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Coffee in Middle East

The Role of Coffee in Middle Eastern Hospitality and Etiquette

Dive into the rich history and cultural significance of coffee in the Middle East, where its discovery and early consumption laid the groundwork for the beverage we know and love today. Explore the origins of coffee in the region, its introduction to the Ottoman Empire, and how it influenced European coffee consumption. Discover the importance of coffee in Middle Eastern hospitality, from its central role in ceremonies to the distinct customs of various regions. Learn about the pivotal role of coffeehouses in society, acting as spaces for socializing, politics, and intellectual discussions. Finally, examine the ceremonial preparation and presentation practices, as well as how Middle Eastern coffee customs have evolved and integrated into modern society while still preserving traditional values.

coffee middle eastern hospitality

Historical Origins of Coffee in the Middle East

Discovery of coffee and its early uses

It is said that the discovery of coffee dates back to the 9th century in the Kaffa region in present-day Ethiopia, where it grew wild as a small shrub. The earliest legends attribute coffee’s discovery to an Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi. He observed that after consuming red cherries from a particular tree, his goats became noticeably energized. Kaldi shared this finding with a local Monastic community who decided to experiment with the fruits by making a beverage. This eventually formed the basis of today’s coffee drinks.

Soon, traders and travelers from the Middle East began to take notice of the energizing effects of the coffee bean. The cultivation and trade of coffee seeds proliferated throughout the Arabian Peninsula during the 14th century. The seeds were first transported from Ethiopia to Yemen, where local Sufi Monks used coffee as a way to stay awake during prolonged nighttime worship hours. This early use of coffee as a spiritual aid became popular not just among the religious groups but also the wider population.

Introduction to the Ottoman Empire

By the 16th century, coffee had reached the Ottoman Empire, which played a vital role in the cultural and social life of the region. The Ottomans introduced what we now know as the traditional way of roasting and grinding coffee beans. The coffee beverage, prepared using this method, became an integral part of Ottoman culture and was hugely popular in Constantinople (now Istanbul).

The rise of the traditional coffee houses played a significant role in the social life of the Ottoman Empire. These places, known as “Kaveh Kanes” or “Kahvehanes,” served as essential centers for social gatherings, intellectual discussions, and entertainment. People from all walks of life came together in these coffee houses, discussing politics, sharing poetry, and playing backgammon.

Expansion of the coffee trade

The Ottoman Empire played a crucial role in coffee’s global expansion. Due to their strategic location, the Ottomans controlled trade routes between East and West, and in turn, controlled the flow and distribution of coffee. The empire’s decision to spread the cultivation of coffee to parts of Arabia, North Africa, and the Eastern Mediterranean assisted in the rapid expansion of coffee production.

The advent of the transportation technology and the shipping industry, facilitated by the Ottoman Empire’s geographical position, enabled the spread of coffee far beyond its original roots. By the early 16th century, coffee reached the Middle East and various capitals in Europe. The expansion of coffee trade also bolstered the economy of the Ottoman Empire, providing Oriental goods to European markets.

Influence on European coffee consumption

European travelers and traders returning from the Middle East and the Ottoman Empire introduced coffee to the European continent. By the mid-17th century, coffee consumption in Europe began to compete with the traditional beverages of beer and wine.

The first European coffee house was opened in Venice in 1645, and soon, these establishments popped up in cities all over the continent. Coffee houses became centers for people to congregate, socialize, and discuss politics, mirroring the vital function of their Ottoman counterparts in the East.

As coffee consumption spiked in the European market, European trading companies began investing in coffee plantations and setting up direct trade relationships with growers in the East. This, in turn, led to Europe’s colonial powers taking control over coffee production in the Americas, Africa, and Asia in subsequent centuries.

In conclusion, the historical origins of coffee in the Middle East are rich with stories of discovery, cultural exchange, and the blending of different worlds. From the tales of an Ethiopian goat herder to the bustling coffee houses of the Ottoman Empire, the spread and global influence of coffee as a beloved beverage is an intriguing journey across times and cultures.

Coffee and Middle Eastern Hospitality Traditions

In the Middle East, hospitality traditions play a vital role in showing respect, honor, and affection towards guests. Coffee, in particular, has a special significance in Middle Eastern culture, being both a favorite beverage and a symbol of warmth, welcome, and generosity.

