Turkish coffee: An elixir for body and soul


In Egypt, Egyptians call their coffee ”Turkish coffee”, just as they dub their locally manufactured yellow cheese ”Greek cheese” (gibna rumi).

And while they acknowledge the foreign origins of both their coffee and cheese, Egyptians consider them to be unequivocally local Egyptian foods.

Drinking Turkish coffee, and its preparation and presentation may well be described as a ”cult” in Egypt…

Turkish coffee in Egypt

The ability of a bride-to-be to prepare and gracefully present a cup of Turkish coffee to her groom has traditionally been considered a significant measure of her merits as a potential housewife.

Turkish coffee

The ultimate test is for the bride to successfully present the finely ground brew in a small cup and saucer, without spilling the fine foam on the coffee’s surface known as “wish” (face) in Arabic.

The scene of women presenting Turkish coffees to their fiancées has been captured time and again in old Arabic films… and not without humour.

Turkish coffee is also the protagonist in many situations in Egyptian daily life.

Drinking it provides a much anticipated break during employees’ busy days at the office.

But the Turkish-coffee-break at work is vastly different from the hectic “stand round the coffee machine with plastic cups” seen in other countries.

This is because Turkish coffee, whether at the office, in the home or even at a funeral, must always be presented with proper ritual and form. It must also be visually appealing, offered in a small china cup and saucer placed upon a small tray.

Turkish coffee is always accompanied by a glass of cold water to help assimilate the brew.

The popular coffee houses in Egypt are called “ahawi”.  This is the plural of “ahwa,” the colloquial Arabic word for coffee.

And in these coffee houses, Turkish coffee is sometimes offered in small glasses, rather than in a cup and saucer.

El Fishawi Cafe in Al-Hussein area, near Downtown

Turkish coffee consists of dark, medium or light blends according to taste.

The Yemeni blend is considered the best.

It is blended with ground cardamom, sometimes accompanied by a touch of mastic. This cardamom blend is called ”tahwiga” and is an essential component of properly prepared Turkish coffee.

The mark of a good cup of Turkish coffee is the creamy froth on its surface.

This disinguishes it from the boiled Arabic coffee offered in Lebanon, Syria and the Gulf States.

Coffee is a well-known mood enhancer and helps aid concentration.

It is also a powerful ant-oxidant that carries anti-inflammatory benefits and protects the immune system.

Like all substances, it should be consumed in moderation.

Method of preparing Turkish coffee:

Measures must be exact in order to obtain a creamy surface.

Measure the water from the small Turkish coffee-cups.

A cup of Turkish coffee is prepared either without sugar (qahwa sada), with 1 teaspoon of  sugar (qahwa mazbout) or with one quarter teaspoon (qahwa ‘al reha) or 1 and a quarter teaspoon sugar (qahwa ziyada).

For every cupful of water, measure 1 – 1 and a quarter teaspoons of coffee into a “kanaka” – the small kettle specifically made for preparing Turkish coffee.

Add sugar as desired.

On a low fire, stir continuously until foam begins to form on the surface.

While stirring, allow foam rise slightly until thick… without boiling.

Remove from the fire.

Rather than pouring the coffee into cups straight away, place the kanaka on the tray and pour the coffee into the cups where your guests are seated.

This will avoid spillage and help preserve the foam on the coffee’s surface.