A Shot of Joe – Part Two

The Saudis know coffee.  And, tea.

Qawa wa shay. Coffee and tea.

There’s Turkish coffee.  Arabian coffee.  American coffee.  There’s cappuccino…latte…and mocha.  There’s Starbucks, Dr. Cafe, and Coffee & Tea Pot.  Nothing Irish, though.

There’s black tea, red tea, and green tea.  Add some mint. Add some jasmine.  Add some ginger.  Serve it iced or hot.  Here or to go.

And sweet.  They take the sugar for granted – milk, not so much.  But sugar, yep.  “Black coffee, please.”  “Will that be with or without sugar, sir?”   If you don’t want it sweet, you’d better say so right up front, as plainly as you know how to say it.

Every restaurant serves espresso in some form or another.  Almost all of them serve Turkish coffee – a sludgy, sweet concoction boiled in a little pot until its the consistency of the motor oil drained from a Daytona 500 race car after the race.  I have to admit that I like it, and it is a really excellent finish to a Mediterranean/Arabic meal.   This is probably the only thing left by the Ottoman Empire the Arabs are happy to retain.

Cappuccino seems to be the favorite version of coffee, though, at least in the coffee shops and restaurants.  That’s an unscientific assessment.  But, just about everytime I am in a coffee shop, that seems to be the drink all the Saudis, and other Arabs, are drinking.  This is different from when you go to their homes, where they offer the awful concoction of cardamon, coffee, and dishwater they call Arabic coffee.  But, I’ve groused about that stuff enough.

They also seem to drink a lot of espresso shots…making use of those little demitasse cups…like the ones we got for our wedding.  This is obviously a European habit they’ve picked up over the last century or so – proof positive that they have too damned much oil money – and the Europeans they visit when spending those oil dollars are more than willing to sell them little cups and tell them that’s the real way to drink coffee.

Tea is consumed in little cups, two.  Where Americans drink tea in mugs the size of Wyoming, the Arabs sip from pretty little crystal cups about the size of a triple-sized shot glass.  They really are pretty cups, and the tea really does look nice in them.  If that’s part of the experience, then I can see how the tea might taste nicer.  One of the most popular things they do with tea here is to put fresh mint leaves in the tea as it steeps.  I have to say that it does taste better than what comes in those mint-flavored black tea bags.

The people of Arabia do love their recreational beverages, including coffee and tea, and they have some of the most elaborate coffee and tea services…ornately reflecting the culture…in silver, copper, and gold (probably plated).  Some of the services are exceptionally beautiful.  When I leave here, that may be what I take back as my souvenir – since I’ve been told I can’t bring back a harem girl.


2 thoughts on “A Shot of Joe – Part Two

  1. You really don’t know what Arabic coffee is if you really think it tastes like dishwater. The flavour isn’t burnt out of the coffee like with other types and it’s a lot more expensive to make because of the special roast, the saffron and the cardamon. Your problem is that you probably have mostly had it at restaurant where some poor Indian who has no idea what he’s doing makes it and the management really holds out on the ingredients because they know only touristy people actually order it. Or it might be that it’s an acquired taste. I’ve been all over the world and I know my coffee, Arabic coffee is excellent. One place I know that they make it the way it is supposed to be made is Al Qarya Al Najdiya on Abu Bakr Street across the street from Prince Sultan University.

  2. Thank you very much for your response.

    I have had Arabic coffee four times. The first two were when I first arrived here about two years ago – once at a coffee shop, once at a restaurant – sorry, I can’t remember the name of either (my first bit of time here is something of a blur). The third time was a the home of a friend in Durma. The fourth was at the home of another friend at an Iftar dinner here in Riyadh, which I mention in the post of that name.

    Those first three offerings of Arabic coffee were terrible – at least for me. However, the fourth try was quite good, as I mention in the blog entry. I was pleasantly surprised.

    I think you are probably right, in that, it is a combination of being an acquired taste and some not quite so good recipes.

    I pass near the establishment you mention on a regular basis. I will stop in there and give it a try. I am more than willing to give it another chance.

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