Bosnian Coffee is a backbone of social life

The word kahva (kafa or kava) was introduced to the languages of people in this region from the Turkish word, kahve, which, in turn, came from the Arabic, qahwah. Coffee made its way here from Yemen and Arabia via Istanbul and along the Balkan Peninsula with the Ottomans.

At first, it was served exclusively in the homes of the wealthy, however, it didn’t remain a privilege of the rich for long. Coffee houses (kahvane, kafane) started to open up in Sarajevo’s čaršija and quickly became centers of social life. This custom began to spread to the mahalas and little streets of Sarajevo, entering every home and becoming an essential part of everyday life.

Soon enough, the area around Careva Mosque became home to the čaršija for the Tahmis guild, whose members, Tahmiščije, roasted and sold coffee. The coffee was roasted in a large šiš, a round metal pan that had a long handle which allowed the šiš to be held and heated evenly over the open fire.

Industrialization did its part to change things, so today in Sarajevo you’ll only find a couple of shops that still roast coffee. But Baščaršija has plenty of coppersmith workshops, where, for centuries, master kazandžije have been producing copper items that are used in preparing coffee.

A complete Bosnian coffee set is called a kahveni takum and includes a tabla (copper tray) with a džezva (a pot with a handle, which is where the coffee is boiled), šećerluk (a container for sugar and Turkish Delight) and fildžani (demitasses without handles).

There used to be a difference between the fildžani used by men and women. Men would often drink strong coffee with everyone they did business with, so their fildžani were “as small as an eye”. The fildžani used by women were somewhat larger and, in days of old, women would usually drink weaker coffee or add some milk.

A šerbetnjak (a pitcher or other container used for boiling water) is also needed when preparing coffee. The ground or pounded coffee is first placed in a džezva and then some boiled water is added, but not all the way to the rim.

The contents of the džezva are stirred well and then it is placed back on the heat source to let the coffee “rise” but not spill over. Time is given to let the coffee “rest” or go down a bit and then it is poured into the fildžani. Sugar and Turkish Delight are served separately and are optional for each coffee drinker.

In traditional kafane, coffee must be served with a glass of water. A sip of water should be taken before actually tasting the coffee. This cleanses the palate and allows one to savor the full and robust flavor of the coffee.

Given that Bosnian coffee has been the backbone of social life in Bosnia and Herzegovina for centuries, it has evolved over time and acquired different names depending on the occasion when it is drunk.

The first coffee of the morning, which is made strong enough to refresh you and wake you up, is called razgalica. At some point later in the morning, or before the afternoon coffee, there is razgovoruša, which is drunk to encourage socializing and conversation. Šutkuša is drunk in the peace and quiet of the early evening. Dočekuša is drunk when entertaining guests and sikteruša is given as a subtle hint that it’s time to wrap up the socializing and that the guests should take their leave!