Taste of Qatari Hospitality: Traditional Arabic Coffee

Taste of Qatari Hospitality: Traditional Arabic Coffee

A man serves traditional ‘gahwa’, made by roasting coffee beans and then boiling them with cardamom and saffron, at the Embrace Doha cultural house. — Photo by AFP

Saturday, October 08, 2022 10:42 a.m.

AL WAKRAH, Qatar, October 8 — With its strong cardamom aroma and yellowish tea-like consistency, Arabica coffee is a ubiquitous symbol of hospitality in the Gulf countries, especially the World Cup host nation , Qatar.

Prepared by roasting coffee beans and then boiling them with cardamom and saffron, the traditional “gahwa” is usually enjoyed at Qatar’s majlis, the men’s gathering that forms the centerpiece of social life in the country.

“I didn’t know it had coffee,” said Lanka Perera, 29, an expat from Sri Lanka who has lived in the tiny gas-rich Gulf emirate for three years, adding that it doesn’t taste like “coffee.” What do we know”.

As custom dictates, the hot drink is prepared in front of the guests by the head of the family and served by his eldest son.

But in more recent years, the drink has spilled beyond its traditional confines, making its way into commercial establishments and cultural houses, offering a taste of Qatari culture to residents and visitors alike.

One such independent cultural center is Embrace Doha, where Perera attended a session on coffee and its origins.

“Gahwa is something we drink almost every day… we see it in our office because there are a lot of Qataris, so they bring it and then we try it,” he told AFP after the session.

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“But… I didn’t know what was in it and the story behind it, the origin behind it,” he confessed.

ritual and ceremony

Since the introduction of coffee to the region some 600 years ago, it has acquired its own ritual and ceremony, now an integral part of the culture of the country and the region.

It is poured into gold or silver “dallah” vessels and consumed in small cups that are only partially filled to avoid burning drinkers’ fingers.

The coffee keeps coming until the drinker makes a certain gesture of greeting to indicate that they have had enough, a holdover from an era when it was often served by deaf servers to prevent sensitive majlis information from leaking out.

“For hundreds of years, the whole country has changed, but the coffee hasn’t,” said Shaima Sherif, director of Embrace Doha, located in the heart of the old market known as Souq Al Wakrah, south of the capital.

In 2015, an initiative by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar made Arabica coffee enter the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

According to UNESCO, “serving Arabic coffee is an important aspect of hospitality in Arab societies and is considered a ceremonial act of generosity.”

Ahead of the tournament’s start on November 20, Qatar is facing increased international scrutiny for its record of treating women, foreign workers and the LGBT+ community.

But organizers of the first World Cup to be held in an Arab country said fans were more concerned with Covid-era logistics and emphasized the country’s “warm hospitality” culture. — AFP

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