Fenjan cup commonly used in the Arabia depicts the deep coffee tradition throughout the Bedouin landscape

Fenjan cup commonly used in the Arabia depicts the deep coffee tradition throughout the Bedouin landscape

March 03 - 2023

Coffee Geography Magazine

By Derege L. Gemeda

Fenjan coffee cup is white porcelain with a gold rim in the interior with 43mm height and 60mm in diameter. The cup is widely used to serve Arabic coffee which is ingrained within Middle Eastern and Arab culture and tradition, and is the most popular form of coffee brewed in the Middle East. It originated in the Middle East, beginning in Yemen and eventually travelling to Mecca (Hejaz), Egypt, the Levant, and then, in the mid-16th century, to Turkey and from there to Europe where coffee eventually became popular as well. But Fenjan cup remained in use in the Arabian peninsula and East Africa, mainly Ethiopia.

Bedouin coffee

A Bedouin elder with his fenjan coffee cup in 1930

Arabic coffee is usually served just a few centiliters at a time in the Fenjan cup. The guest drinks it and if he wishes, he will gesture to the waiter not to pour any more. Otherwise, the host/waiter will continue to serve another few centilitres at a time until the guest indicates he has had enough. The most common practice is to drink only one cup since serving coffee serves as a ceremonial act of kindness and hospitality. Sometimes people also drink larger volumes during conversations. 

The cups are normally only filled partway, and the custom is to drink three cups. Arabic coffee has a prominent place in traditional Arab holidays and special events such as Ramadan and Eid. The Arabic Coffee “Qahwa Arabiyyah” is considered to be one of the generosity indicators. Therefore, it’s a vital part of the Bedouine social life as they did express happiness, sadness, and unspoken words with coffee in all of their life events, as it has many benefits, in addition, to its place in the arabic culture.

“El-qahwa Khas, el-chai qass” implying the habits of serving Arabic Coffee. In public gatherings, people must give the first cup of coffee to the oldest. But in private gatherings, they must give it to the tribe Shiekh: that means in the habits of serving Arabic Coffee, the amount of coffee poured into the cup should not exceed one-third of it, which is known as “Sabbat Al-Heshma”, and no more than half of the cup should be filled, because if the amount exceeds that, the guest will understand that he is not welcomed there and he must drink his coffee and leave. The one who pours coffee should hold the Dallah with his left hand and the cup with the right hand. The cup beats against the front of the Dallah to make a ring that makes the guest pay attention to the coffee served for him. 

Arabs in the Arabian Peninsula are also creative in the way they prepare the coffee. Coffee is different from that in Egypt and Levant in terms of bitterness and the type of cups the coffee is served in. This brewing method is common in Najd and Hejaz, and sometimes other spices like saffron (to give it a golden color), cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon to create a more complex tastes. 

The guest straightens out from his standing for coffee, and when he doesn't want more coffee, he shakes the cup and the host understands that, otherwise the host has to keep pouring repeatedly. 

- Fenjan El-Heif: That’s the name of the first coffee cup that traditionally has been consumed by the host himself in the past to prove to the guest that the coffee is not poisoned and nowadays to ensure that the coffee is free of defects. 

- Fenjan El-Keif: It is the first cup that the guest drinks and indicates the generosity of the host, in addition to its one of the duties of hospitality which is the responsibility of the host. The second cup is that the guest drinks to enjoy the taste of coffee, and the guest can have it or not if he wants, and this does not cause any kind of embarrassment to the host.

- Fenjan El-Seif: the guest drinks it to indicate that he will stand with his host in case he is exposed to any harm, and many guests leave this cup and do not drink it because of the duties it imposes on the one who drinks it. 

Historian put Yemen as the center of Arabian Coffee where Aden was once the richest city in the Middle East before the discovery of the oil in the other parts of the Arabia. Traders used to source their merchandises mainly gold, coffee, silver and ivory from Ethiopia to the supply route reaching the Ottoman Empire which later penetrated some of the Mediterranean markets in the 16th century. 

The usage of Fenjan cup and Dallah pot has later adopted by the Turks as their own where Turkish coffee tradition had taken over the key role in the introduction of the drink throughout the world.