Arabic coffee

The other day I received a perky little delivery: a cute orange and white-striped beach bag packed full of caffeinated goodness from the folks at Bach Espresso, to celebrate their range going into supermarkets nationwide.


I’ve often enjoyed their espresso roast at cafes, like Altar up the road from my house, and now it’ll be a regular guest in my caffeine drawer (yes, I have a whole drawer in the kitchen stacked with different coffee roasts and tea blends). A recent rainy afternoon seemed like a good time to brew up some Arabic-style coffee – cardamom-infused, strong, and sipped from teeny cups.


I learned to make Arabic coffee from my Iraqi side of the family. They use just cardamom to flavor it, but some Arab countries in the Gulf use a host of other spices, too – a kind of masala coffee if you like. From the Balkans to Greece and all the neighbours to their east, all the once-were-Ottoman countries have their own slight variation on gorilla-strength coffee*. They’re all made in a little coffee pot over a flame and involve a rather complex method of bringing to the boil several times. This gutsy brew is lovely to sip on with a tooth-shatteringly sweet bit of baklava*, it’s also amazing poured over ice cream a la affagato, or used in place of ordinary coffee in a cake.

Here’s how
Enthusiasts might insist on a proper little copper or tin coffee pot to make Arabic coffee on the stovetop, but really, any small pot with decent pouring capability will do – you don’t want to lose most of your precious drop on its way to the cup! But if having something at least slightly authentic-looking is important to you, try Arab or Persian stores: they always stock coffee pots, tea sets and an alarming array of sugary things to sweeten the beverage.

You can also buy very finely ground coffee, with cardamom added, in said Middle Eastern stores. But to make it at home is pretty easy and the cardamom taste will be fresher.

The Coffee:
-1 200g bag coffee beans
-Seeds from 5 cardamom pods (you can keep the empty pods to flavor a rice dish
Grind the coffee and cardamom seeds in a coffee grinder. It needs to be grunty and sharp enough to get the coffee to a fine, powdery consistency, a bit like icing sugar. This Philips Coffee grinder was my dad’s, and must be at least 25 years old. Oh the days when appliances were built to last!





The brewing:
-1 tsp ground cardamom coffee* per demitasse cup of water

So if there’s two of you who might like 2 little cups each, mix 4 tsp coffee with a smidgeon of water in the bottom of your coffee pot or small saucepan, to make a paste. Then add four demitasse cups of water and bring to a boil on the stovetop. Watch the coffee carefully, as soon as it boils and starts to rise up, take the pot off the heat and give the coffee a stir. Put it back on the heat and repeat, bringing to the boil, then removing and stirring. Do this four times. Pour coffee into demitasse cups and let sit for a few minutes before you take a sip, to let the coffee settle at the bottom of the cup. If you like your coffee sweetened, you can either add sugar to the coffee during cooking, or stir in at the end. I like the OTT look of these ‘saffron rock candy’ swizzle sticks I found at the local Persian store. You just stir your coffee with them which imparts a sweet flavor.


*I used Bach Espresso Our Special Place whole beans, it’s a medium roast with almond and cocoa tones and a fresh, sweet finish.

**Shefco Lebanese bakery makes THE BEST baklava I’ve ever tasted. It’s freshly made, not heavy on the rosewater and has a rich, buttery taste. I much prefer it to the heavier baklava I tasted in The Gulf region. (Shefco, 827 Dominion Rd and 46 Stoddard Rd, Mt Roskill)


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