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5 Places to Experience the Evolving Café Scene in Amman, Jordan

October 11, 2019

by Rebecca Byrne

As anyone who has visited knows, the Middle East is a veritable paradise for coffee and tea enthusiasts. Situated at the crossroads of three continents, this region benefitted from its relatively close proximity to coffee’s birthplace in the Horn of Africa and to the spice and tea trading hubs along the Silk Road in Asia.

Most locals take their coffee strong, unfiltered, and laden with cardamom, and their tea brewed dark, heavily sweetened, and garnished with spices or fresh mint. Serving these hot beverages to family and strangers alike is inextricably tied to the hospitality rituals deeply ingrained in Arab culture.

As in any Levantine country, you need not search long to find coffee and tea purveyors in Jordan. Whether it’s a quick to-go cup from one of the many roadside shacks, or a brew made over a fire in a Bedouin camp under the cloudless skies of Wadi Rum, there’s an option for every situation. Recently, many entrepreneurs have turned local fondness for the drinks into profitable businesses. Several multi-location establishments like Majnoon Qahwa, Tche Tche, and Dimitri’s have flourished in recent years.

Of course, the desert kingdom has also seen the rise of one-off cafés, recalling previous decades in which neighbourhood coffeehouses were the incubators of cultural, political, artistic, and literary movements in the Middle East. In that spirit, here are five places in Jordan where you can get your caffeine fix and experience the latest stage of the country’s burgeoning café culture.

Fann w Chai

Location: Jabal al-Weibdeh

Open later than most sit-down cafes in Jordan, Fann w Chai is located in Amman’s hipster district, Jabal al-Weibdeh. Late hours and an abundance of couches, chairs, tables, and outlets make this a favourite with students both foreign and domestic. Combined with its eclectic collection of books and plants, the place has a quirky college coffeehouse vibe. True to its name – which translates to “art and tea” in Arabic—this café doubles as an art venue, its walls always covered in striking regional photography exhibits. Winter 2018-2019 featured a photodocumentary of traditional life in Yemen.

In addition to drinks, Fann w Chai sells a variety of small bites, including desserts made by local female entrepreneurs. Though all of these are delicious, what Fann w Chai does best is Iraqi tea. Extremely strong and aromatic, this spiced beverage is best enjoyed with a spoonful of cane sugar. If the weather is good, grab a seat on the balcony and people watch—the street is always thronging with interesting characters.

Kawon

Location: Madaba

While most of the best places for coffee are concentrated in Amman, an exception lies just 40 minutes south in Madaba, the “city of mosaics.” Kawon – Arabic for “existence” – is both a bookstore, a café, and a cultural centre. The founder, a young Madabawi bibliophile, quit what he describes as a “monkey suit job” and embarked on a risky venture. Driving from place to place in his car, he would vend books by arranging them on the hood. After making enough money, he built Kawon.

An open courtyard in front and another next to the community garden out back afford patrons a lovely place to sit during clement weather. Customers can quench their thirst with orange, grapefruit, or pomegranate juices, all of which are pressed on the spot in the hand-operated juicer. For those who want an authentic Jordanian experience, the lower level has rooms with Bedouin-style floor cushion seating.

Come early, because these seats fill up fast with students from the local university and young professionals, who meet to discuss everything from politics to poetry. In that way, Kawon, though built-in 2018, is an iteration of a centuries-old institution: the coffeehouse, which functioned as the nexus of Arab intellectual life. It’s enheartening to see such a dynamic space flourishing outside of the capital.

Beyond this, Kawon’s drinks alone are reason enough to visit. Of the myriad coffee and tea preparations to choose from, Karak Tea is the star. Full of spices and rich, frothy milk, it’s filling and warming.

The Coffee Room

Location: Dwar Paris (Paris Circle)

Nestled between a tiny restaurant and a pharmacy is a small room with a large menu. Brie sandwiches, avocado toast, Eggs Benedict, freshly-pressed juices, and the like—you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d walked into a hip café in Portland or London. As indicated by its name, this is quite literally a room, with limited additional outdoor seating.

