Sunday, 1 April 2012

Coffee, the traditional Arab way

Many cultures serve tea or coffee with certain etiquette and stylized utensils.  There are various protocols for preparing and serving coffee in the Levant and the Gulf especially, but there is also a traditional coffee routine practiced among some Bedu (Bedouin) and involves the pouring of four cups of coffee, though a guest receives three.

The coffee protocols revolve around the warm hospitality the Bedu always bestow on their guests and the symbolic gestures of the host (المُضِيْف, al-muDeef) and the guest(s) (الضَيْف, al-Dayf) denote the status of their relationship.

This image captures the coffee ceremony, and I’ve given the English explanations below.

1. The first cup is for ‘hayf’, a word that refers to being parched with thirst, and this is where the person who has prepared the coffee pours a cup for himself simply to test the quality.

2. The second cup is for the guest, the ‘Dayf’, and reassures the host and his guest if he accepts it. According to the illustration, this cup evokes ‘life and salt’. In Arab culture this denotes companionship and the keeping of pacts.

3. The third cup, for the ‘kayf’, or ‘mood’, is for the host and guest to enjoy, having established cordial relations by the guest accepting the previous cup. This cup is to be enjoyed.

4. The fourth cup, for the ‘sayf’, literally ‘sword’, is the cup of chivalry and warfare. If the guest accepts, it means that he is prepared to defend his host should an attack befall him.

Notice that the Arabic terms all rhyme. Three cups of coffee may sound like a lot, but the cups used are often small, handle-less tumblers that are filled ¾ full so that the guest doesn’t burn their hand. The cup is called a finjaan.

A guest that indicates he wants a fourth cup is considered to be encroaching on the limits of hospitality.  If you are invited to stay for a meal, you should decline the first invitation. If a second invitation is offered, you decline again, and if the host insists and offers for a third time, you may accept the invitation. It is also polite to take the cup with the right hand.

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