Coffee consumption in Egypt developed thanks to the brotherhood of Sufi Islamic mystics, who used it during prayers. The drink soon acquired a social and cultural role: by the end of the 17th century, Cairo already had 643 bayt qahwa, coffee houses which became cultural centres and gathering places.
Even today, coffee drinking is an important social occasion for Egyptians, at all levels of society. In many cases, a coffee house becomes a kind of literary circle or political club, but the peaceful, comfortable ambience also makes it an ideal place in which to do business, and in fact many coffee houses can be found in markets, where the traders meet to negotiate. In Egypt, as in Syria, when ordering coffee you also need to say how much sugar you prefer, because sugared water is used in the preparation. You can choose from mildly sweet (arriha), medium-sweet (mazboot), or very sweet (ziyada): bitter coffee (sada) is reserved for sad occasion such as funeral ceremonies.
Kahwa bl baharat - Spiced Turkish coffee
Spiced version of classical Turkish coffee, typical of the city of Alexandria
2.5 kg (8.8 oz) of roasted coffee ground Turkish style
100 g (3.5 oz) of green powdered cardamom
50 g (1.7 oz) of powdered nutmeg
25 g (0.8 oz) of powdered clove
10 g (0.3 oz) of crumbled mastic gum (mastika)
3 cups of water
sugar to taste
Prepare the blend, stirring all the dry ingredients carefully together. In a Turkish coffee maker (kanaka) add three cups of cold water and three heaped teaspoons of the spiced coffee mixture and sugar to taste.
Mix well and place over the fire until the coffee begins to boil and a foam of ground coffee forms on the surface. Serve immediately, distributing a few spoonfuls of the foam in each cup and then immediately pouring in the coffee.
Basbousa bil loz - Almond semolina cake
One of the favourite desserts with Egyptians, it is made with semolina (simeet), preferably served at breakfast with coffee, and possibly with added cream (eshta) or jam.
1 cup semolina
1 cup almonds
180 g (6.3 oz) butter
A handful of sweet, peeled almonds
For the syrup (sharbaat)
3 cups of water
2 cups of sugar
1 squeezed lemon
Prepare a syrup by boiling the water and sugar with the lemon juice for a few minutes. Meanwhile, finely chop the almonds and toast them in the butter along with the semolina for about fifteen minutes, until the ingredients just begin to brown. Transfer the mixture to a buttered metal dish, spread it out thoroughly smoothing the surface, and bake until golden at 180°C (350°F). Remove from the oven and pour the boiling syrup on top.