A scent that always piques my interest, stronger the closer to it I become. Steam rises, softly blowing it away I take my first drink in this little white Finjein (cup) with green and red floral print. A cup of coffee somehow changes that lifeless sound of nothing there. ‘tfadalo a’l ahwe” (come in for coffee), almost everyone you meet will ask you to join them at home for coffee. As people we are always eager to connect and socialize with others. Coffee has always been a popular tool to socialize with other people in many occasions.
Coffee has a long history, from humble beginnings in a story about a goat herder who noticed his goats got excited after eating the coffee berries to the widespread coffee culture all over the world. It came to the region from Africa in the early 16th century and spread all over the world. Though similar to coffee in neighboring countries and sometimes referred to as Turkish coffee, Lebanese coffee is slightly different in terms of beans, roasts, and grinds. Prepared in a rakweh (coffee pot), sometimes cardamom is added to it. The secret of the Lebanese coffee lies in the high-quality Arabica bean and the roasting method mixing the blond and dark types together. Arabic coffee, that thick, sweet, gritty, tiny cup, has a preparation that hints at its ancient origins, one of the oldest methods of coffee preparation still in use today.
Ahweh (coffee) is a great deal in Lebanon. Stronger, true, but its aroma is more potent. This social drink, which enlivens our spirit, cradles us with its warmth. Served throughout the day, at home, at work, in public areas, or in cafés, Lebanese coffee has a special identity engraved in every social and business occasion. The void anywhere is somehow filled by just a cup of coffee pure and simple. In sorrow and joy, success and failure, coffee is the best friend accompanying chats and meetings. There are 3 ways of drinking it; seda (plain, meaning black), murra (bitter), or hilwe (sweet).
Coffee is part of many long-standing traditions. As a prologue to marriage, the bridegroom’s parents must visit the girl’s family to ask her hand in marriage and take the blessings of her parents upon the upcoming marriage. During this meeting, the bride prepares and serves coffee to the guests in order to eavesdrop on the conversation. In funerals coffee is served murra (bitter), reflecting the current mood of the family. One’s fortune is also told in a cup of coffee sometimes done just for fun and at others taken more seriously. I find it quiet romantic how our lives and customs revolve around coffee. It makes me realize how much coffee relates to life. There are bitter moments that stay on the palate and create a lasting and pungent after taste and yet, there are really sweet times that last even longer.
The whiff of coffee fills up our nostrils making us feel brief content, giving us a few minutes of guaranteed happiness and relaxation. This sip of coffee disclosing our stories, pasting in this scrapbook of life, all the memories we share, is a custom handed down from generations past. As we sip through this little finjein that we share, we recognize in the end, there is nothing more real in life than momentary happiness. Somehow this little finjein with the colors of the flag drawn into it, carries the lebanese spirit, bringing us together as humans, sharing a little moment in time.
In case you wanted to prepare one, here is my method:
Bring the water to a boil in a rakweh (coffee pot), lower the heat, add the coffee and stir it. You must be ready to lift it away from the stove if it overflows. As soon as you have poured the coffee into the boiling water, lower the heat, stir the coffee in, and hold the pot close but not right on top of the fire and then bring the coffee to a boil 3 successive times, getting rid of the foam, without letting it overflow as it could happen quickly. Once done boiling it, turn off the stove and let it rest for 3-5 minutes and then serve it. Usually the fresher the coffee and finely ground, the better it is. Adding a bit of sugar to the coffee while boiling it and a pinch of Cardamom spice (1/8th of a teaspoon to the pot), will give it a beautiful aroma and flavor. Try adding 2-3 drops of cold water to the rakweh as soon as you remove it from the stove and then cover it with a small plate while you wait for it to rest. I don’t know what it is but the temperature shock that the cold-water droplets bring seem to do something that alters the aroma a bit.