Contrary to popular belief, coffee was introduced to Libya by the Arabs spreading Islam to North Africa, almost a thousand years before the Turks first set foot on our shores. Coffee originating from Yemen was first brewed by the Arabs, and is correctly known as Arabic coffee (qahwa Arabia) in our region. The term Turkish coffee came along later as the Ottomans introduced “Arabic” coffee to Europe. Even the Turkish kahve is derived from the Arabic qahwa.
What the Ottomans can be given credit for is tea drinking. Tea drinking is a social affair; gathering around the home-maker at her low wooden table, with shot glasses in neat rows, and tea bubbling for hours in an enamel pot on a portable low heat source (probably a Primus stove or a charcoal fire kanoun). The tea is poured from a height between two metal mugs to cool it and create the necessary foam or raghwa. The foam in your tea is a sign of hospitatlity, that your host welcomes you and appreciates you coming. Three rounds are usually drunk, the third with roasted peanuts in the cup, or almonds if special guests are over. This is served with a basket bread or ka’ak, Libyan ring cookies.
Nowadays modern Tripolitanians prefer their foam atop their coffee. Cappuccinos are in, and croissants, muffins and cheesecake are the hip new accompaniments. Many “Starbucks” style coffee houses are popping up all around town to cater for the needs of the modern elite. But up until the past five years, the most popular way of getting your daily dose of java was made in a quirky way using instant coffee. This method boomed in the nineties, before espresso beans, Moka pots or cappuccino machines were available in Libya. Mind you, it is still very popular and is often the best selling drink at most cafes. I have always been fascinated as to how this method came about in the first place, do any of you know? Again, it’s all about the foam we covet. Rather than shaking, blending, whipping or steaming, the foam is beaten into the coffee.
Cappuccino three ways
Cappuccino is an Italian hot beverage consisting of 1 part espresso, 1 part steamed milk and 1 part milk foam.
How the professionals do it:
A good barista always grinds fresh Arabica beans just before brewing. The fine grounds are tamped into the filter holder and brewed by pumping hot water through the filter at a pressure of 15 bars. The steam nozzle is then used to heat the cold milk and create the layer of microfoam that makes a cappuccino unique.
How to make it at home:
If you have a good grade aluminum Moka pot, you can make a cappuccino at home by brewing your espresso grounds using this steam method. Foam is created in the heated milk through the use of an electric hand frother or manually using a whisk or plunger.
How the Libyans do it:
Now we’re going to get creative. All of my fellow Libyans will have tried this method at some point in their lives and will read on fondly. Any foreigners reading this will probably think WHAT?! I must warn any Italians that are online that this method may shock you so please sit down before continuing! Just bear in mind that this method came out of a necessity; we Libyans wanted our cappuccinos too. We just didn’t have the right means to make it properly.
OK, so if you want to make a cup for yourself all you need is two teaspoons instant coffee (Nescafe is the brand of choice), two teaspoons sugar and a few drops of water, just enough to make the mixture wet. Beat with a spoon until you have a light brown, smooth, shiny mixture. Add a little bit of hot milk, stirring to dissolve the mixture; add the rest of the hot milk or hot water if preferred. This process will produce a thin layer of tan foam from the release of air that was beat into the coffee mix. It hardly compares to the thick creamy microfoam you get from a steam nozzle.
Large families, coffee addicts and some cafes have super sized this method. One cup instant coffee, one cup sugar and one cup water are mixed in a blender until light, thick and smooth. The readymade Nescafe blend is stored in the fridge in an airtight container and used as needed. A serving size is usually one tablespoon for every cup of milk.