Aug 10, 2014: Bumbling Through Bosnian Coffee

Sarajevo has never really been on my travel radar. But we’re here! Adam came here some seven years ago, and convinced me that it was the place to be. Or, at least, a place to be. I still knew nothing about it, as Adam has yet to learn to use his words. We arrived before noon after three flights and astonishingly brief waits in between. Adam’s friend, Ervin, met us at the airport and took us into Sarajevo. We met up with the owners of the flat, got the keys and went to make ourselves at home.

The next morning, Adam went out for supplies: bread, butter, cheese and, most importantly, coffee. And the first thing he did upon his return was make coffee with his aeropress, a handy little gadget I got for him years ago that’s served us well as we’ve travelled. He passed me a mug and we both took a big swig, expecting the usual comforting flavour of coffee, as we know and love it. But, instead, we got a mouthful of what we thought was musty old coffee. We tried it again, and yes, it tasted weird. So the next time we were out, we hit up the coffee aisle of the grocery store.

The first thing that struck me as strange was that the store sold green coffee beans. It turns out that Bosnians tend to roast their own coffee. It’s sort of a social thing. People get together maybe once a week with their neighbours and roast enough coffee beans to last the week for them all.

But we didn’t have a roaster, so we went for a different brand of pre-roasted and ground coffee. Surely this one would taste better

We got home and made coffee, and sure enough, there was that weird flavour again. Adam hit up the internet for more info on the strange beast that is Bosnian coffee.

Turns out the strange “musty” flavour we were experiencing was probably cardamom, a herb commonly added to coffee (in the grinding phase). There was no escaping it.

But we weren’t about to give up just yet. Sure, we’d managed to produce terrible swill every time we tried to make coffee, but that didn’t necessarily mean that’s what it was supposed to taste like. So, before we gave up on coffee all together, we went out in search of a cafe that would serve us Bosnian coffee.

It was cool day, slightly overcast, when we ventured out. Our best best was to hit up the Turkish district. You know you’ve arrived in the Turkish district when the usual tall stone buildings give way to short wooden ones crammed with market stall-like shops. We wandered for a bit, browsing through the stalls, until we found a cafe that looked promising. The typical patio furniture we were used to was absent, and instead replaced by short (coffee table height) tables and low chairs and stools. We ordered and waited, unsure of what we’d gotten ourselves into.

In no time at all the waiter returned with two ornately decorated copper trays, each with it’s own coffee set (a džezva, a single serving copper coffee pot used for making the coffee, and a fildžan demitasse cup with a sugar cube in it). He put the trays down in front of us and left.

Now, it’s important to note that with Bosnian coffee, you can’t just pour and drink it like you would regular coffee. There’s a procedure to it. Fortunately, before we set off on our adventure, I looked it up. (I didn’t want to finally get properly made Bosnian coffee, only to bugger it up because I didn’t know how to go about drinking it).

First, you stir. Bosnian coffee comes with a thick foam of coffee grounds on the surface. It’s necessary to stir this into the coffee to get the desirable golden “crema” that coffee aficionados dream off. It’s made up of the aromatic oils found in coffee, and really adds to the whole coffee drinking experience, should you get some. You spoon the crema into your demitasse cup.

Next, you wait. Bosnian coffee is made with very finely ground coffee, so it’s necessary to wait a bit for the silt to settle to the bottom of the coffee pot before you pour. Granted, no matter how long you wait, there will be some silt at the end of your cup, but waiting at least minimizes what you get.

After waiting the appropriate minute or two, you pour the coffee into your cup, being careful not to empty to pot or disturb the sediment to much. Again, sediment does not a delicious beverage make.

Once you’ve poured, you have two options. You can take sugar cube you’ve been provided with, dip it in your coffee and suck your coffee from the sugar cube, as it the most traditional. Or, you put your sugar cube directly into your coffee. Both are acceptable, and we did the latter, as we weren’t entirely certain how to go about the former.

Lastly, this style of coffee is sipped slowly. It’s meant to be savoured and enjoyed while enjoying the company of friends or family, an integral part of this particular coffee style.

We bumbled through these steps and were delighted to find a tasty cup of coffee for our trouble. Sure, it’s a bit more complicated than the North American way, but it is delicious all the same. It also has a different feeling to the process. It’s more like a pleasurable ritual than a desperate bid for caffeine. We're still bumbling in our attempts to brew the stuff properly, but we now know it's worth the effort.

I certainly plan on bringing this kind of coffee preparation home with me. It might not replace my daily dose of coffee, but it’ll certainly be in my coffee rotation.