Significance of serving coffee as a gesture of respect

The act of offering coffee to visitors is an essential part of Middle Eastern hospitality and a symbol of high esteem for the guest. In many countries, serving coffee to a visitor is a sign of goodwill and a means of building strong social bonds. This custom has its roots in Bedouin culture, where the desert-dwelling people placed great importance on strengthening relationships among friends and strangers alike.

The presentation and consumption of coffee in social gatherings is also a reflection of local values and principles. For instance, elders are often served first to demonstrate respect, while refusing coffee can be considered impolite. Traditionally, guests hold the cup with their right hand and use their left hand to hold their wrist, signifying gratitude and appreciation for the host’s hospitality.

In many Middle Eastern cultures, exchanging coffee has further significance, such as during business meetings, where the beverage symbolizes the establishment of a partnership. Additionally, coffee plays an essential role in traditional events, such as weddings, where it is served to welcome and honor guests and family members.

Preparing coffee for guests

The preparation of coffee is an art form in the Middle East, with each region boasting its unique method of brewing and serving the beverage. Typically, coffee is brewed using finely ground beans mixed with water and sugar (optional). The brewing process takes place in a specially designed pot called a dallah or a cezve, followed by pouring the hot beverage into small, handleless cups known as fenjan or fincan.

The coffee served is usually flavored with spices such as cardamom, saffron, cinnamon, or cloves, which are added to the pot or ground together with the beans. In some regions, rosewater or orange blossom water may also be added to the coffee for a unique floral aroma and taste.

Traditional coffee customs by region

While the importance of coffee in Middle Eastern culture is consistent throughout, regional variations in preparation, serving, and consumption are present.

Arabian Peninsula

In countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen, traditional coffee ceremonies are essential. Guests are served Arabic coffee, known as Qahwa, Gahwa, or Kahwa. Prepared with lightly roasted beans and flavored with cardamom, the coffee is usually accompanied by dates or sweets. The host pours coffee using their left hand while holding the dallah in their right hand. The guest drinks the coffee in three sips while shaking the empty cup to indicate they are finished.

Levant region

In the Levant region, which includes Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine, Turkish-style coffee is prevalent. Known as Ahweh, the coffee is brewed in a cezve with sugar and water, resulting in a strong, thick beverage. Fortune-telling using the coffee grounds left at the bottom of the cup, known as tasseography, is a popular practice in this region.

North Africa

In North African countries such as Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, the coffee culture is heavily influenced by both Arabian and French traditions. Maghrebi coffee is often flavored with spices, but cafes also serve French-style espresso. In Morocco, a popular beverage choice is Café des Épices, which combines coffee with a blend of traditional Moroccan spices. In Tunisia, a unique blend called Café Touba is prepared, with cloves and a local spice called djar, served with cream or evaporated milk.

Importance of Coffeehouses in Middle Eastern Society

middle eastern coffee houses

Establishment and growth of coffeehouses

Coffeehouses have been an integral part of Middle Eastern society since the early modern era. The first coffeehouses were established in the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century. They were introduced to the Middle East by traveling Sufi mystics, who believed that the stimulating effects of the coffee bean helped them in their meditation. Coffeehouses soon became widely popular in the region, making them a significant social institution.

The growth of coffeehouses in the Middle East was swift and pervasive. In the early 16th century, coffeehouses opened their doors in major cities such as Istanbul, Damascus, and Cairo. By the 17th century, there were thousands of coffeehouses across the Ottoman Empire, with more than 600 in Istanbul alone.

Coffeehouses appealed to a diverse range of patrons representing various social classes, including merchants, artists, intellectuals, and government officials. The establishment and rapid expansion of coffeehouses in the Middle East can be attributed to their multifaceted roles as social, cultural, and political spaces.

Coffeehouses as spaces for social interaction

Throughout history, coffeehouses have been popular venues for social interaction in the Middle East. They have been essential places for meeting friends, business associates, and acquaintances for conversations and negotiations. In the context of Middle Eastern culture, the art of conversation has been highly valued, and coffeehouses have provided a comfortable environment for meaningful discussions.

