The Coffee Connection

For many, the thought of an oud-burning session with friends would be incomplete without the beverage that goes back as long as aloeswood use itself—coffee. Let us look now at the use of coffee in the tradition of mystics, and its connection with aloeswood use.

Coffee use can be traced at least to as early as the 9th century, when it appeared in the highlands of Ethiopia. According to legend, Ethiopian shepherds were the first to observe the influence of the caffeine in coffee beans when the goats appeared to “dance” and to have an increased level of energy after consuming wild coffee berries.

The legend names the shepherd “Kaldi.” From Ethiopia, coffee spread to Egypt and Yemen. It was in Arabia that coffee beans were first roasted and brewed similarly as they are today. By the 15th century, it had reached the rest of the Middle East, Persia, Turkey, and Northern Africa.​

​Legend has it that a great Sufi Mystic from Yemen was traveling in Ethiopia when he was introduced to the edible beans and the fact that they promoted wakefulness. He brought the beans back to Yemen with him, in hopes the new brew could assist his fellow mystics staying awake during late-night sessions of Remembrance of God. His hopes were fulfilled.

The use of coffee spread all over the Arabian peninsula, reaching the Holy cities of Medina and Makkah where we have this quote from an early Arab historian, Jaziri-

“…It was drunk in the Sacred Mosque itself, so that there was scarcely a dhikr or mawlid where coffee was not present….”

Another 16th century historian, Ibn ‘Abd al-Ghaffar, talks about the use of coffee in Cairo;

“They drank coffee every Monday and Friday eve, putting it in a large vessel made of red clay. Their leader ladled it out with a small dipper and gave it to them to drink, passing it to the right, while they recited one of their usual formulas, mostly “La illaha il’Allah (There is no reality apart from God)…”

To accompany an oud-burning session, the adepts at Oudimentary prefer the traditional Arabian-style coffee, which is favored on the Arab peninsula. When brewed, the coffee is the color of hay, a greenish-yellow brew. In actuality, it is closer to what many would think of as a tea rather than a coffee, since the traditional dark-roasted appearance and flavor is completely gone. Its tones are quite organic tasting, and its effect is quite grounding. Yellow coffee has hints of grass, a slight bitter taste, and for many, after one sip they are hooked.

Saudi-style coffee will contain ground cardamom, possibly a pinch of saffron, and will be served with dates to counter the slight bitterness of the brew, for no sugar is added to the coffee. In the traditional Yemeni style, sugar and ground ginger are added, possibly with a pinch of clove or cinnamon, depending on personal taste and preference. Both are served in copious amounts in small cups. Also, an Arab-style coffee pot (dallah) is most often used. It has a rounded bottom with a curved, pointed pourer.

Desert tribes traditionally would begin a coffee session with the unroasted beans. A fire pit in the sand would be made, and the beans would be roasted to a mustard yellow tone. Hand ground, the beans then would be brewed with the appropriate mixture of spices, and depending on which region you were in. Coals would be used directly from the fire to burn the hallowed aloeswood in this circle of companions. In this tradition, coffee and aloeswood would almost always accompany each other. Long sessions of drinking and burning would continue long into to the night. Friends would tell stories, bond, while always remembering the Divine.

At this juncture, it is of interest to note another time-honored tradition that also goes hand in hand with oud burning–and which Oudimentary strongly endorses–Moroccan tea service. Tea preparation in the Moroccan style is as important and ritualized to Moroccans as yellow coffee preparation is to Gulf-Arabs. Unlike other tea styles in the Arab and larger Islamic world, Moroccan tea is exclusively made with loose Chinese green gunpowder tea. Because of this, Morocco is the largest importer of Chinese green tea in the world. Also of note, Magribi tea is always consumed with generous amounts of freshly cut mint (never dried!), and most prefer their brew with liberal spoonfuls of sugar as well. While the actual preparation may vary slightly, the result is always clearly Moroccan! Historically Moroccans are also avid Oud-users, and Oud and Moroccan mint tea often stand shoulder to shoulder in many different gatherings.

The modern day aloeswood-alchemists at Oudimentary have carried the combination of these traditions into the 21st century. We maintain this ritual of coffee or tea preparation during our oud-burning sessions. Although taking place in a modern environment, our intentions remain focused on the heart of the experience–companionship, tradition, and wisdom. They go hand in hand for us, and hope they will for you as well.

We invite you to join us.