Coffee-Drinking Culture of Bosnia & Herzegovina

By Lamija

I grew up in a home where the scent of coffee was always present. My parents created their own tradition of drinking coffee early in the morning before going to work. I remember loving waking up to their small talk combined with that beautiful and almost addictive scent. After coming back from work they would, once again, continue with their small ritual. Us kids would sit around them and listen to their stories from work. I was eagerly waiting for the time when they would allow me to drink coffee with them – the enticing scent was something I was looking forward to every day of my life. 

Centuries of Ottoman rule of Bosnia & Herzegovina have left us with an amazingly rich tradition and culture. Nearly four hundred years of the Ottoman period can still be seen in the architecture works and occasional shared lexicon. However, when it comes to coffee, Bosnia & Herzegovina is the place where calling the coffee by its eponymous name isn’t just a point of national pride -it is a matter of distinction. And while some countries in Southeast Europe, North Africa and Western Asia that were under the Ottoman powerful rule serve coffee that is essentially a derivation of Turkish coffee, Bosnia & Herzegovina’s coffee tradition is far more distinctive to the point that there is offense taken when referring to Bosnian coffee as Turkish.  The difference is in the process of making the coffee. It begins with roasted coffee beans that are pulverized in a manual coffee grinder until they turn into a fine powder. The powdered coffee is then cooked in a copper-plated pot with a long neck (called džezva). The distinctionis here: the Turks add the powdered coffee and sugar, which is optional, to cold water and boil everything together, however, to make Bosnian coffee, the cold water is boiled alone. It is extremely essential for coffee brewed this way to not be ground in an electrical mill. It has been claimed that an electrical mill grinds the beans too much, although there isn’t any scientific proof to support this theory. 

After the water comes to a boil, a small amount of it is left aside and the rest is poured over the ground coffee in the coffee pot (džezva). Džezva is placed on the stove until the liquid boils again and raises to the point of overflowing. This is how the thick foam is created. The process may be repeated several times but at the end of it, the water that has been set aside should be added to the pot. At the first glance, both Bosnian and Turskih coffee look alike – thick as mud and dark as night. And although the taste of both of them is bitter and very potent, people say Bosnian coffee reminds them of a strong espresso with subtle chocolate flavor. 

Another difference is in serving the coffee. In Turkey, the cezve (Turkish for džezva) remains in the kitchen and the coffee is served in a single cup. In Bosnia, džezva is served on a warm round copper tray, along with a traditional coffee cup called fildžan, a dish full of sugar cubes and a rahat lokum – traditional Bosnian candy. Džezva being brought out of kitchen has its advantages – it keeps the coffee hot for a long period of time which is is intended to make one enjoy the coffee instead of drinking it hurriedly – the strength of the coffee does not allow for the latter.   Bosnians tend to sit in front of their cup for long, socializing and making conversation. Džezva retains the heat and gives one more time to enjoy the coffee. The traditional way of drinking coffee includes a sugar cube. Dip it in the coffee and bite the dipped part with your teeth. Put it under your tongue and sip the coffee to allow the sugar to dissolve. 

In Bosnia, coffee drinking is not just to get a shot of caffeine or survive a long day at work. In fact, it rarely implies a concrete need for a caffeine dose in order to continue with your day. No matter how tight the schedule is, a Bosnian never says ‘no’ to a coffee invitation. The invitation for coffee, in Bosnia & Herzegovina, is an invitation for a conversation. It means you allocated the time of your day for your family and friends. Enjoying the small things in life to us, Bosnians, means everything, and that exactly is why the coffee-drinking culture of my country is very important to its people.