Cof fee cus­toms

There’s some­thing rather mag­i­cal about Le­banon’s com­mu­nity of kah­wa­jes, a tra­di­tion that has sur­vived cen­turies. Rita Ghan­tous takes a closer look at the peo­ple be­hind the cof­fee.

Lebanon Traveler - - CONTENTS -

With their folk­loric cos­tumes, the click­ing sound of the Ara­bic cof­fee cups (fana­jin) they carry in their hands and the mes­mer­iz­ing aroma from their tra­di­tional Ara­bic cof­fee pot (dal­lah), kah­wa­jes never go un­no­ticed. Their pres­ence in­trigues the young, while of­fer­ing the old a brief trip back in time.

Proud of their craft, they spend hours pre­par­ing their cof­fee, metic­u­lously brew­ing the cof­fee beans at home and adding their own se­cret in­gre­di­ent to the mix: that is why the cof­fee of each kah­waje has its own unique fla­vor.

Kah­wa­jes are fre­quently found in pub­lic areas, street mar­kets and at touris­tic sites, where, for a small fee, they of­fer their de­li­cious brew to passers-by. They are won­der­ful sto­ry­tellers, who take great plea­sure in talk­ing to their cus­tomers.

Tra­di­tional Le­banese restau­rants of­ten em­ploy kah­wa­jes to serve a com­pli­men­tary cup of cof­fee to guests af­ter an ap­pe­tiz­ing meal. They are tes­ta­ment to the hos­pitable and gen­er­ous na­ture of the Le­banese.

In cer­tain ru­ral re­gions, kah­wa­jes play an im­por­tant part in cer­e­monies, from the fes­tive, like wed­dings to the sad, like funer­als.

Author Ti­mothy Hutchins, who refers to cof­fee as the "wine of Araby," de­tails in his book “Cof­fee Cul­ture” the so­cial im­por­tance of the kah­waje to the Arab com­mu­nity, not­ing their role in pop­u­lar­iz­ing and spread­ing cof­fee cul­ture in the 15th and 16th cen­turies.

Artists such as renowned Le­banese painter Has­san Jouni have cap­tured the essence of the typical café of Beirut in their paint­ings.

For a coun­try where the past and present in­ter­twine, and where cof­fee is in­her­ent to lo­cal cus­tom, the kah­waje is a re­minder of Beirut’s by­gone years and liv­ing proof that the tra­di­tion is very much alive.

THE KAH­WAJE

Nas­sib Sel­man Talih has been serv­ing cof­fee for 56 years at Phoeni­cia Ho­tel Beirut's Mo­saic Restau­rant. He is the long­est serv­ing kah­waje in Le­banon.

"The tra­di­tion of drink­ing Ara­bic cof­fee con­tin­ues to play an im­por­tant role in Le­banese cul­ture. It is a sym­bol of gen­eros­ity and warm hos­pi­tal­ity, qual­i­ties that this na­tion is fa­mous for. Of­fer­ing guests a cup of cof­fee at the end of their meal is in­trin­sic to the Le­banese restau­rant ex­pe­ri­ence. It reaf­firms how proud we are of our her­itage and I think that is why I have been in this pro­fes­sion for so long.

Be­ing a kah­waje has given me the op­por­tu­nity to meet in­cred­i­ble peo­ple: I have rubbed shoul­ders with pres­i­dents, roy­alty and celebri­ties. I have served cof­fee to thou­sands of guests with the same ded­i­ca­tion and love yet I cher­ish those who vis­ited the ho­tel as chil­dren and later re­turned as adults to see me again and drink my cof­fee.

I take great pride in my craft and plan on serv­ing cof­fee to guests for as long as I can."

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