Saudi Arabia: The Etiquette of Arabic Coffee

Regardless of whether you are an expatriate or a Saudi, if you are in the Kingdom you will experience the unique taste of Arabic coffee.  Most Saudis grow up learning the “etiquette” which goes with the serving of Arabic coffee (kawa) but some expatriates may not know.

Serving Arabic kawa is both a production and a talent.  To begin with kawa is first served to guests with priority given to the father and then followed by first-degree relatives and elders.  In many large Saudi gatherings, formal or informal, guests may sit in rows of chairs or couches.  Kawa should be served to the guests sitting in the front rows and/or to high ranking officials, leaders or elders.  For example, sometimes Saudi Arabian television will feature news of King Abdullah greeting foreign delegations.  If sitting, the King and others will be served kawa and a viewer can see firsthand the protocol associated with serving kawa.

As a matter of tradition kawa is served from the right side to the end and not served from the left side.  Within a home the father should not serve coffee if his son is available to serve guests.  Additionally, elder brother(s) should not serve coffee if younger brother(s) are present.  An elder should not serve coffee if younger individuals are present in the gathering.  The younger is always expected to serve the elder.

Stay tuned for the next post which will instruct on how to pour the kawa.


32 Responses

  1. Thanks for posting this information! I absolutely love kahwa. Ironically, it’s the only type of coffee I’ve tried that I like! I am looking forward to your upcoming post on pouring the coffee. 🙂

  2. Thanks for sharing! I always love to learn about other cultures and their traditions. There is something about the Saudi culture I find intriguing. Maybe that is because I live in Saudi…I don’t know 🙂

  3. For me too, it’s the only kind of coffee I like!

  4. I’ve tried to make kawa a few times, got someone to make me a proper blend and all but it never tastes as good as the Saudis give me. It always tastes kinda ‘green’, not as smooth and spicy. Maybe buying some extra cardamom would help. I know there’s some in the mix already.

    I absolutely love the stuff. I just wish I knew how to make it properly!

  5. Not to be too particular but “kawa” simply means “coffee”. So if you ask an Arab for “kawa” they might give you a different kind. Even “kawa arabiyya” isn’t made the same throughout the Arab world. This style of coffee seems to be a peninsula specialty.

    Stacy I wouldn’t use a premix. Go to a shop that sells coffee and by light roast and have them grind for you. Tell them what it is for. And then buy shredded cardomon to go with it. I get it is separate bags so I can adjust. For two cups of water I put a rounded tablespoon. I usually gently heat the coffee, then add the water. After 15 minutes I add 2 heaping tablespoons cardomon. 5 more minutes I strain it.

    That’s a good basic recipe. Some people prefer more cardomon. I always add some (1/4 t.?) ground ginger with the coffee. That’s a pretty typical Jeddah thing to do.

  6. Its strange and also very interseting to know that the culture is being taught by a foreigner. Honestly speaking I have so many Saudi friends but the details of serving qah’wa was known in detail for the first time after spending 24 years. Thanks once again…

  7. Sany, thanks for the recipe and tips. My favorite qawa is made by a friend and she uses what she calls ”green coffee” but it is a special kind, once she couldn’t get it and had another kind and at once it was way too coffee-ish for me.

  8. Sandy, I think I need to add a lot more cardamom. Thanks for the advice :).

  9. Sandy, What is cardomon? Are you saying the water isn’t boiled, only heated?

    I ask because coffee is my main vice. While most people are about 70% water, I am about 70% coffee.


  10. @Aafke think it’s called “green” coffee ’cause the beans are so lightly roasted they are still green. (maybe they’re unroasted?)

    Just remember my portions were for shredded cardamon which includes all the husks, in case you substute seeds only.

    I simmer it about 15-20 min and then add cardamon for the last 5 min. Cardamon is a spice. It comes in a greenish, husk-like small pod. For the coffee I use them shredded (I can buy it that way in Saudi) and strain the whole drink.

  11. I would like to give you mommy’s recipe the way she taught me and it goes like this:

    Put three full teaspoons of Arabic coffee “mocha” – “Bonn” in Arabic – in the coffeepot, add a letter of boiled water watch them boil until bubbles break on the surface for almost a minute then simmer it for 25 minutes. After that, add half a teaspoon of dianthus -“Koronful” in Formal Arabic but Saudies call it mismar or oaidi – and another half teaspoon of “nankhah” – I do not know what it is called in Formal Arabic. Furthermore I do not know if it exists in English. Anyway, let it mix for almost another 15 minutes. Turn off the oven but leave the coffeepot there so the items would separate while you are preparing the thermos bottle by washing it, pouring some boiled water in it just to get it heated then empty it. Put in the thermos bottle a teaspoon and a half of cardamom and few amount of saffron like five or seven threads. Then pour the coffee from the coffeepot into the thermos bottle slowly. Enjoy it with dates or any kind of coffee desserts. You would love to sip it alone as sore as it is when you have a headache, even its smell takes stress away. J

    – some people like to add ginger so it might be added according to the taste. We, I mean my family, do not do it. We like ginger with mint to be prepared like tea.
    -all the mentioned ingredients are supposed to be ground except saffron. For the coffee it must be roasted before grinding, and you better do it at home to get your favourite colour.
    – you can buy all the ingredients from a local nut shop.

  12. 15, 20, 25 minutes? Wow.. It is certainly a long process – not exactly an expresso…..

    Actually I would like to try some kawa. Will put it on my ‘to do before I die’ list.

    As long as they don’t put chicory in it like those crazy cajuns.

  13. I have been in other countries where the serving was similarly hierarchical. To be honest, I found it extremely offensive in assuming who was more important than whom and stifling as well!!

