The Culture of Coffee

Bosnian cafe_01

Coffee is more than a drink, real kafa is a ritual. It is served in a fildzan- a small handle-less traditional coffee cup. For the coffee of your dreams, come to Bosnia or Herzegovina to taste this bewitching heavenly drink referred to as ‘Bosnian coffee’.

Frankly, even in a country where coffee is a national pastime, there are fewer and fewer places to have coffee prepared in the traditional way. Bosnian coffee is often replaced with flavoured instant coffee, espresso or filtered coffee -all of which by local standards oppose the theory of good coffee, because they don’t have the granules. The rule here is: the thicker the better.

Good Bosnian coffee has its own tradition and method of preparation. To yield the proper results, whole coffee beans are bought raw and freshly roasted in a wood burning stove.It’s not a general practice to store ground coffee either. One grinds them just before brewing and only in the amount needed for that particular serving. In some places old traditions are still respected.Coffee grounds are roasted in a shish, a simple metal cylinder at the end of a long skewer.Unfortunatelythis practice is almost extinct. Coffee roasted in this way should never be put in an electric grinder as over grinding affects the taste of coffee.This theory is not scientifically proven but is widely believed.

Every respectable household or cafe priding itself in offering proper bosanska kafa, has to have a handheld manual version. This type of brass or metal grinders are commonplace in many of the coppersmith shops in Sarajevo’s old town. Properly grinding the beans is an art form. Leaning the tool on your lap if seated or on your hip if standing, hold the grinder firmly with one hand, then turn the handle with the other. This may seem rather menial but churning until the beans are finely ground will leave even the fittest wondering what these beans are made of.

Coffee is brewed in a ‘dzezva’ which is first warmed slightly.The ‘just not yet boiled water’ is removed from the heat just before the boiling point. A ‘fildzan’ of this hot water is set aside and the rest poured into the ground coffee bean filled dzezva. It is stirred and placed back onto the stove top. The coffee should boil until a rich layer of foam reaches the very top of the dzezva. Removing it from the heat, pour the water from the fildzan over it and set aside for a moment until grinds settle at the bottom.It is then served in a fildzan. Traditional coffee drinking entails sucking coffee through a sugar cube. Not a whole one but a chunk of the cube that is first dipped in the coffee to soften it upbefore sinkingyour teeth into the new brown and melting cube. Nowadays this ritual is mostlypracticed at home.There are however, a few kafanas around town clinging to this noble art. Old habits die hard in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

With all this said however, it seems as if the ritual may be more important than the drink itself. During the war of 1990s, coffee was a commodity worth its weight in gold.The ritual described above was meticulously followed during the war – brewing just about anything remotely resembling coffee and known not to be fatal or toxic. We did this not just to keep our sanity and to retain some sort of normalcy, but because in Bosnia and Herzegovina coffee is an integral part of our culture. An invitation for a coffee rarely means the necessity of a shot of caffeine to stay awake or make it through the workday. Coffee here is an invitation for conversation. This implies time and making time for friends and family is something that is valued above most other things.

Although there are only a handful of places still serving coffee that has gone through the entire ritual. Let your nose guide you to the many places that do serve rich and aromatic hand ground bosanska kafa. Today mainly tourists buy the hand held manual grinders. If you buy a dzezva, be sure it’s copper. And when you take this souvenir home also take some of our tradition make sure you wash them exclusively by hand and while you do, think of our lovely Bosnia and Herzegovina.