And Now For Something Completely Different: Bedouin Spiced Coffee

All I want is to spend the rest of my days drinking this and blowing up trains.

Two years ago I went to Israel.  I have been trying desperately to get back there ever since.

This is largely because of the coffee.

On the last day of our tour we stopped for a final dinner at Abu Ghosh, a little Arab town about halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.  Unfortunately I cannot remember the name of the restaurant, but it stood out for several reasons.  The first was that I finally got yogurt sauce with my kebabs (Perhaps I shall some other time discuss the experience of inadvertently keeping kosher for several weeks).  The second came in tiny paper cups at the end of the meal, and tasted of cardamom and Paradise.

At the time I was finishing up Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and till the end of that meal I had been somewhat puzzled by Lawrence’s favorable impression of the region’s coffee.  I had had Turkish coffee before, and found it fairly deadly.  It may have been because I was a wee lass of ten years with no great fondness for coffee, or it may have been that I wasn’t expecting the grounds at the bottom, or it may have been that I’m a die-hard tea person.  This coffee overcame my prejudice in no time.

My fellow travelers were surprised when I reached my third cup.  They became alarmed when I asked to speak to whoever it was made the coffee.

Fast-forward a year: I’m at sea in the North Atlantic aboard a little square-topsail schooner, circa 1918 (It is recognized that I have a funny sense of fun).  The crew consists of fifteen damp, grouchy, woefully under-caffeinated women.  Whatever it was that Captain bought when we sent her coffee-hunting in the last port is truly dreadful.  The night watches can barely keep their eyes open.  Not even Engie will drink it, and we’re reasonably confident that Engie subsists on diesel and Monster.

I subjected Captain’s apocalypse coffee to the treatment the restaurant owner had described, and nobody fell asleep on watch for the rest of the passage.

Nobody really slept for the rest of the passage at all.

  • 2 cups cold water
  • 1 cup unflavored coffee, finely ground
  • 5 tbsp cardamom, finely ground
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Turkish-style coffeepot

If, like me, you are without a proper pot, this can be prepared adequately in a small saucepan, but you will lose the foam that forms at the top as it boils.

Grind the coffee-beans and cardamom to a powder either with a grinder or by hand in a mortar if you’re feeling particularly authentic.  Add sugar to the grounds in the pot and pour the cold water in over the other ingredients.  Cover pot.  Bring to a boil.  Immediately remove from heat and let stand for five minutes.  Slowly return to boil.  Remove from heat and let stand again.  Add cinnamon and slowly return to a boil.

A variation for Dune fans: swap the cardamom for cinnamon and the cinnamon for cloves.  I don’t think it will turn your eyes blue but it never does to assume.

Unfortunately, I have neither the knowledge or the leisure to go into Bedouin coffee etiquette, but it is fascinating and worth your research time.  For us, it will do to serve it immediately in demitasse cups if you’re a civilized person or in enormous mugs if you’re a tall ship sailor like me.

Somewhere Auda abu Tayi is crying.

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