While sipping your coffee, have you ever wondered where did coffee originate from? Have you ever seen the statement that elite restaurants pride themselves with by saying “we proudly serve select Arabica beans”? At times coffee bags at the store are labeled as such. What does that exactly tell you when you read it? Well, you might be surprised to know that Arabs were the first to cultivate such a plant and create the drink that we all call coffee. Originally called ‘Gahwa’, then ‘Qahwa’ in classic Arabic then coffee in English. The beans which derived from the word ‘Bon’ in Arabic, are used to make the Italian espresso, later called Turkish coffee, today watered down and called Americano.
Coffee originated from Yemen, a country in the Arab peninsula where coffee grew in its highlands. It was a Yemeni goatherd who noticed that his goats became energized after eating beans from a particular shrub. He experimented eating them, but they were too hard, so he tried cooking them with his food and finally thought of roasting them and grinding them and having them as a drink instead. And that is how coffee came into being.
While some claim that Ethiopia is where the original plant was first discovered, it was actually the Arabs who were the first to discover, cultivate, and trade coffee. In the 15th century coffee spread from Yemen to the rest of the Arab peninsula, North Africa and Turkey via land. It spread to the rest of Europe and the America’s by sea from the original coffee port of ‘Mokha’ in Yemen, which was the name given to the best Arabica coffee bean, Mocha. So when you are ordering your next coffee remember where it came from.
It is part of the Bedouin, and therefore Emirati, culture to serve coffee as a welcoming gesture to honor guests upon their arrival. Making and serving coffee has become not only a tradition but also an art. The Arabic coffee, called ‘Qahwa’ in Arabic, is different from the standard coffee. It is made of lightly roasted beans, mixed with spices such as cardamom, saffron or cloves and then grounded and brewed. Coffee is served from a traditional pot with a long and extended spout, called the ‘Dallah’, (which is the symbol on the Emirati Dirahm coin) and poured into small coffee cups called the “Fenjan’, and usually accompanied with dates.
Coffee was an important aspect of Bedouin life. The task of serving coffee to guests was assigned to the youngest male member of the family. He was a silent server, learning from the elderly‘s conversations while observing the body language of the guests for signs to refill their cups. The coffee was served while standing, starting from the right of the tent to the left and was poured in small amounts, filling only one fourth of the cup, making it not too hot yet warm enough for the guest to sip and savor the taste. If the guest wanted more coffee he would extend his arm, otherwise he would shake it meaning he doesn’t want a refill.
Serving coffee is an Emarati tradition, an act of kindness and hospitality, which we at SMCCU proudly enjoy to welcome our guests with.