In addition to general conversation and socialization, coffeehouses also offered a variety of activities to their guests, such as traditional music, recitals of poetry, and storytelling performances. Furthermore, games like backgammon and chess were commonly played in these spaces, further adding to their appeal as social hubs.

Moreover, coffeehouses served as venues for cultural exchange and allowed for the dissemination of news, both local and international. They often employed scribes, who would read news to patrons and help them conduct business by drafting letters and legal documents.

The role of coffeehouses in politics and intellectual discussions

Coffeehouses in the Middle East played a vital role in fostering intellectual and political discussions. As meeting places for the well-read and educated classes, coffeehouses facilitated the exchange of ideas among scholars, poets, scientists, and other intellectuals. In this regard, coffeehouses served as both informal learning centers and platforms for the free expression of thought.

Politically, coffeehouses in the Middle East have historically been critical spaces for the exchange of ideas and opinions, offering a platform for political discourse, activism, and even revolution. For example, during the 18th and 19th centuries, coffeehouses played a crucial role as bases for the Young Ottomans and the Young Turks, two reformist groups that sought to modernize the Ottoman Empire and foster political change.

However, the politically subversive potential of coffeehouses was not always welcomed by the ruling powers, who often perceived them as threats to state authority. As a result, there were attempts to regulate or even shut down coffeehouses in various Middle Eastern countries, especially during times of political unrest.

Gender dynamics in Middle Eastern coffeehouses

Most traditional coffeehouses in the Middle East have been predominantly male-dominated spaces, reflecting the values and norms of a largely patriarchal society. Women were largely absent from coffeehouses, as their presence in such public venues was generally discouraged or outright forbidden due to cultural and religious norms.

Over time, though, the gender dynamics of coffeehouses in the Middle East have evolved. Some women-only coffeehouses began to emerge in the 19th and 20th centuries, providing safe and comfortable spaces for women to socialize and engage in cultural and intellectual pursuits. Today, coffeehouses in the region have become more inclusive, with many places welcoming both men and women.

In conclusion, the history and cultural significance of coffeehouses in Middle Eastern society demonstrate the multifaceted roles these establishments have played in facilitating interaction, fostering intellectual debate and political activism, and shaping gender dynamics. The enduring importance and popularity of these venues in the Middle East continue to reflect their role as essential social and cultural centers.

Ceremonial Coffee Preparation and Presentation

middle eastern coffee ceremony

Traditional coffee-making techniques

One of the essential aspects of ceremonial coffee preparation and presentation is coffee-making techniques. These techniques vary across cultures and regions, showcasing the diversity and rich history of coffee-drinking traditions. From roasting and grinding to brewing, these methods have been refined and passed down through generations.

Roasting and grinding:

Traditionally, coffee beans are roasted to bring out their unique flavors and aromas. This process involves heating the beans to high temperatures, which causes them to darken and develop oils that are responsible for their distinct taste and smell. In many cultures, coffee beans are roasted in a pan over an open flame. This method requires constant attention and movement of the beans to ensure that they roast evenly.

Once the beans reached the desired roast level, they are usually cooled quickly by pouring them into a tray or a large dish to stop the roasting process. After cooling, the roasted beans are ground using a mortar and pestle or a hand mill to prepare them for brewing. The coffee grounds’ fineness (or coarseness) depends on the preferred brewing method and personal preference.

Brewing methods and equipment:

There are numerous brewing methods and equipment used in traditional coffee-making across the world. Some common methods include:

  1. Turkish coffee – A popular method in the Middle East, Turkish coffee preparation requires a special pot called a cezve or an ibrik. The finely ground coffee, cold water, and sugar (if desired) are combined in the cezve and heated over a low flame until it begins to froth. The frothy coffee is then poured into small cups, and the grounds are allowed to settle before sipping.
  2. Ethiopian coffee – The traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony involves brewing coffee in a clay pot called a jebena. Coffee grounds are placed in the jebena along with water, and the mixture is slowly boiled over a charcoal fire. Once brewed, the coffee is served in small cups called sini.
  3. Arabic coffee – Also known as qahwa, Arabic coffee is made by boiling coarsely ground coffee in a dallah, a traditional coffee pot. Spices like cardamom, saffron, or cloves may be added during the brewing process. The coffee is then poured into small cups called finjan.

