutes, earlier than it’s poured into fenjals: small cups with no handles.

When pouring qahwa, a dallah is held excessive above a fenjal. Historically, the server must be standing whereas the company are seated – often on the ground.

“The host who prepares the ceremonial qahwa historically conducts the method very rigorously,” Turki says. “It’s because [it helps to make the guests feel more welcome].”

He additionally tells me that the method of pouring qahwa is especially important in Center Jap tradition. The sound of the espresso being poured right into a fenjal is a sign for the company to chill out.

Cultural significance

In 2015, UNESCO added qahwa to its Intangible Cultural World Heritage list. However why is that this brewing technique so culturally important in Arab international locations?

Khalid Al Mulla is the Nationwide Coordinator of the Specialty Espresso Affiliation United Arab Emirates (UAE) Chapter, which relies in Dubai. He’s additionally the curator of a coffee museum within the Al Fahidi historic district of Bur Dubai.

He explains that the qahwa ceremony is an indication of hospitality for folks from a spread of socioeconomic backgrounds within the Center East.

“Despite the fact that [the person may not have anything of great value to offer their guests], they’ll nonetheless serve espresso,” he says. “It’s an indication that the visitor is welcome of their home.”

Throughout Islamic non secular holidays, together with Eid and Ramadan (besides throughout daylight fasting hours for the latter), getting ready and serving espresso generally is a important social facet of celebrations. Arabic espresso can be served on particular events, reminiscent of at weddings or to have fun a delivery.

Khalid provides that it’s common to see qahwa being served by avenue distributors and different public locations in Arab international locations. “It’s now being served in quite a lot of venues, from authorities places of work, to five-star resorts, to airports,” he says.

Nevertheless, Turki tells me that it’s uncommon to seek out qahwa in espresso outlets within the Center East, although most individuals put together it at house.

He says that there are locations referred to as “mohaila” which serve Arabic espresso and tea, primarily as a “replication of at-home hospitality”.

a bronze dallah used to brew qahwa

The importance of the dallah

For the reason that Seventies, the dallah has been printed on Arabic forex, notably on the United Arab Emirates dirham coin.

Usually, a dallah is a rounded espresso pot which tapers within the center. The deal with is skinny in order that it may be comfortably picked up, and infrequently the pot has a lid to maintain the espresso hotter for longer.

The dallah is often comprised of brass or stainless-steel, however costlier pots can both be gold-plated and even comprised of gold.

The design of the dallah can fluctuate, however is basically depending on the place it was manufactured. Nations reminiscent of Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Qatar, Yemen, and Ethiopia all have their very own distinctive designs of the normal dallah espresso pot. 

Khalid tells me that through the years, he has collected greater than 150 dallah from totally different international locations, all of that are displayed at his museum. He provides that the design of a dallah is corresponding to a coat of arms – seals and flags that have been generally utilized in Europe and North America to determine heritage and ancestry. 

In earlier instances, dallah have been typically designed to be larger, and two or three pots can be brewed at one time. One dallah was used to brew concentrated espresso, whereas one other would come with a filter comprised of date palm leaves. This is able to be positioned across the spout of the dallah to filter out any espresso grounds. 

pouring coffee from a dallah into a fenjal

Regional variations of qahwa preparation

It’s believed that espresso has been consumed for hundreds of years within the Center East. Since espresso was first launched to the area, tribes such because the nomadic Bedouin folks (Bedwai in Arabic) have chewed roasted beans as a type of consumption. Some Bedouin tribes nonetheless devour espresso on this method as we speak.

Historians have largely concluded that espresso consumption in Arab international locations started within the seventh century, however solely on a small scale. It was not till the 1500s that espresso consumption grew to become rather more widespread within the Center East.

There are a variety of regional variations from nation to nation that should be famous when discussing qahwa. Including spices or flavourings is frequent – together with cardamom, rosewater, ginger, cloves, and saffron. Nevertheless, as saffron could be costly, it’s often solely added on particular events. 

Khalid explains that the addition of those spices and flavourings is usually all the way down to particular person choice and familial traditions.

Roast profile additionally performs an essential position in qahwa, and might fluctuate relying on the nation.

Within the UAE, the roast profile used for qahwa is called “cinnamon roast” or “Saudi-style”. The beans are typically roasted till first crack takes place.

“In southeastern Arab international locations, nevertheless, roast profiles are typically lighter and are roasted to simply earlier than first crack,” says Khalid. “Due to the lighter roast profile, it doesn’t style like conventional Arabic espresso.”

Turki tells me about “mazboot”, which is a method of getting ready qahwa from reminiscence with no exact measurements – reminiscent of dose or yield.

“You can’t say what is correct or incorrect [when preparing qahwa],” Khalid says. “It all the time goes again to non-public style.”

a metal dallah brewing coffee on hot coals

The way to put together qahwa

Turki tells me about his qahwa brewing recipe.

Firstly, he suggests utilizing a lighter roast profile, but in addition notes that it’s essential to deal with having an excellent physique.

To start, Turki measures out one fenjal of coarsely-ground espresso. Nevertheless, he provides that the ultimate brew weight is down to non-public style. He suggests utilizing round three cups of water for each two to a few tablespoons of espresso, however emphasises that it’s essential to experiment with ratios.

He then provides boiling water to the dallah and brings the combination to a simmer. Usually, this must be performed for about 20 minutes, relying on the brew temperature.

As soon as boiled, Turki provides spices to the qahwa. He tells me that he all the time provides crushed cardamom, however as a result of it has a really sturdy flavour, it’s finest so as to add a tablespoon at a time. Historically, related quantities of floor espresso and cardamom are added to Arabic espresso, however this will not be to most peoples’ style preferences.

Turki additionally suggests a pinch of saffron, a teaspoon of cloves, and one or two tablespoons of rosewater.

The espresso combination is then transferred to a different dallah, which is particularly used for pouring right into a fenjal. He lets the espresso relaxation for about 5 minutes earlier than serving. 

Qahwa is historically served with dates, figs, or different dried fruits, which can assist to sweeten the espresso if it’s too bitter. Honey may also be added, too.

For individuals who don’t personal a dallah, Arabic espresso may also be ready in a pot on the range. The espresso ought to then be filtered earlier than pouring right into a teapot or different server.

two arab men brewing and pouring coffee

In Arab international locations, qahwa represents rather more than a brewing technique. Its conventional significance has made it a staple of Center Jap tradition.

However regardless of its deep roots, there may be room for innovation and experimentation with this brewing technique. Finally, this creates the potential for qahwa to theoretically turn into extra well-liked world wide, and probably play a task in wider espresso tradition.

Loved this? Then attempt our article exploring coffee culture in Iran.

Photograph credit: Isabelle Mani SanMax

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