As soon as I entered the house I could smell it. The familiar scent of cardamom – my favorite spice in the whole world. Etedal asked if I wanted some Arabic coffee, of course I did…I had been up for more than 30 hours and if I were going to somehow make it through jetlag to bedtime, I would need coffee – and lots of it. She put a small cup on the table about the size of a shot glass or a children’s tea set. She poured the cardamom-flavored coffee into the miniature cup and handed it to me.
I looked at this little tiny cup and thought; I would need about 30 of these if I were to really stay awake. Then I looked inside and realized that the miniature cup was only 1/3 of the way full. This wasn’t a cup of coffee, it was exactly one drink of coffee. This was my introduction into the beverages of Jordan.
Nothing separates Americans more than how we drink our coffee. We like mugs…big mugs…we take our time…and we are normally multitasking in some way when we are drinking our coffee. Often we use coffee as a tool – for me it is to wake up – or try to stay awake. Sure, I like the taste – but it’s more about need. We also tend to drink our coffee on the go from big grande cups with little cardboard rings to protect our sensitive fingers.
I’ve had to adapt to drinking in Jordan, and it hasn’t been easy. More than any country I’ve spent time in, Jordan’s culture revolves around beverages…little tiny beverages.
Size isn’t everything – that’s the first thing to learn about coffee in Jordan. There are two types of coffee here in, Arabic and Turkish. The Arabic coffee is brewed in the morning with cardamom, put in a thermos and you have numerous little swigs of it during the day. When I say swigs…I mean swigs. The cup is barely filled and it always leaves me wanting more! I was told the idea of the small serving size was you that must be able to see the bottom of your cup when you take a sip. So you sit around visiting with family or friends drinking numerous swigs of coffee from a little cup without a handle.
The Turkish coffee is high octane. Thick and sludgy; only rookies drink it to the bottom and if you do it will taste like coffee sand. It’s normally served with sugar as it’s quite bitter without it. It is also served in a small cup, but it has a handle and comes with a saucer. The saucer is important…why…because that’s what you use to turn over the cup at the end and let the remaining sludgy ground drip out of the cup. Then the remaining grounds in your cup are ‘read’ just like a fortune. Coffee and a glimpse into your future…not too bad if you ask me!
Tea is the centerpiece of Jordan culture. I’m in awe of how Jordanians drink tea. Like Coffee, tea is served in tiny glasses again. The glasses normally don’t have a handle which makes it difficult to hold when it’s hot. You become really good holding the glass from the top so you wouldn’t drop it! Besides generous servings of sugar, sometimes people put sage in the tea which is my preferred way to drink it.
However, for me the tea here isn’t about the taste – it’s about the social aspect. Just as American’s frequently ask “How are you?” Jordanians ask “would you like some tea?” Normally it goes something like this:
“Where are you from?”
“I am from America.”
“Ahhh, welcome, welcome to Jordan!”
“Would you like to come in and have tea with me?”
I can’t go out for more than an hour and walk around without getting invited into someone’s home or shop for tea. I drank tea with some Bedouin craft women early in the morning in Petra (such a great memory to not be hassled by them to buy something, but simply sit and drink with them around their fire). I drank tea with young men in a chicken restaurant where they also insisted I share their roasted chicken, falafel and a coke. I drank tea and chatted for 40 minutes with a man in his tobacco shop and even learned how to roll cigarettes. I drank tea with a woman who simply walked by me, asked me where I was from, and then proceeded to invite me into her home for tea. All of this occurred within the last 5 days. I can’t get over the gushing hospitality of this country. It has shocked and stunned me; not to mention has left me with a full bladder, on a sugar high, and jacked up on caffeine!
I’ve been here now 3 weeks and it’s starting to take it’s toll on me. I really, really would like a drink, but it’s not necessarily easy to find nor a big part of their culture. Drinking is normally done (if at all) around events. However one lucky night when we had tabouleh I was treated to Arak; apparently the two go together in some way. I didn’t care if they went together or not…I was just happy to see some liquor at the table!
Arak is a clear, colorless, unsweetened anise-flavored alcohol traditional in Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria. It’s served with a little water and some ice – and yes – it is also in a small glass resembling a shot glass. I would have drank Mad Dog 20/20 if they had put it in front of me I was so desperate for a drink. But luckily Arak is much, much better than Mad Dog!
In this land where Big Gulp has yet to infiltrate, the beverages are small in size, but rich in culture.
Do you think you could downsize your drinks?