If it weren't for the Arabs, there would be no Starbucks and no skinny latte, no whipped to go. In actual fact, coffee is said to have originated in Ethiopia and transported through Arabia before reaching Europe.
When you are in the UAE, especially on business, coffee, as well as tea, will often be offered to you in offices and at Arab's homes. As we have mentioned before, it is considered rude to decline taking coffee since the tradition of offering coffee is Bedouin, and thus offering coffee is symbolic of hospitality.
The coffee is poured from a pot no dissimilar to what you would consider a large Aladdin's lamp into a small cup called finjaan, which is about the size of an espresso shot. The pot, called a dallah, usually has a long spout and is made from brass, but increasingly many other designs are used. It may be served to you by the hired help, or, indeed, by the host himself.
The coffee is called Kahva. On first tasting such coffee, you may be particularly shocked since it does not taste like your regular Espresso or Nescafe Gold Blend. Instead, you may find it a little bitter and you will also taste some sort of spice in the coffee. This is most probably cardamom, but also other spices are sometimes used. In times gone by, the wealthier you were, you would have more cardamom in your coffee, since it was more expensive than the bean. However, nowadays, it just adds to the taste. Milk is never added to this type of coffee - it is simply not done. Arabic Coffee is an acquired taste, but one needed to get used to if getting involved in business in this part of the world. Some refer to Arabic Coffee and Turkish Coffeeinterchangeably, but we have found that Turkish Coffee is the thicker darker coffee and is usually a lot stronger. One other point, Kahva actually means a drink from plants, and thus could refer to wine, for example. The Europeans used to refer to coffee as Arabic Wine.
Arabic Coffee is made completely differently to other methods. It is not filtered, not percolated - the coffee is boiled. This is main difference between other methods of making coffee, and why the basic taste of the coffee is so different. You may see the someone making the coffee in a kezveh, which is a copper pot with a long handle, not dissimilar to a small saucepan.
The British expect milk with their tea. The Arabs expect sugar in their tea. When asking for tea, you will most probably get a clear cup with saucer so that you can see your brew. This is usually Lipton and the bag is sometimes left inside for you to decide on the strength. This tea, which is commonly served is sometimes called theSulemani. And, if you ask for tea or chai, this is what you will get. Chai bil Nana or Chai Nana commonly known as Mint Tea is also very common, with the mint leaf left in the tea for effect and strength of flavour.
Being invited to a coffee shop could mean going to Starbucks for a Latte, going to a shisha café, or actually going to a traditional coffee shop. It is a convivial thing, alikened to going to a bar in the west, and usually kept between men. But, in general, there are many western types of coffee bars, where people hang out as they would do in the West or to get their caffeine fix.
Some final points of note
- A shake of the cup shows that you have finished.
- Not shaking the cup and giving it back to the server will result in another cup being poured.
- If you prefer another drink before the server comes around with the spout and are offered, then do not be afraid to ask.
- Only use your right hand when drinking, eating or offering.
- Coffee means Arabic Coffee.
- Turkish Coffee is the thick coffee.
- Nescafe means American Coffee.
- If you ask for Nescafe with milk and sugar, do not be surprised if you get condensed milk with 3 teaspoons of sugar.
- Sometimes, but not always, dates will be offered with the coffee.
- You will sometime be given a glass of water with your coffee.
- Increasingly companies are starting to offer Western type of refreshments, although the essence of hospitality remains.
- Tea is actually more popular than coffee, although both are a prominent part of society.
Finally, the dallah makes a great memento of your trip to the UAE. You can get some great intricate designs, both for use and as an ornament, from the souks and the superstores. Shop around for one that you like.