Islamic tradition and ritual purification

In many Islamic cultures, coffee preparation and consumption intertwine with religious practices. Muslims often engage in ritual purification, called Wudu, before consuming coffee. Wudu requires washing the face, hands, arms, head, and feet with water. This act of purification signifies cleansing the body and mind before indulging in a ceremonious cup of coffee.

In some regions, coffee and Islamic practices merge in the act of Sufi coffee readings. This practice derives from the belief that coffee grounds leftover in a cup can reveal one’s future. The coffee drinker consumes the liquid while contemplating spiritual matters, then passes the cup to a Sufi reader who interprets the remaining grounds.

Traditional coffee service and etiquette

Serving order and protocol:

Ceremonial coffee services often follow specific protocols, with much attention to detail and respect. In many Middle Eastern and African cultures, the eldest or most important guest is served first, followed by others in descending order of age or importance. Moreover, coffee may be served multiple times during a gathering as a symbol of hospitality and generosity.

Coffee cups and accessories:

The vessels used for serving coffee play an essential role in traditional coffee ceremonies. Cups often feature intricate designs and are chosen to match the overall aesthetic of the ceremony. Some common types of coffee cups used in various cultures include:

  1. Turkish coffee cups (fincan) – Typically made of porcelain and accompanied by a saucer, Turkish coffee cups are used for serving the strong brew without a handle.
  2. Ethiopian sini – Small, handleless cups meant for the traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony.
  3. Arabic coffee cups (finjan) – Small, handleless cups with intricate designs, traditionally used for serving Arabic coffee.

In addition to cups, other accessories such as trays, coffee pots, and sugar bowls often contribute to the ceremony’s presentation. These accessories often exhibit elaborate and beautiful designs that add to the overall experience of the coffee ceremony.

Overall, ceremonial coffee preparation and presentation is an art form that showcases centuries-old techniques, rituals, and rich cultural history. From traditional preparation methods to the careful observance of etiquette, these ceremonies serve as a reminder of the cultural and spiritual importance of coffee in the lives of people worldwide.

Coffee in Modern Middle Eastern Hospitality

The Middle East has a rich history of coffee cultivation, preparation, and consumption. In modern times, it has managed to merge its age-old traditions with the contemporary coffee culture that has burgeoned across the globe. In this article, we will discuss how the specialty coffee culture has been integrated into the region, the preservation of traditional coffee customs, the evolution of coffeehouses in the Middle East, and the influence of Middle Eastern coffee traditions on Western culture.

Integration of specialty coffee culture

The specialty coffee culture has taken the world by storm over the past few decades, and the Middle East is no exception. This new wave of coffee appreciation emphasizes quality, origin, and unique preparation methods. As a result, numerous specialty coffee shops have sprung up throughout the region, catering to the demands of a new generation of coffee connoisseurs.

These specialty coffee shops have adopted best practices from around the world, integrating modern technology with their rich heritage in coffee production. Baristas in these establishments are trained to expertly prepare a wide array of coffee beverages – from classics like Turkish coffee and Arabic qahwa to contemporary favorites such as cappuccinos, flat whites, and cold brews.

This integration of specialty coffee culture with regional coffee traditions gives the Middle Eastern coffee scene a unique and vibrant character that showcases the best of both worlds.

Preservation of traditional coffee customs

Despite the influx of contemporary coffee practices, the Middle East continues to hold on to its deep-rooted coffee customs. Many of these traditions date back centuries and are an essential part of the region’s cultural fabric.

One such tradition is the customary serving of coffee during social gatherings. In many Middle Eastern households, coffee is prepared using the traditional method of boiling finely ground coffee with water and sugar in a special long-handled pot called a cezve or dallah. The coffee is then poured into small, ornamental cups and served to guests with dried fruit, nuts, and sweets.

Many Middle Eastern families still practice this age-old tradition, symbolizing hospitality and a sense of close-knit community. It is worth noting that coffee is often served with specific etiquette, such as pouring and passing the coffees with your right hand to the guests.

