In modern Africa, and the Levant, coffee is an important part of life. There’s even a special super-strong bitter coffee that is usually served at weddings and holidays. Without it, an event just wouldn’t be the same. Normally though, coffee is served very mildly sweet, and often spiced with cardamon, or a mixture of cinnamon, cloves, and ginger.
If you take coffee to lunch, take enough to share. It is customary in most parts of the world to offer coffee to whoever’s sitting near you at lunch break, to customers who come to your business, and well, whoever you can. It’s a good way to start a conversation, and make folks feel welcome around you.
Before we get into spiced coffee recipes though, I would probably be smacked on the head by a few friends if I didn’t mention that coffee must be stored and ground properly in order to taste right. Many immigrants to the U.S. are extremely disappointed by the coffee. Starbucks has tried and failed to establish chains overseas mainly because Arabs, Druze, Africans, and Italians alike, can taste the difference between coffee that has been stored properly, and coffee that hasn’t.
What kills the quality of coffee is oxygen. From the minute it’s picked to the pot, the less the beans are exposed to air, the better. Coffee should be kept in vacuum as much as possible, or at least closely air tight and frozen after roasting. The problem usually starts at the shipping level, where wholesalers who don’t really know coffee, open and then break up a palette for distribution. Coffee is packed the way it is for a reason. As soon as one breaks up the palette, the bags or the box that the bags are in should be sealed in plastic wrap and vacuumed if possible. When it gets to the packaging, the coffee should be vacuum sealed or at least put in plastic air tight, preferably vacuum sealed bags right away. Time is ticking.
In the store, coffee shouldn’t be stored in those dispenser tubes. Only get coffee beans from a sealed bag or vacuum packed can. As soon as you open the can or bag, you have at most 3 days to use the beans before it starts to turn. Buy beans and grind them at home to fine for espresso. If you’ll be making a spiced mix, go with Arabica or 100 African coffee. Even better, try to get these green and roast them yourself in a hot dry cast iron pan at home. The imported Turkish, Arab, and African brands are also usually good even ground because they were packaged by people who know coffee.
Coffee with Hel (Cardamon)
You will use 3 or 4 cardamon pods for every cup of coffee beans, depending on how much you like hel. Grind them together. If you have a sensitive stomach, only use one or two, just for the aroma.
1 cup of coffee beans
1 bead allspice or “English pepper”
1 cm vanilla bean
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
a pinch of clove
How to Make Real Coffee
2. Carefully add 2 heaping tablespoons (one per cup) of coffee, and sugar to taste. You can add a little more coffee for extra strength if you like. Stir it in well (no lumps), and then return it to the fire carefully. Turn the fire down a bit so it doesn’t start overflowing. Be aware that it might start to overflow immediately. If it does, don’t panic. Just lift the pot off the fire.
3. Stay with it, and be alert. When it starts to boil into a nice froth, lift the pot a little until there is no more danger of overflowing, turn the heat down, and start scooping from the top, and pouring back in, with a spoon, until the froth goes down completely, and you see the coffee boiling but without any foam. Focus only the top. It should be boiling underneath.
Note: Coffee can still burn in these conditions. The best way to make sure it hasn’t burned, is to tap the side of the pot gently with the spoon. If it is a brief muffled tap, then you’re okay. If it makes a ding or a gong tone, the coffee is burnt. Start over.
4. When there is no more froth, you take the pot off the heat, cover it, and let it stand for five minutes so the coffee will settle to the bottom. You can also pour it into a French press before it settles to make this easier.
5. Carefully pour the coffee into cups or a thermos, leaving the grounds in the pot, or as much as you can.
Expect some spices to rise to the top, if you use spices. This is natural, so don’t worry.
Now my friends won’t smack me.