Let’s drop by a little place where time stops. Where drinking coffee is a meditative ritual. Welcome to the land of Bosnian coffee. And there is much we can learn from the experience.
Lawyers love their coffee. But during the week, we often drink it on the run, usually armed with a pile of papers under one arm. Or we might have a brief respite for a mid-morning coffee break. Still, coffee often isn’t the focus in itself. It’s the hit that takes us from a state of tired to energised—or a way of easing yourself into another person’s calendar, without the weightiness of a lunch commitment.
This week, I thought I’d take you on a counter-culture trip to a cafe in Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina—on how we can drink and think about coffee differently.
Café de Alma
We entered a cafe through a cobblestone pathway, not knowing what to expect. Next door, stood an Ottoman-style hammam (bathhouse). Under the cover of green vine leaves intermingled with white smoke wafting from a nearby ćevapi grill, we entered the world of Bosnian coffee.
The owner of Café de Alma was sitting in the lounge area, reminiscent of times long past. A warm glow reflected off the copper-plated brewing pots (called ǆezva). “Sit, sit,” he gestured, “we only serve traditional Bosnian coffee here”. We said that it was exactly why we came.
As he brewed water on the stove, it was impossible for us not to admire the cafe’s warm glow while Bosnian music played in the background. “Do you like the music?” the owner asked before adding, “It’s called ‘sevdah’—about heartbreak, longing and unrequited love.”
Once brewed, our intriguing cafe owner sat with us to explain the Bosnian coffee behind Café de Alma. He was a master storyteller. He told us that he was the roaster, the waiter and the owner at Café de Alma—the person between the green coffee beans and our stomachs. In essence, the start to finish of the coffee roasting process and everywhere in between.
He spent around five years understanding, learning and experimenting with Bosnian coffee, which is unlike Turkish and Greek coffee. The latter involves drinking the “muddy” coffee grounds. Bosnian coffee, on the other hand, was about letting the coffee silt settle to the bottom before only drinking the coffee itself—stopping just before you hit the muddy bottom.
Importantly, he explained that Bosnian coffee was different because it involved a “ritual of time”. Bosnian coffee has never been acquainted with the concept of takeaway coffee. In other places, he noted, it was normal to drink a cup of takeaway coffee while driving a car or paying the bills. In Bosnian coffee culture, the ritual of time requires that one sits with their coffee and enjoy the moment.
“It is only after we drink our coffee, that we go out to drive our cars and pay our bills—not during.”
He proceeded to demonstrate how we should prepare our cups of Bosnian coffee with a flourish of teaspoons and the ǆezva. Between sips of the dark brew, a bite of the rose-flavoured rahat lokum (known more widely as Turkish Delight).
Around Café de Alma, there are indicators of a quiet revolution that the cafe owner seeks to instill in our ever-connected time. A small blackboard near the roasting machine states matter-of-factly, “No WiFi—connect with each other.” A cushion reminds us to “enjoy the little things in life”.
A challenge for this week is to head out for coffee. Just coffee.
Don’t scroll aimlessly through your phone, whether or not to avoid (awkward) eye contact with your fellow humans. Don’t try to pay your bills. Don’t think about the million and one things on your to-do list.
Do bring a friend.
And enjoy a cup of coffee, sitting down—not in a takeaway cup.
P.s. I’m going to take up the challenge too.