Minimalistic Beverages

23 Comments 24 January 2011

coffee tea water sign

Water seems to be an afterthought!

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.

Turkish Coffee

Turkish Coffee....good and thick!

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!”
“Thank you!”
“Would you like to come in and have tea with me?”

Tea Jordan

Piping Hot and Small

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!


Got Arak?

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.


A tiny teapot

Do you think you could downsize your drinks?

Your Comments

23 Comments so far

  1. kevin winter says:

    I wish I didn’t know what you were talking about…. it would be so much easier to deal with the squat toilets, camel rides, hard beds and everything else of traveling if I could just get a bucket of hot American style coffee in the morning!

    And, while I’m whining, a really cold beer occasionally wouldn’t hurt, either.

    I can seem to deal with the food, transport, guesthouses of travel if I could just keep my morning liquids routine. Funny how keeping just a few of the rituals of home can keep you grounded when you are on the road.

    I’ve known travelers who can’t travel without a certain soap, or certain socks, whatever. No matter how light I’m packing, I can find room for the makings of a reasonable cup of coffee in the mornings.

    Love your writing. Keep it up!


    • Sherry says:

      Thanks Kevin! Yes – I don’t think about how important coffee is to me until I go somewhere and can’t find it! don’t even tease me with cold beer or beverages…that seems to be rare around the world! However when I lived in Vietnam, we drank ice in our beer…strangely I got used to it!

  2. It’s lovely to have cardamom in coffee. If one tried to use cardamom even in small amounts every day for one’s coffee here though, it would not be cheap. I live in the Bay Area of California, and the cardamom I have seen in regular grocery stores like Safeway is one of the more expensive spices. It actually costs less to buy cardamom in Norway, the world’s most expensive country, than here.

    I had my coffee grounds read by a student from Cypress when I was at university. We were sitting around having coffee with other students, and when she read one young man’s fortune, he turned completely pale and jumped out of his seat and left the cafe. I don’t imagine that happens often, though. Have you learned any “tricks” to reading coffee grounds?

    I have yet to visit this part of the world, so I was surprised to hear the extent of Jordanians’ friendliness. It sounds like they are the champions of hospitality and cultural exchange. It would be interesting to learn about how being so open to strangers, especially those who are foreign, has shaped the Jordanian culture.

    As for downsizing my drinks, my first answer was “Yes.” Whenever I get a drink in a disposable cup – be it tea or soda – I am never able to finish all of it before it cools or goes flat. But then I looked at the cup (from Ikea) that I use for serving myself tea at home, and I realized that it holds almost half a liter. Normally I drink 1.5 to 2 of those cups a day. Hum. It seems it would be more difficult for me to downsize than I initially thought. It would definitely be a challenge.

    • Sherry says:

      Normally the Jordanians’ response to why don’t you have bigger cups is that it goes cold too fast. They drink it fast – I’m always the last one to finish…trying to make it last for as long as I can! True, cardamom is expensive in the US – thanks for reminding me to buy some here and bring some back with me…along with sumak…yum.
      I haven’t learned to read the grounds yet – but I’ve had mine read!

  3. I love some cardamom in our coffee too. Not sludge though… but in Indonesia often times they just pour hot water over the ground and it floats to the top? And it makes for ‘chewable’ coffee? Took me awhile, but I’ve actually gotten to enjoy it.


    Not sure if I can downsize my coffee in the morning, but I do like the idea of putting in a thermos and having little sips all throughout the day.

    • Ellen says:

      Jill, I’d forgotten about the “chewable” coffee or kopi tubruk. You can’t find a simpler way to make coffee than that!

      • Sherry says:

        Even though it’s simple to make I still screw it up. Inevitably when I add the ground to the boiling water I forget to take it off the flame and it immediately boils over like a science experiment gone wrong! Practice makes perfect though!

