Thursday, May 20, 2010

Coffee Break

Coffee Time, originally uploaded by NuraNAlbayraK.

"Coffee should be black as Hell, strong as death, and sweet as love".

- Turkish Proverb

Yesterday I served Turkish coffee for my students, and one of them urged me to blog about it. Coffee is not much of a topic for me, but seeing how long ago was my last post (teaching really does require my full attention this week), I thought I'd give it a shot. As it turns out, you don't need to drink coffee to stay up all night... Writing about it can serve the same purpose.

Turkish coffee is very popular all throughout Arabia, and is nothing like any other type of coffee Westerners are familiar with. This is a very dark roasted coffee, finely ground, that is prepared by cooking and is not filtered whatsoever. It is often flavoured with cardamom, and usually sweetened with a very generous dose of sugar, during the cooking process. Milk is never added to Turkish coffee.

I'm probably the wrong person to discuss coffee, being a devoted tea lover and being very easily affected by caffeine... But this stuff is very potent in that regard. Coffee is the minimum expected of hospitality in the Middle East (after offering a glass of water, of course). This is what we always received when we were guests at Arabic and Druze homes in the Western Galilee where I grew up; and we always made sure we had some at home for coffee-loving guests (my parents were firm believers in herbal teas otherwise...), and mostly for construction workers whenever something had to be built around the property.

Even though I was never into drinking it, I knew how to make it from the tender age of ten or so. I never felt comfortable making it though, I have to say. Because I mostly had to serve it to strangers - the men who were working on my parents' property, during their coffee breaks. And I was extremely shy. With every move I took walking with the tray with tiny porcelain coffee shooters on it, putting it down and pouring the coffee - I felt as if a hundred eyes are following me from every direction. It was the worst feeling and I hated doing it but I could not refuse when my mom asked for help. As an aside note though: I'm pretty sure it is a role reserved for men to serve the coffee in the Arabic communities. And the Bedouin men make a point of freshly grinding the coffee beans for the guests before brewing it. It's part of the ritual, building the anticipation for the dark beverage, besides the brewing, triple-boiling and pouring...

But now I'm thankful that she taught me how to make it, because I can serve it whenever I want to and it never fails to amuse, impress and bring pleasure to my coffee-deprived guests (I serve them more than herbal tea, but some people really need their coffee and don't feel that tea has enough caffeine - poor things!).

It's really simple, and it always turns out perfect even without tasting if you do this:
Blend together equal amounts of sugar and coffee - 1 tablespoons each of Turkish coffee and sugar for every cup of water.
The Turkish coffee I buy is already flavoured with cardamom (ground along with the coffee, and surprisingly still smells fresh even though to the best of my knowledge I had that coffee, in a sealed jar, for some 6 years. Shhh...). But cardamom pods can be added while cooking (or omitted altogether if you prefer your coffee without it).
First put the coffee and sugar in the finjan ( a little saucepan with a spout, designed especially for that purpose - you can find similar ones but less picturesque, in most homeware stores), mix well, than add the water, and cook until boiling.
The key to making the coffee work though is bringing it to a boil 3 times. This is really what brings out the flavour. So remove from the heat after 1st boiling, set aside for a few seconds, return to the stove or flame, boil again, and so on for 3 times in total.
Every time it boils, it will almost spill over the finjan. Wait until that very moment... And only than remove from the heat. It's a little like playing with fire. And if you don't move the put fast enough - you'll have a living proof of your coffee making efforts all over the stove.
In other words: pay attention to your coffee when you brew it, or else you'll get a mess as reward for your multi-tasking tendencies (you may *think* you have waited too long and the coffee will wait for you while you check if the laundry machine has finished its cycle; but it won't: it will spill over just when you're about to return to it. Trust me).

My brother likes to add a couple of geranium leaves to the coffee, and it's another heavenly fragrant addition that goes well with both the coffee, cardamom and the sugary sweetness. And also with the rosewater-drenched baklawa, if you happen to have that luxury. Here are some photos of the coffee he prepared for us in the desert!

So that's that for the Turkish coffee. And you may want to serve it with sweets on the side (baklawa), but if you put that much sugar it's not mandatory at all. So perhaps love is just one tablespoon of sugar?

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At May 21, 2010 3:20 AM, Anonymous Allen said...

Very interesting!!!!!

At May 22, 2010 10:16 AM, Blogger Katkoot said...

If they segregate, then yeah men serve men and women serve women-- if they do not segregate (like my husband's village) then women serve men.

At May 22, 2010 1:22 PM, Blogger Ayala Moriel said...

Thanks for the insight, Katkoot. I think it would be better if little girls would be spared that discomfort.


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