Friday, January 17, 2014

American Coffee in Cairo, Egypt

I’m in the process of planning what is sure to be an amazing trip to Mozambique, Africa. All my research has made me nostalgic for other amazing places I have been in this world. In college, when I was studying abroad in Rome, I went to visit a friend living in Cairo, Egypt.


At the time, I thought I would experience immense culture shock when I arrived. While customs and daily life in Egypt are far removed from American ways, there are certain aspects of Cairo that made me feel like I was back in the States more-so than I felt during my entire stay in Italy. For instance, in Italy, there are almost no American products for sale. They do not eat the cereals we eat and finding a jar of peanut butter is next to impossible.


Having gotten used to these differences while living in Italy, I was certainly surprised to see Nature Valley granola bars and Fruit Loops stocked high on the market shelves in Cairo.


Needless to say, the biggest difference while in Italy was the coffee. American cafes and Italian cafes couldn't be more distinct. Feeling far-removed from American coffee culture during my stay in Italy, right before heading back to Europe I stopped in at a very American-looking cafe that I had to try, mostly because I had been craving a mocha frappuccino for months.


The coffee shop was called Costa Coffee. It is a chain, and the location I visited was in Zamalek where I was staying. While making a stop here was far from experiencing historic Egyptian coffee culture, it is interesting non-the-less to see shops like these begin to plague the region. I have no recollection of how the drink tasted, and no pictures of the coffee shop to even show you. But I do remember feeling like I was in a Starbucks in the middle of an ancient city in the middle of a desert, which is to say it felt odd, but American for a moment.


Just last year, the Sydney Morning Herald reported “the Australian cafe chain The Coffee Club planned its assault on the Egyptian market … and less than a year after selling a licence [sic] to an Egyptian franchisee, The Coffee Club opened its first cafe on Egypt's north coast.”


While Italy is working hard to prevent chain shops from dominating the coffee scene, developing countries like Egypt welcome them with open arms. That is not to say that there isn't a place for traditional ahawi (coffeehouse). As the Daily News Egypt put it, “Ahawi have existed for centuries. They are places where commoners (particularly men) meet to spend their leisure time after a long day. Men at the ahawi would listen to a singer, play backgammon and dominos, and discuss life. They are known to be cheap (a cup of tea or coffee goes for as little as a pound), provide open air seating and give a taste of the authentic Egyptian spirit. In short, they were the place to go to socialize [sic] and relax.” And they still are to a large degree.



The influx of modern cafes may even be a good thing for the region, as they welcome female customers while many ahawi still cater mostly to men.

3 comments:

  1. I love this! I am always so fascinated by old vs. new in places like Egypt. I can't wait to hear about your trip to Mozambique. We are planning a trip to Africa for later this year and are having such a hard time narrowing down where to go!

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  2. Looks interesting, ill be sure to check it out. Property in Egypt

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  3. I have just been looking at property in sharm el shake, This was helpful thank you

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