The evolution of coffeehouses

Coffeehouses have been a staple of Middle Eastern social life for centuries. They began as simple establishments where people gathered to enjoy coffee, trade news, and engage in friendly conversation. Over the years, these establishments have evolved to accommodate the changing tastes and preferences of their patrons.

Today, coffeehouses in the Middle East are more diverse than ever before. They range from traditional cafes that serve classic coffee beverages and feature live music, poetry readings and other cultural events to modern, specialty coffee shops that offer an array of contemporary coffee beverages and often feature a more Western-inspired ambiance. Many coffeehouses also provide an assortment of food options, making them ideal places to meet friends, study, or even conduct business meetings.

Despite these changes, the importance of coffeehouses as social hubs and melting pots for various communities in the region remains intact.

Influence of Middle Eastern coffee traditions on Western culture

The Middle East’s rich coffee heritage has not only left a lasting impact on its regional culture but has also influenced coffee practices globally. Turkish coffee, for instance, has found its way into Western coffeehouses as a popular and exotic option. The cardamom-spiced Arabic qahwa has also gained international acclaim, particularly as a specialty beverage in niche cafes that focus on global coffee experiences.

More broadly, the Middle Eastern emphasis on the social aspect of coffee drinking has played a significant role in shaping the way coffee is enjoyed around the world. The rise of coffeehouses as gathering places for conversation, work, and relaxation in Western countries can be traced back to the long-standing tradition of Middle Eastern coffeehouses serving as communal spaces.

In conclusion, the modern Middle Eastern coffee scene represents a unique amalgamation of traditional customs and contemporary trends. While adapting and integrating specialty coffee culture, it has managed to preserve its age-old coffee practices, enriching the global coffee experience with its rich heritage and unique flavors.


FAQs on the Role of Coffee in Middle Eastern Hospitality and Etiquette


What is the significance of coffee in Middle Eastern hospitality?

In Middle Eastern culture, coffee serves as a symbol of hospitality, friendship, and tradition. Serving coffee to guests demonstrates respect, generosity, and a warm social connection. Coffee rituals play a central role in social gatherings, business meetings, and special occasions (Syrian Gourmet, 2021).

How is coffee traditionally prepared and served in the Middle East?

Middle Eastern coffee is typically brewed with finely ground coffee beans, cardamom, and sometimes sugar. The mixture is heated in a traditional coffee pot called “dallah” or “cezve.” The coffee is then poured into small cups called “finjan” and served accompanied by sweet dates or delicacies (Syrian Gourmet, 2021).

What is the proper coffee-serving order in Middle Eastern etiquette?

In Middle Eastern etiquette, coffee should be served in a specific order of importance, starting with the eldest or most respected guest and proceeding down to the youngest or least known. This order demonstrates respect and honor to the guests (Coffeeke, 2019).

What are the common coffee customs in Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Lebanon?

In Saudi Arabia, Arabic coffee (also called “qahwa”) is served with dates and incense. In Turkey, coffee is considered an essential part of daily life and is served thick and strong in small cups. In Lebanon, coffee is often served with a twist of lemon or orange blossom water, adding a distinct flavor (Dawood, 2017).

How should one indicate they have had enough coffee during a Middle Eastern coffee service?

To indicate that one has had enough coffee, gently shake the “finjan” from side to side or place a hand above the cup when offered. This is a polite way of signaling to the host that no more coffee is desired (Al Bustan, 2014).

What role does coffee play in the Middle Eastern business environment?

In the Middle Eastern business setting, coffee serves as a social lubricant to establish rapport and trust. Coffee breaks provide an opportunity for informal conversations, relationship-building, and relaxed discussions that can lead to successful negotiations and collaborations (Gertz, 2018).


Al Bustan. (2014). Coffee Etiquette: Middle Eastern Style. Al Bustan Palace, a Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

Coffeeke, B. A. (2019). The Etiquette of Drinking Coffee in the Middle East. Turquoise International Journal, 3(3), 190-198.

Dawood, N. (2017). Coffee Houses: Folk Music, Culture and Counterculture. British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 44(1), 18-41.

Gertz, D. E. (2018). Coffee and cultural diplomacy in contemporary Saudi Arabia. Contemporary Arab Affairs, 11(3), 67-91.

Syrian Gourmet. (2021). The Culture of Coffee in the Middle East.