  4. Mark H says:

    I am reminded of a strange cafe in Africa some years ago that dutifully gave me a menu and then announced after a few minutes reading the menu that they have nothing at all to serve but that I was welcome to stay for a while. Only in Africa…

  5. your photos on this post are really, really great. And as a coffee lover, I appreciate the whole variety of cultures that come along with the concept. If you like the Jordan experience, you need to hop over to Ethiopia for their coffee routine also (and also look into getting a great book available on the Kindle, The Devil’s Cup — good history of coffee). As to the MD 20/20… bring it on!!

    • Sherry says:

      I love coffee around the world…but this small cup thing has me a bit never seems to be enough! The good thing is that they drink it frequently throughout the day – but in small doses. However I did learn how to make Turkish coffee by myself this week…so now I can make it whenever I want! Thanks for the book rec…sounds great! I haven’t been to Ethiopia yet – but did have coffee and went to some farms in Kenya…yum! I have found memories of MD…well…actually I have no memories after I started drinking it…but remember the opening the bottle when I was 18…ahem…21.

  6. Donna Hull says:

    What a fascinating look at culture over the top of a cup – coffee or tea. Sherry, I really enjoyed the glimpse. Thanks.

  7. Sophie says:

    What excellent photos!

    I adore Arabic coffee, the flavour as well as the ritual around it; completely free of stress.

    Your post reminded me of when my brother came back from studying in the USA. He kept asking for a large coffee – in vain, of course :)

  8. Jason says:

    Nice post and I really enjoy the photos. Don’t really like Arak, but sometimes you just need a drink.

  9. Jim says:

    Hi Sherry, loved the post and yes you don’t drink Turkish coffee to the bottom. Coincidentally I have just blogged about Ethiopia, home of the coffee Arabica plant, and used that to introduce readers to a women’s training centre outside of Gondar. Come on over and read how they serve great coffee there, and yes, you gotta order a double machiato to get a decent mouthful.

  10. i LOVE cardamom – it is my very favorite spice. i put it in everything that i can. YUM!! fascinating glimpse into a WHOLE different way to drink coffee and tea. i just had a very large decaf mochacino. LOL.

  11. Oh, I really love arabian tea. Even if it’s hot, it’s still very refreshing!

  12. Nicole says:

    I really love the photo of water pouring from the teapot! I learned great appreciation for coffee when I visited a little farm where they grew coffee, shucked it, dried it, roasted it in a wood fired oven, ground it in a giant wooden mortar with a giant wooden pestle, heated the water to brew it over a fire. We were poured a single cup at meals, no “warmer-uppers”. Each sip was to be savoured, and I did. :)

    • Sherry says:

      Thanks! Glad you enjoyed the piping hot tea photo – it’s one of my favorites too! I’m a huge coffee drinker too. Actually I prefer coffee to tea – but tea rules in the MIddle East!

  13. yazan says:

    i’m jordianian and it was really interesting to read this and there is a smile on my face !

    would you like some tea :p

  14. Dawn says:

    Hi there. I really enjoyed your article. I stumble upon this is because I was given Jordan teas for Xmas by one of my Jordanian students. I was skeptical to even try this. I thought she was giving me a sack of pot..LOLOL. I asked her about them and she mention that one of them is called Medicina Tea (looks like pot or sage it has buds and twigs)smells very strange and the other looks like black hard tea corns. She mention it is green tea. Can you share with me what this is before I try this. She mention to me to sprinkle the green leaves on top of the green black tea but not to much.

    • Sherry says:

      I’m sorry – but I”m not familiar with that type of tea. But I can tell you that tea is a HUGE part of the Jordanian culture and I can assure you that what she gave you was a very typical gift!

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Sherry traveling the world

I'm Sherry, a corporate cube dweller turned nomadic traveler. I travel to off-the-beaten-path destinations to bring you unique travel experiences and photography. But it's not just about travel, it's also about life experiences of a middle age wanderer.
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Where am I and Where am I going?

Minnesota/Wisconsin -> Nebraska

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