ARAB COFFEE | QAHWAH ARABIYAH
Fundamental to hospitality in Arabia is the serving of qahwah 'Arabiyah, or Arab coffee, sometimes unsweetened but flavored with cardamom. Preparation of an authentic pot of coffee usually starts by freshly roasting the beans, then pounding them to powder in a brass mortar and pestle. Nothing awakens the senses like the aroma of fresh coffee wafted by the warm desert breeze. A generous heap of coffee is then placed with water in a pot, and left to boil over a gentle fire. And just as the coffee is about to froth over, the lid is lifted and a couple of crushed cardamom seeds are added to the brew to intensify the flavour. Coffee might be a popular drink all over the Arab World, but how it is served differs from one country to the other. Each place has a distinctive culture weaved around the serving of the nostalgic drink. For example, in the Arabian Gulf coffee is presented in a shiny brass pot, while across the Red Sea it would be served in a more humble mud pot with a piece of palm fiber stuffed into the spout to work as a strainer. Again, in Arabia the small coffee cup is only partly filled with a few steaming sips, and the guest signals when finished by shaking the empty cup with rapid little movements of the wrist. The date is the Arabs' universal staple. Nutritious and high in caloric value, it was the very means of survival for nomadic tribes when times were tough, and it is still the favourite snack with which the Bedouin is likely to begin and end his day. Hence, dates and coffee are the traditional offerings of hospitality, especially dates stuffed with almonds which are a popular delicacy. And when it is time to go the host will pass the mabkhar, or hand censer, trailing the filmy smoke of frankincense or scented wood around the room to bless his or her guests.