From the moment the doors open, the first things that welcomes you into an Omani home is the smell of freshly brewed kahwa or Omani coffee. In most households, the women are sure to keep a fresh brew ready for any and all visitors including friends and family. The Sultanate of Oman and its people are known for their hospitality, and it starts with their welcoming attitude and their serving of this special coffee and an assortments of snacks. The kahwa is often served with dry fruits, nuts or date to accompany the coffee and even without guests, most locals enjoy this hot drink everyday too.
An inherent part and parcel of their daily lives, it isn’t uncommon to see groups of women congregating to catch up on each other’s days whilst sipping on a freshly brewed cup of kahwa. The meeting place is often pre-agreed on by everyone and in most villages, they host this meeting either outside one of their homes or under the shade of a large tree. Although this gathering is not only for drinking coffee, “its also to check on each other and exchange news, entertainment as well, or solve some of the problems in the neighbourhood, and schedule visit times to neighbouring neighbourhoods,” said Nassra al Hinai, who is an elderly woman. Elderly Omani men also have similar traditional when hosting council in their villages.
In villages, towns and cities, in old souqs, shopping markets and malls, there will be a small shop or section where one can buy pre-ground coffee that is ready to be brewed from the moment you get home. The owner of Sorour Al Hinai Coffee Shop, which is located in Rustaq, said: “There are agents in Oman to import coffee beans from various countries, where they bring them ready in 40 kg and 20 kg packages, examples include Purshotam Damodar, Khimji Ramdas and others.”
“We purchase the coffee beans from the agents without roasting, we roast them in special local machines, every 25 kilos need about 40 minutes in the fire, and then we cooled them by fans, and then we offer the ground coffee to customers and grinding on request with the addition of cardamom and clove” he added.
A little more work that your regular instant coffee, the preparation of kahwa involves a few steps — it starts with a pitcher of boiling water to which the ground up coffee is added. Whilst the mixture simmers, a clean dalah (traditional Omani coffee pot) is prepped, keeping it ready for the kahwa. In the now bubbling coffee, add a pinch of saffron or rose water (up to your preference) and once ready, the coffee is poured into the dalah through a strainer. Your traditional Omani kahwa is ready to serve.
This preparation and drinking of the coffee is popular amongst men and women and is considered an important part of hospitality and to this day is an integral part of the Arab communities including the Sultanate. It is a ritual that has been inherited and passed down the generations, often taught to the younger members of the family by their fathers, other family members or the older and wiser members of their tribe.
Once the coffee is served, there are strict yet unspoken rules that are often maintained by both the host and the guest. These rules have, like kahwa have been passed down the generations. “The host must hold dalah with the left hand, and the fengan on the palm of the right hand, fengan is the traditional kahwa cup which is held between the thumb, forefinger and middle.” Nassra said.
“When pouring coffee in the fengan, it isn’t filled to the brim but filled quarter or half full. Coffee cannot and should not be served in a cup that appears to have a break in it, no matter how small,” she added.
The host is required to keep refilling the guests cup up until the guest lets them know that he doesn’t want anymore, to which the host in most cases will request the guest to drink some more in his honour.
The guest also have customs to uphold; it is customary to hold coffee with his right hand and with respectful seating, and to act otherwise is contrary to the ethics of Omani hospitality. The guest should hand over fengan to the coffee provider after finishing drinking it, “where the guest must keep the cup in his hand until the host returns to take it in case he was busy offering coffee to others,” Nassra shared.
Coffee has been classified as an element of intangible cultural heritage within social practices, rituals and ceremonial events, it is also associated with the field of traditional crafts through a set of tools used to prepare and provide coffee, in addition to its association with oral traditions and forms of expressions due to the novels and stories witch accompanies the preparation and handling of this drink. It is said that the coffee tree entered the Arabian Peninsula from Abyssinia which is now called Ethiopia, In the 15th century AD, and the Arabs began to roast and grind the coffee and served it hot, as we do today. Ibn Sina had the first written medical description of its stimulant effect of the body and nerves, as recognized by the West in which he was called “The Arabian doctor.”
After that and for 200 years later, the Arabia Peninsula was provided the world with coffee. The coffee’s popularity and use did not expand rapidly, but its spread was slow, where coffee remained 500 years in the Middle East. In 1517 it was introduced by Sultan Selim I to Constantinople (Istanbul), soon after, the spice merchants introduced it to Italy and then coffee spread throughout Europe in a hundred years.
Ruqaya Al Kindi