Ode to Coffee

Here in the UAE, Emiratis (like Houstonians) will sit 10 cars back in a Starbucks drive-through just so they don’t have to get out to buy a coffee.  They pack Tim Hortons and Costa Coffee, or mingle at more upscale cafes like this one in Dubai mall:

Armani Cafe, Dubai Mall

Armani Cafe, Dubai Mall

Although locals clearly enjoy western versions of the venerated caffeinated beverage, the symbol of the traditional Arabic coffee pot (called a dallah) can be found everywhere around the city and throughout the region.  The ritual, hospitality and tradition associated with the dallah must be something Emiratis and others in the Gulf hold in high regard since the coffee pot is repeatedly and proudly displayed.  It’s even on the national currency:

Dirhams

Dirhams

Arabic coffee is served in very small cups.  The reasoning is because it is served very hot, and a host would not want their guest to have to wait a long time for it to cool before drinking.  It also won’t become lukewarm by the time you drink it as it does with larger portions.  Tilting your cup back and forth indicates you are finished; otherwise, your host will continue to fill up your cup. It is a lightly roasted coffee often flavored with cardamom but sometimes with saffron or cloves.  It’s an acquired taste, but then again, that is probably true of all coffee. I love the spicy aroma and have grown to really like it.

Whether you need to take a deep breath before ordering (I’ll have a venti, triple shot, low-fat latte, extra hot please), drink a small espresso while standing at a cafe on the way to work, or brew a big pot of drip coffee to keep you going through the morning, all of us who love coffee have the Arabs to thank.  Although no Arab countries are big producers of coffee today, according to this article from the BBC, the Yemenis were the first to cultivate coffee, calling it qahwa, from which we get our words coffee and cafe.  It spread to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria and Turkey, and the rest is history. The name of high-quality “Arabica” coffee beans reveals the origin of this crop.

I have been looking for a pretty dallah to use as decoration to remind me of our time here. I almost bought this one in Oman, but it was very small and quite expensive since it was made of sliver.  Pretty though, isn’t it?

Muttrah Souk, Oman

Muttrah Souk, Oman

I settled on this pair I found from a store I like near my house.  I knew I would have to bargain, which is not my forte.  I stood my ground though and came home with these guys:

dallah

It can be difficult to find items that are actually from this area.  Many times something that looks very typical of the region is actually made in India or China.  Supposedly the larger one is Emirati and the smaller Omani.  The shop owner proudly described them as antiques.  Me:  “Wow, really?  From what year, approximately?”  “Around 1970,” he said.  I had to chuckle.  I suppose when the country is only 41 years old, 1970 could qualify as an antique. I think of them as “pre-unification pieces” (ha ha, sounds fancy, doesn’t it?) and like to imagine a Bedouin using them in the desert.

In celebration of my new purchase and Arabic coffee, here are few pics of dallahs:

Madinat, Dubai

Madinat, Dubai

Dubai souk

Dubai souk

Liwa, UAE

Liwa, UAE

Detail of large dallah

Detail of large dallah

Nakhal Fort, Oman

Nakhal Fort, Oman

traditional and new

traditional and new

Mall of the Emirates

Mall of the Emirates

Hatta - Heritage Village

Hatta – Heritage Village

Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding

Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding

** For more about coffee in UAE culture, click here.

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About Lynda

Longhorns and Camels is a blog about exploring Dubai from the perspective of an expat from Texas. It features stories about living in Dubai including descriptions of local culture and popular activities in the region. It also includes photography of the UAE and other countries abroad. It has been recommended by several well-known guides for expatriates: InterNations, ExpatWoman and Expat Focus.
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16 Responses to Ode to Coffee

  1. Judy says:

    Those are beautiful specimens you’ve bought. I love coffee shop culture, sitting and watching the world go by, chatting with friends. Driving through and taking out just doesn’t cut it! 🙂

  2. Very nice ode to coffee. Now you’ve got me thinking I need to pick up something like this before I leave Oman!

    • Thanks! You should totally get one before leaving! Oman has great shopping – much better than the UAE I thought. (for this sort of thing…) The countdown must be on – not much longer before heading back to the states, right?

      • I think I will try to hit Mutrah souq before I go. Although I don’t want to buy too much because anything I buy will have to be shipped back, as I’m leaving directly from here to Spain. Yes, the countdown is definitely on: 52 days from today. 🙂

      • Oh cool! Where in Spain? We have family in Malaga

      • I haven’t totally planned the trip but am thinking from Barcelona to Madrid and then to Lisbon, then to the Algarve and all along the south of Spain and up the Mediterranean coast through Valencia and back to Barcelona. One big circle. So it looks like I may be near Malaga! 🙂

      • Sounds like a fabulous itinerary!

  3. Laura says:

    Great post! Now I want coffee…. I always grimace when I see that 15-car-deep line at Starbucks… sigh. The dallahs are lovely, such interesting shapes!

  4. Marthafied says:

    Sounds great!! I love very strong coffee..and even thugh I have never had the chance to travel in your part of the world, I have a feeling I would love the coffee there…especially as it comes in small cups!! I do not like big drinks in general (I know, some weird thing I have) and never ever finish my lattes…. sounds like just my thing! ;o)

  5. love that photo of the Armani cafe at the Dubai mall. Been past it several times but I have neglected to give it, and many other scenes you documented here, the same kind of interest I used to when I first arrived… Thanks to this post I will endeavour to be much more appreciative of those sights which I’ve come to accept as commonplace now – it really is a magnificent experience to live in this country, in lots of ways.

    • I know what you mean, certain things become part of the “background” whereas before they really stood out. I too am trying to appreciate this experience as much as I can, even though plenty of things irk me! 🙂

  6. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge: Containers | Stories of The Wandering Feet & Mind

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