Arabic Coffee - Gahwa `arabiyah-قهوه عربيه -
The be-all, end-all of Saudi Arabia is the Arabic coffee. I am including the author's remarks (with mine in parentheses) since this is exactly how it is served. Only on the women's side of the party, imagine so much incense burning you can't see across.
Arabic coffee can be prepared in various ways, but always contains more cardamom than coffee, and no sugar (it's made from green coffee beans and has a truly UNIQUE flavor, once described to me as Clorox bleach). It is the traditional welcoming drink served on every truly Arabic occasion such as weddings, receptions, gatherings, meetings, and camel races (also at any gathering of more than four people). It is served almost immediately to the guests on arrival, usually before the meal (Parties start about 9 pm, the meal begins about midnight.
On the ladies side, the women make a mad rush to the food, eat very quickly, and leave immediately. Coffee goes around twice, then hot tea is brought out, it goes around once, maybe twice. Stuffed dates, some with sesame seeds, some without, are passed out with the coffee.
Belgium chocolates are presented to the guests with the tea. The chocolates are individually wrapped and brought around in a large basket by a maid. Only one or two chocolates are allowed. These were really wonderful, just about the best part of the party and I'm not even a chocolate fancier). It should be served from the traditional pot called the dallah (which has a chunk of fiberous material stuck in the spout to serve as a filter) into very small Arabic coffee cups filled only half full (these cups hold maybe half a cup of liquid anyway but when you have to drink the coffee it seems like a LOT more). The server then goes around with the pot to refill any cup that is empty, and continues to refill cups until the guest gently wobbles his cup to indicate he has had enough. It is customary to take 2 or 3 cups. More than three is greedy, less than two is not polite (this is no joke. One way to upset your hostess real fast is to wobble after choking down the first cup. This is why the dates are so important. Without them to help kill the taste of the coffee, most of us would never have gotten to the tea part of the ritual, let alone the meal).