What it lacks in space The Coffee Room compensates for in quality. Patrons can choose from a selection of Italian, American, Arab, Greek, and Turkish takes on coffee, or opt for something that originated further east—strawberry-ginger or plum kombucha! The Coffee Room is one of the only places in the country where you can find this fermented tea, the other being Rainbow Street’s Turtle Green Tea Bar.

Despite its small size, The Coffee Room represents something huge: the Jordanian youth’s shift away from big foreign brands like Starbucks or Costa. Not long ago, these dominated the pricey coffee scene, and sipping on one of their lattes was a way to signal status. Now, there is a growing appreciation for lesser-known places that offer meticulously crafted creations.

Jadal

Location: Wust el-Balad (downtown)

Jadal is a charming incorporation of nature, art, and community. A favourite amongst an ever-growing contingent of local musicians and artists, this airy cafe comprises a room that doubles as a gallery for local and foreign art exhibits, a library, three indoor study rooms, a large outdoor courtyard with ample seating, and even a rooftop urban garden. Just a short jaunt down a street and up a staircase from Hashem Restaurant—Jordan’s most iconic falafel joint—Jadal is easily accessible from downtown Amman.

Jadal frequently hosts cultural events and performances, language exchanges, and other fun get-togethers. It’s the perfect place to relax on a balmy summer night while enjoying a refreshing glass of karkadeh, a pleasantly sour hibiscus tea popular in Egypt and Sudan. The limon bi nana, which consists of blended lemon juice, mint, ice, and sugar to taste, is another classic that Jadal does extremely well.

Although Jadal doesn’t serve food, it allows customers to bring their own meals onto the premises. There are several nearby restaurants, including a non-profit foundation where for every order purchased, a free meal voucher is given, intended for distribution among those in need. Whether you’re looking to meet compassionate people, get details on upcoming concerts, or just recharge after a busy day in the city, Jadal is a wonderful option.

Rumi

Location: Jabal al-Weibdeh

Named after the famous Persian Sufi poet, Rumi’s charming interior and outdoor seating resemble those of many a seaside café in Europe. The espresso is similarly on a par with what’s served in Mediterranean locales. If you feel inclined to fully immerse yourself in native culinary culture, order Turkish coffee, the local favourite responsible for powering most of the country through long workdays.

Rumi serves up a daily cake as well as an assortment of delectable freshly-baked goods. Should you need something heartier, there are nut and cheese platters, salads, and sandwiches. Plenty of affordable restaurants—including Amman’s best ramen house—are in the vicinity too.

Even on cold days, you can enjoy being outdoors, as the area outside the café is kept toasty with large space heaters. For those who prefer to be out of the eye of the passerby, part of the outdoor seating is secluded by a fragrant wall of pine trees.

Honourable Mention: The Duke’s Diwan

Though not a café, the Duke’s Diwan does serve free meramiyya or sage tea. Constructed in 1924, it is the oldest home in Amman. Upon entering, you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported into a scene from Lawrence of Arabia. Once the city’s first post office, it was subsequently used by the Ministry of Finance, and then as a hotel. In the early 2000s, Mamdouh Bisharat, the so-called “Duke of Mukheiheh,” decided to purchase the complex and preserve it for generations to come. The Duke’s Diwan occasionally hosts small musical performances and poetry readings. Those are worth attending, but even if you miss these, the history of the Diwan more than merits a visit.

Tall ceilings and arched windows, delicate curtains, ornate upholstery, antique furniture, and an old stove are stunning if slightly worn, reminders of what the domiciles of elite Jordanians looked like some hundred years ago. The walls, painted in a colour that falls somewhere between aquamarine and teal, are covered in photos from the era of the building’s construction. While you sip your tea, you’ll have no shortage of history to absorb.

Rebecca Byrne is a Boston-based writer who has had the chance to live life as an expat in the Middle East and North Africa 6 or 7 times–at this point, she’s lost,count. While her past and present job titles are the least interesting part of her life, here they are in chronological order: salad wizard, waitress, legal writing specialist, English instructor, and lead copywriter and editor. A Cincinnatian by birth, she moved to Detroit after she got her master’s degree and drank all of the coffee and ate all of the cherries that she could find. Now, she’s exploring what the Northeast has to offer.

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