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Moroccan Arabic Coffee Traditions
Morocco has a coffee culture reminiscent to that of the Europe. Friends (mostly male) sit outside for hours sipping their Arabic coffee as they exchange stories and engage in a friendly batter over games of charades or tric trac (backgammon). When traveling to Morocco, make sure to plant yourself at a few outdoor cafes to have a complete Arabic coffee and cafe scene Morocco Travel experience.
Similar to tea, Arabic coffee is often made with the purpose of conducting a business deal, bargaining or welcoming someone into their home. Since Moroccan mint tea is consumed so regularly, coffee is a nice switch.
With the exception of Moroccan mint tea, Arabic coffee is the national drink of Morocco. Alike mint tea, there is a certain process that one must follow to obtain the perfect cup of coffee, also referred to Café Cassis. When traveling to Morocco it is important to enjoy both beverages as it will enhance your understanding of the coffee and mint tea traditionns.
Arabic coffee is similar to espresso in strength and has a unique flavors as the spices used to make it vary. Adding anywhere from ten to twenty-six spices is the norm.
The coffee’s strong reputation is a result of its highly concentrated flavor and the artistic style in which it is made. Traditionally, Arabic coffee beans are roasted on a charcoal fire and ground in a mortar. One of the secrets of making Arabic coffee is to roast the coffee and within minutes, brew it. Doing so will enhance the flavor of the coffee.
Arabic coffee makers still insist that to achieve the finest results, coffee should be bought in its bean form versus the ground version.
Making Arabic coffee is a timely yet leisurely activity. While some Moroccans enjoy making it as their Aunts did just a decade ago, most modern Moroccan homes have replaced the mortar for an electric coffee grinder to reduce brewing time and many even instead use Nescafe.
By roasting and then grinding the beans yourself the result will be a more aromatic cup of coffee that guarantees intensity of flavor. The purest coffee drinkers never add milk or sugar to their coffee. This is especially true because sugar is mixed into the coffee as it is being brewed. Sometimes a few seeds of cardamom are also added.
Adding sugar to the coffee is a little more complicated than one might expect. Out of courtesy, the coffee maker must always ask his guests, in advance, how much sugar they prefer. Choices include no sugar (murrah), medium (mazboutah), sweet (hilweh). However, certain events dictate set amounts of sugar. After dinner, coffee is usually only slightly sweetened. At weddings, betrothals, christenings or birthdays, sweet coffee is always prepared. At the time of death or other sorrow, it is always bitter.
For one teaspoon of ground coffee used, one teaspoon of sugar and one cup of water is boiled together until the sugar dissolves. When the water is clear, the ground Arabic coffee is added to the water and stirred. When foam rises to the top of the pot, the pot is removed from the fire and set aside until the foaming stops. While many people might stop here, experienced Arabic coffee makers know to return the coffee back to the fire and allow it to boil at least two more times. After the final time, a few drops of cold water are added to the coffee to settle it.
The ritual of serving the coffee is also another pertinent part of making Arabic coffee. Some people find it comparable to the disciplined, yet highly hospitable tea ceremony. If a guest is chosen to serve the coffee, this is an indication that the person has been welcomed into the house.
Holding a stack of cups in his right hand and the coffee pot in his left, the host pours a small amount of coffee to taste himself, to ensure (and show his guests) that it is suitable. After determining so, he pours coffee for the primary guest then serves the other guests. After each guest is served, he pours a cup for himself and joins them.
Usually the hostess holds a stack of cups in her right hand and the Delah (an aluminum, brass, or enamelware pot) in their left. It is necessary for the host to pour herself a glass to determine if it is suitable to serve. Upon doing so, the hostess (sometimes assisted by a servant holding a tray) directly hands each person a small cup, or a tiny sized Finjal. Due to its high concentrated nature the coffee is served in small amounts until it is two-thirds full. Only in the case that men are present will the male act as a hostess and serve his company. Culture, age, rank, or sometimes sex takes preference with regards to who is first served.
On a table next to the guests should be a small pitcher of orange blossom water. Guests may choose to add a few drops to enhance the flavor. Milk is usually not offered. Also, dates or something sweet will be present.
A few things to keep in mind are, as a guest, milk and more sugar are generally not asked for. Also, the cup should be held in your right hand and allow a moment for the grains to settle to the bottom of your cup. Only the thinner liquid on top is drunk and the coffee is never stirred. Upon finishing a cup of coffee, you can show appreciation to your host by saying, "fi sehtuk" (“to your health", said to a male, or "fi sehtik" to a female); "Fil afrahh", meaning "to your happiness,” is also used. Keep in mind that if you hold up your cup, your host will immediately re-fill it. This pattern continues until you shake the cup before returning it to the pourer. This is the only way to break the cycle.