Cairo Coffee Houses

Sitting in crowded outdoor coffee houses, drinking mint tea and partaking of the occasional shisha, talking for hours while time stands still – this is the Cairo coffee house. People watching, politic talking, reminiscing and bonding, the evenings during our recent trip stretched long into the night. Occasionally Backgammon emerged and two of the family played while the rest of us looked on.

It was as though time was nonexistent. We left when our eyes began to get heavy with happy exhaustion. The camaraderie and sense of belonging gave a comfort that many never get to experience and we didn’t want it to end.

There is much the east can teach the west about community and belonging through these coffee houses. In the west coffee shops are often about  providing tables and computer space to individuals rather than catering to groups of people. In the west there is a hurried atmosphere – you need to order quickly, your debit card at the ready so that in a flash you can pay and get out of line, scrambling to find a seat in the process. You have dozens of choices – triple shot, double shot; latte, espresso; hazelnut, vanilla; large, venti; medium, grande; small, tall – it can be physically exhausting if you don’t know how to speak coffee. Although I love going for coffee in the United States, endless time I do not have and community I do not feel.

In a University of California Berkeley study a few years ago it was identified that three quarters of the world operates on a family and friend system of support; the remaining quarter operates on an institutional system of support. It is not surprising that the United States falls into the latter category. There are many things that institutions can do for us, but they can’t provide the human connection for which we are hardwired. Family and friends give us this human connection and there is no place better to develop this connection than the Cairo Coffee House.

Cairo coffee houses with their steaming hot tea,the bright green leaves of fresh mint peaking out of the cup, or ahwa masbut, heaps of coarse white sugar on the side to be sweetened to your liking (diabetes? who cares!) are poured into glass cups that show the beautiful colors of the beverage choices. There are plenty of refills and the warmth goes through body straight to soul.

It’s a false illusion to be sure, but when one relaxes in the wonder of Cairo coffee houses it’s easy to feel that the Middle East is at peace.

Chai at Fishawy's in the Khan el Khalili Bazaar

20 thoughts on “Cairo Coffee Houses

  1. Reminds me of sipping tea on a ferry in Istanbul. Delicious, but not just the taste of it. Sounds, smells, and definitely looks were all so alluring. But definitely community is something missing in most third places in America.

    Like

    1. You’re so right – all the senses are engaged making for the best experiences and memories. I think also it’s the difference between a society focused on the individual vs. one focused more on the group. I have great memories of sipping tea on a ferry in Istanbul as well. The thing with Istanbul is all the modes of transportation that you can take through the city. So cool.

      Like

    1. Cairo coffee houses are some of my favorite spots. Already looking forward to the day I get back. We try and simulate sometimes with shisha and mint tea on our porch but it falls pretty flat! Thanks so much for reading.

      Like

  2. oh the lovely photos and vivid memories it brings to my mind. Only have time to read bits and pieces right now. My favorite food is koshery or kusherie. I had it in a friend’s home who lives in the Heliopolis area and in a little place in Cairo. And a new friend (who speaks just a little English) Naasa made it for me here, and when I can set aside some time, will teach me to make it like her! Yes, we can certainly learn much in regards to hospitality from those in the middle east. Such a challenge to express this sense of community living in the States, though our doors be open to the world. We have been so thankful for the different seasons of life that have brought international students into our home, then High School students from Turkey, housing two Serbian Students waiting for their dorms to open and a new friendship with a High Schooler from Rome. The world is right on our front porch!

    Like

    1. I love Kusherie and have not learned how to make it properly. There is a recipe in the “More with Less Cookbook” that is not legitimate! We go to this stand in Boulaq and it is so good – I can taste it as I speak. The world on our doorsteps is a good reminder. Because I am so comfortable overseas it’s easy for me to forget that the same principles of reaching out apply here. Thanks for the reminder!

      Like

  3. I’ve never been to Egypt but I’ve always been fascinated by this country ever since I started lessons on world history. It’s just too bad that the peace and order situation there at the moment is so unstable. Someday…

    Like

    1. Malou – so sorry that I didn’t see this comment! Thank you for coming by. I would say to not let what’s going on in Cairo prevent a visit. It is an amazing country and we felt completely safe during our entire trip. The ancient history as well as modern happenings make one feel fully alive. Thanks so much for dropping by!

      Like

  4. This made me homesick for Cairo! I was one of those drinking tea with mint at those coffee shops! The pace in Cairo was similar to the deep South in the 1950s when I was growing up.

    Like

    1. Homesickness comes in waves that can’t be predicted! I hope it brought back wonderful memories…there’s something indescribable about it isn’t there? It makes sense that the pace in Cairo was similar to that of the South. I wish I would allow myself to relax in this way right where I am! I think I do it better in the summer with the warm weather and breezes, and time out with no internet or any other media!

      Like

  5. “It was as though time was nonexistent.” This is what I wish…life is so fast-paced that sometimes I just want to run away from it. More and more, I’m learning that getting away, having time to do nothing or just enjoy talking to others and having coffee is what I crave. Coffee cup clinks to that!

    Like

    1. I raise my cup with you. One of my readers recently talked about how she likes who she is better when she is overseas. I have felt the same way and I think it’s partially that I am so willing to relax and forget about time when I am in Egypt or Pakistan. It takes concentrated effort to do that here. Thanks for taking time out to read!

      Like

  6. Thanks Marilyn. I remember all too well the leisurely afternoon teas in Pakistan. The world stood still and the moment was savored! Cares vanished, and relaxation crept upon us. We need more of such cozy interludes. BTW I loved the blue pots, china and glass cups, etc.!

    Like

    1. Yes – those lovely teas with Nice biscuits, heated milk, and always Pakistani china cups. I remember sitting on your lovely veranda having tea. Thank you for that memory. Even tea at boarding school was a daily tradition – a time to stop after school and have tea before we went off to other activities. “I’m glad I was not born before tea” is one of my favorite quotes!

      Like

  7. Just want to tell you – I absolutely love your blog. It’s one of two blogs that I read regularly, and yours is priority. Thanks for such a fascinating, helpful blog!

    Like

    1. This is just a comment I had to read over….and over….and over….and…you get the picture! I promise the comment won’t make a monster of me, but I do thank you so much for the words of affirmation. It means the world!

      Like

Add to the discussion...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s