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Coffee, the Foundation of Bosnian Social Life

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Coffee is the world’s favorite beverage and it is consumed across the planet. The coffee plant went a long way from east Africa where it originates to the middle east from which it spread throughout the Muslim world. It is thanks to trade routes and merchants that coffee reached Europe as well as the New World. In the 16th century coffee started to be consumed in Europe for the first time and it was in the south-eastern parts of the continent which was at the time controlled by the Ottoman empire that the first European coffee-shops were making Bosnia and particularly the city of Sarajevo one of the first European cities to have such a place.

Bosnian coffee
Bosnian coffee

People were consuming this hot beverage in Hans of Sarajevo already in the 16th century. By the time it reached mahalas and private houses it was already the foundation of social life of the city. In the same century there was already a separate tahmiscija guild dedicated to roasting and pounding coffee. This is at least a century before Vienna, Paris and other European capitals started enjoying this drink.

The preparation of coffee

Many steps are necessary before coffee can be consumed. Primarily, one should roast the coffee beans. The traditional way would be roasting it in a metal cylindrical vessel known as Shish which is rolled over fire. Then the roasted beans are either ground in a coffee grinder or pounded in Dibek which makes the coffee particularly flavorful. The next step is the preparation which varies greatly depending on the location and customs, but it usually involves open flame and forming the top layer of foam. In general, one should serve Bosnian coffee on a tray called tabla and it should be drank from fildzan, a porcelain cup used specifically for this purpose. Another local custom is to consume sweets with coffee such as lokum or baklava and to drink coffee without added sugar.

Differences in Coffee consumption

In the modern world of today people consume coffee to stay alert during busy days. Students are known to drink lots of it while preparing exams in order to stay awake during long study sessions. In Bosnia, coffee is consumed for a different purpose as it is usually a break from whatever you are doing, and it is something you would rarely do by yourself. Traditional coffee is called Bosnian coffee but in some parts of the region you can also hear people calling it Turkish coffee even though there are clear differences between the two. To make Turkish coffee you would add sugar during the cooking process and you would add cold water and let it cook slowly. Bosnian coffee is prepared by adding boiling water to ground coffee and it is always served bitter. It is up to a persons’s preference how much sugar should be added. The most important part of making Bosnian coffee is the foam which is distributed evenly to everyone around the table.

As coffee holds a vital place in Bosnian society many distinct coffee-related words have developed over time. The most common word for coffee drinking is “kahvenisanje”. It constitutes more than the mere act of drinking and it actually means socializing over coffee. Another important term is “ćejf” (cheyf) which can be translated as pleasure or the act of enjoying something. Even though this word is not solely related to coffee, the act of coffee drinking could be described as “ćejf”.




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