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There are various legends about the origins of coffee. The most fascinating of which attributes it to a shepherd named Kaldi, who brought his goats to pasture in Ethiopa. One day, while herding, the goats encountered a coffee plant and began eating the berries and chewing on the leaves. That evening, the goats didn’t sleep but instead, with great energy, began wandering around – something the shepherd had never seen before. Kali realized the reason for their odd behaviour, and began roasting the coffee beans, grinding them up and letting them infuse in boiled water, obtaining coffee.
Despite what is commonly thought, Qahwa, or better known as Arab coffee, is quite different from the Turkish version, and plays an important role in Middle Eastern culture. In the past, when time seemed to pass less quickly, tradition dictated that should always be three coffee makers of different sizes, boiling away 24 hours a day. The largest one of these was used to make coffee, the second largest served as a filter, and the third was in which the coffee would be served. This ritual was overseen exclusively by the women of the house.
In Dubai, like in every Gulf country, offering a guest coffee is the first sign of hospitality. It’s considered good manners to accept one, two or even three cups and when you’ve had enough you signal to your hosts by lightly shaking the coffee cup. Making qahwa isn’t difficult, it just requires time - which is an important part of the ritual. First, you must have few fresh coffee beans, Arabica quality is best.
Then, you’ll need a pan to toast them in, a stone mortar and pestle, a few cardamom seeds, sugar and a bit of saffron. If you want to present it in the traditional Arab manner, you’ll need a dallah, the typical, high coffee maker with a spout for serving, and small coffee cups with no handles. Begin by toasting the coffee beans that, as soon as they cool down, should be ground in the mortar along with the cardamom seeds. The exact proportion between coffee and cardamom can be adjusted accorded to personal taste. The use of a stone mortar helps to keep the ingredients from overheating – seeing as they contain essential oils, a change in temperature can compromise the taste of the final product.
Once you grind the beans and seeds down to a powder, add sugar and saffron, which adds a signature aftertaste and gives the coffee a golden sheen. Fill the dallah with water and as soon as it comes to a boil, add the ground coffee and spice mix. Let it return to a boil and then remove it from the heat, stir, and then bring to a boil again. Repeating the boiling process three times helps to make the qahwa dense and thick. When it’s ready, pour the coffee into the cups and wait until the grounds settle into the bottom of the cup.
The resulting flavor is strong and intense, with aromas that will bring your imagination to exotic, Middle Eastern landscapes.