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