Q for Qahwa: The magical Arabic coffee

Q for Qahwa: The magical Arabic coffee
Qahwa is being poured from a traditional coffee pot (dallah) to a mug. Photo: Jayan Orma

Qatar is all set to host the 2022 FIFA World cup from this November and in case you are planning a trip, we would totally recommend you to try a classic beverage from there – the much famous Arabic coffee. Called 'Qahwa' (Qahwa, Gahwa) in Arabic, it is one of the main flavors of the Gulf, including Qatar.

Though it has various spellings (Khahwa and Gahwa) it is pronounced as Qawa. This mildly bitter, cardamom and saffron flavoured drink when consumed piping hot is rejuvenating. The foodie world is somewhat divided over this drink – there are regular Qawa drinkers and those who can't bear the taste. All said and done, you must taste Qahwa at least once in your lifetime.

The Pearl Qatar, Katara Cultural Village, Souq Waqif and Mishreb all offer traditional flavours of Qahwa. There are even traditional Qahwas spiked with modern flavours. Qahwa makes an appearance not only in homes but also at government offices, events, and official meetings.

History of Qahwa

For Arabs, preparing Qahwa is an important tradition. From preparing the coffee to serving it, they take the traditional ritual very seriously. Although the electric Arabic coffee maker is available in the market, the demand is always for the traditional coffee maker. While the young generation prefers the Arabica coffee-flavored powder, the adults stay away from it. It is said that every Arab family pays great attention when it comes to preparing Qahwa in its traditional way. Indigenous people, including tribals, often infiltrate their own flavours while making this traditional coffee. In Arab homes, bothe the men and the women are equally adept at making Qahwa. After all, these are flavours passed down through generations.

Q for Qahwa: The magical Arabic coffee
The khumra and dallah pots which are used to brew and serve Qahwa. Photo: visitqatar.com

Even in the preparation and serving of the Qahwa, there is a speciality. It is brewed in a special large-sized coffee pot. Everything, including roasting the beans, is prepared fresh. They don’t prepare it beforehand. The first cup of Qahwa is given to the eldest member of the family. Also, take note of specifics – though Qahwa is poured into a cup using the left hand, you need to hand over the cup with your right hand. Never offer the cup with your left hand. Only one-third of the cup will be filled. You need to gently swing the cup before taking a sip. It goes to show that though Qatar is a country that is fast moving towards modernity, the people of the country still pay a lot of attention to tradition and heritage.

Multiple health benefits

Qahwa has zero calories and is very good for digestion as well as for relieving fatigue. The saffron in Qahwa contains many essential nutrients required for the body. Saffron is very beneficial to strengthen the body's immune system, energy production, and blood vessel production and also to keep the eyes and skin healthy. It is also good for reducing mental stress. Qahwa not only refreshes the body but also the mind and daily consumption aids in weight loss. Health experts say that it is also good for controlling blood pressure.

What’s in a Qahwa?

The main ingredient is green coffee beans. It can be purchased from most shops in Souq Waqif. Other ingredients include saffron, cardamom, cloves, and Sheba leaves (black stone flower). The black stone flower or Kalpasi is a prominent ingredient in Chettinadu cuisine. Saffron is the most expensive ingredient in Qahwa. On request, though a shopkeeper will roast the green coffee beans and grind them into powder, most people prefer to prepare it themselves. The ingredients and their quantity will vary from family to family. Some also add a small amount of ginger to the coffee. Sometimes even the colour of the coffee varies. Some people prefer light-coloured coffee while others prefer it dark.

Qahwa. Photo: iStock/serts

Preparing Qahwa

Let’s see how you can prepare Qahwa in the traditional style. The roasting is done with a large spoon (Arabic name - mihmaz). Firstly the right amount of green coffee beans need to be finely roasted. Once roasted, they are cooled by placing them in a wooden container (Arabic name - mubarid). A small pestle and mortar (havan in Arabic) is used to grind the beans after cooling. The rhythm of grinding also adds a bit of music to the traditional ritual. Grind them smoothly and if you don’t have time to do that with a pestle and mortar, use a coffee grinder.

There is a separate pot for making and pouring coffee. In a large coffee pot (khumra in Arabic), the required amount of water is boiled and the ground beans are then added to it. Then the right amount of cardamom, saffron, cloves, and sheiba leaves are grounded and added to it. Cardamom is used more while saffron is needed only a little. Once the ingredients are added, boil them for 20 minutes on low heat and then transfer them to a coffee pot (Arabic name-dallah) to serve. Strain the coffee into the coffee pot using a palm fiber or regular strainer. Qahwa is poured from the coffee pot into a traditional-style small cup (finjan). Only half of the cup is poured. Qahwa is not sweetened. Coffee is usually accompanied by dates or a sweet of your choice.

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