I noticed them on my first day in Jordan. There they were, in the middle of traffic circles on the way to the Desert Castles east of Amman, giant decorative coffee urns. At the time I didn’t realize that’s what they were, I thought they looked more like oil lamps, but either way I was thoroughly confused. It wasn’t until much later in the trip when I realized what they were and what they meant and how something as deceptively simple as Bedouin coffee culture can define an entire country.
Jordanians, like many of their regional neighbors, take coffee very seriously. Coffee in the region has had a place of high importance for centuries, and it has indeed been elevated to an art form. Called by many the wine of Islam, it didn’t take me very long to realize the do’s and don’ts of this craft.
We had just finished a large meal, and I asked the server for decaf. It was late, I’m in my mid-thirties and unfortunately a late night cup of coffee would indeed keep me up. I looked up and was met with a look of complete and total confusion. I glanced over at my guide and translator and even he seemed to be at a loss. “Do you want Turkish coffee or tea?” he asked again. Apparently those were my only options, there is no decaf in Jordan.
It was that evening when I started connecting the dots of the cultural clues I had picked up during the week. The giant coffee pots, total absence of decaf and the fact I was constantly being offered coffee no matter where we went, even at a scenic overlook. Finally, I asked my guide, Abed, about it and got the whole story.
The Bedouin style of drinking coffee and, more importantly, sharing it with guests is a cultural bedrock. Hospitality and welcoming strangers is a trait I witnessed numerous times throughout my time in Jordan and it is best seen in the Bedouin coffee ceremony.
The coffee is prepared in front of the guest and involves three cups of coffee. As the saying goes, one for the soul, one for the sword and one because you are a guest…if you ask for a fourth you’re being greedy!
More than just enjoying a cup of Joe, the tradition is the perfect symbol of basic friendliness that makes Jordan such a great country to visit. Just never ask for decaf.