  14. Unless you are the most important of course, then I wouldn’t mind…

  15. Dear Tanya,

    I think this matter has more cultural dimensions that you can understand if you broaden your knowledge even more. It can be a bit complicated but absolutely comprehensible. It has to do with hierarchy and other standards. By the way, it is not offensive at all. You may think it is so because of your cultural background and that is totally understandable.
    By the way, in my family girls are to serve the coffee even when brothers are available. In addition I always hand my mother the “finjal” first. Though she shows uneasiness and tell me “your daddy’s first” I reply “well, that’s the norm but God says mommy’s first” and I glance at daddy who approves of my behaviour and always says proudly, “our daughter is right my soul, you first” my mother has no choice but to accept that.

  16. Reemie: I loved your story. I couldn’t help but smile 🙂

  17. Felicia,
    smiling is good and healthy 😉

    what did you love about my little story?

  18. Dianthus is carnation.

  19. I found a page that says mismar is cloves.

  20. then you use dried cloves.

  21. don’t blow in your cup to cool it down…no no no. actually don’t blow on any of your food.

  22. gia, why not?

  23. i’m not sure. it probably has to do with shaytan. but my sil told me that when i was blowing away in my cup, and she said, ”drink it hot”. but i’ve heard it before. i’ll find out why. who knows, maybe rude

  24. I enjoy reading and learning the stories from others like Reemie and Gia. Please do continue to teach us more!

  25. I found this recipe:

    Qahwa Arabeya

    3 cups water
    3 tbsp. cardamom (coarsely ground)
    2 tbsp. of Arabic coffee
    1/4 teaspoon saffron (optional)

    Boil the water in a pot. Add the coffee to the water and bring to a boil over low heat. Remove from the heat for five minutes to allow the coffee to settle. Put the cardamom in the pot, strain the coffee into it and add the saffron. Bring back to boil once and serve.

    Serves 8-10 persons.


    and I am unsure how many ounces are in a Saudi “cup”. Is it 8 oz = 1 cup?


  26. . . and another variation:

    Arabic Coffee

    Arabic coffee or (Gahwa) is a very important drink in Saudi Arabia and in the Arabian Gulf countries. Preparation, serving and drinking of gahwa are derived from Bedouin hospitality. Usually, guests are served with Arabic Coffee and Dates.


    -2 glasses of water [how many ounces?]
    -2 tablespoons Arabic coffee beans, roasted and ground
    -1 spoon powdered Cardamom
    -5 pieces of cloves


    Boil the water, coffee, 1/2 spoon of cardamom and cloves together for 20 minutes

    Put 1/2 spoon of cardamom in the thermos with a little bit of saffron

    Then, pour the coffee into the thermos.

  27. Aha! I found the answer here, if someone would just please confirm it:

    Qahwa Arabeya (Arabic Coffee)

    Author: The Art of Saudi Cooking by Zobaida Mousily, Safiy
    Released: 4/27/2004 12:00:00 AM

    3 eight ounce glasses of water
    3/4 cup* lightly roasted and ground coffee
    1/4 cup* coarsely ground cardamom
    1/4 teaspoon saffron (optional)
    * Arab coffee cup – Approximately 2 ounces

    Boil the water in a pan
    Add the coffee and let boil over low heat for half an hour
    Remove from the heat and let rest for 5 minutes to allow the coffee to settle
    Put the cardamom in a coffee pot, strain the coffee into it and add the saffron
    Place the pot over the heat, bring back to boil once
    Serve and Enjoy
    The word “coffee” comes from the Arabic word “qahwa”.

    For centuries, Arabs have been attracted to the delicious taste of coffee, which has come to symbolize both hospitality and honor. The traditional preparation and serving of Arabic coffee is intricate. Once the beans are freshly roasted and ground, great care is taken when boiling the coffee so that it is just right. Herbs such as cardamom, ginger or saffron are added: however, Arabic coffee is never drunk with milk or sugar.

    Rules of etiquette when serving the coffee require the host or hostess to personally hand each small cup (finjan) to the guest with the right hand, after pouring the coffee from the pot (dallah) with the left. In Saudi Arabia, the ritual of serving coffee is a sign that a guest is welcome and honored by his host.

    Contributed by Saudi Aramco Public Relations Department

    Preparation time: Approximately 45 minutes
    Yield: Serves 6 – 8

    Arabic Coffee recipe distributed to Saudi Aramco Retirees as part of a retirement gift from Saudi Aramco.

  28. one more recipe with rose water:

    5 minutes to make
    Serves 6

    The Arabian word for coffee is Qahwah. Some areas of Saudi also add ginger or cinnamon.


    8 oz. water
    1 T. ground light roast coffee
    1T. crushed cardamom
    1 t. rose water
    saffron threads (about 5)

    How to make it:

    Add the cardamom and saffron to the coffee when you brew it. Add the rose water after the coffee has brewed. This is traditionally served in small glasses.

  29. Do Not Blow On Hot Stuff
    Ibn ‘Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) said that, ‘The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) forbade from breathing or blowing in the container.’
    Research proves that when one blows in a hot drink, the bacterium increases in the drink. These bacteria’s you will drink and will increase in the stomach, as there is warmth and this will create more illness in the stomach.

  30. a typical Saudi cup contains maybe a good tablespoon of qawah.

  31. There are not so many places in the USA where you can buy Arabic Coffee or Saudi dates. but i found this website that offers these things with reasonable price and shipped in 2-5 days.

    I encourage anyone find another place to post it here.

    thank you

  32. Anywhere there is an Arab or a Lebanese grocery you will be able to buy Arabic coffee. Most also have Saudi dates stocked too.

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