Take a walk in any city, town, or even village in Oman, and you will surely come across the pleasant and invigorating smell of coffee infused with cardamom.
It’s an aroma that helps clear the head, sharpen senses, and even goes so far to lighten one’s burdens, even if only for a little while.
This exotic aroma that has so teased your nostrils is called ‘kahwa', and it is a staple of Omani culture and hospitality.
Kahwa dates back to the era when camel caravans often made arduous journeys across the deserts to bring and send supplies from distant towns.
Coffee, back then, was a rather precious commodity, and was therefore only used only for special occasions.
It was therefore only served in rather small quantities in delicate bone china cups to tribal chiefs when important meetings were held, or when village elders came home, or when revered guests dropped by.
Travel was hard in those days, and it was important to show a guest that you appreciated their stopping by your place.
Kahwa, which is bitter, yet flavoursome, was traditionally served with dates and other dried fruits. This aimed to both balance the bitterness of the coffee, while complementing the flavour of the cardamom, and enhance the invigorating effects of the coffee.
Today, it is a staple of Omani hospitality from Musandam in the north to Salalah in the south, and is among the highest honours accorded to guests who come to an Omani household.
The ubiquitous ornate jug and china cups are now found in nearly every hotel, and are intended to be a gesture of welcome, ensuring those who do visit leave with fond memories.
The original coffee makers used to blend coffee granules with cardamom powder in a ratio that was requested by customers, with each one of them receiving their own custom-made kahwa powder, and while it is still made this way in the souqs, kahwa can also be purchased in readymade form in supermarkets. Other spices are also sometimes added to kahwa, with saffron and cloves also occasional additions to the coffee.