Famed Scottish academic, Sir James McKintosh, once claimed, “The powers of a man’s mind are directly proportional to the quantity of coffee he drinks.” Thanks to Starbucks, Costa and myriad other high-street outlets, a nice cup of joe is within easy reach to kick start our brain power each day. But have you ever wondered where this magical beverage came from? While there have been many theories, including one which claims it came from the heavens, coffee beans actually originated in Ehtiopia. To celebrate National Coffee Day, we’ve done our research to uncover the history of the drink, and brewed up a holiday destination to match. Here’s how to experience traditional Arabian coffee on your holiday to the Middle East.
Where did coffee originate?
According to the National Coffee Association, coffee can be traced back to the 15th century, when coffee beans were reportedly first found in Ethiopia. Legend claims that a Shepard named Kaldi found that the ‘coffee berries’ made his goats more alert and energetic. The first official recorded mention of coffee as a beverage came from the members of the Sufi monasteries in Yemen, who would drink it to help with their concentration and keep them awake during evening prayers. By the 16th century coffee beans were being exported to the rest of the Arabian Peninsula and, ultimately, Europe.
How to drink Arabic coffee on your holiday to the Middle East
In Arabia, coffee is widely known as ‘qahwah’. Over the centuries, each region developed their own traditions and recipes surrounding the drink. Coffee in the UAE is often bitter to the taste, and sometimes flavoured with cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and saffron (which was used to add a golden colour). A little bit of evaporated milk is sometimes added but traditionally its preferable to have it without. In a typical household, qahwah is consumed during family gatherings and served to guests (including those on holiday to the Middle East) upon arrival. The coffee mixture is usually boiled on a stove or open flame and served in a traditional metal coffee pot called a Dallah. The beverage would then be poured into small cups, known as a Finjan, and presented with a bowl of dates.
Where to find traditional Arabic coffee in the Middle East
Qahwah is a symbol of both hospitality and intellectual gatherings. Historically, coffeehouses were a staple within Middle East culture. Men would gather to share a pot and catch up on recent news and politics. Today, traditional coffeehouses are unfortunately few and far between. However, many local restaurants and hotels in the Middle East still serve qahwah as a complimentary beverage for the table.
Establishments such as Al Arish, a kitsch café in Abu Dhabi, offer authentic Arabic coffee and is a favourite amongst tourists and locals. Located in Al Ittihad square, the café is just a 10-minute car ride away from the 5-star Emirates Palace resort.
Al Fanar Café in Ras Al Khaimah was designed to pay homage to Dubai in the 1960s, when it was still a small port town. As well as complimentary cups of qahwah, you can also enjoy local Emirati dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The DoubleTree by Hilton Resort & Spa Marjan Island in Ras Al Khaimah also serves Arabic coffee to its guests in the lobby lounge.
In Dubai, you can head up to the first floor of the iconic Burj Al Arab Jumeirah to visit the Sahn Eddar café and try their signature cup of coffee with 24-carat-gold sprinkled on top. If you’re keen to learn more about the history of coffee in the Middle East, you can visit the Dubai Coffee Museum which can be found in the historic Al Fahidi neighbourhood just off of Dubai Creek.