By Ghada Alansari » If you are one of those people who enjoys a good cup of coffee, then you have come to the right place. Cafés – both traditional Arabic and Western – are scattered all over the island and the choices are fabulous.
But first let me give you a little background. It is believed that the first coffee tree was probably grown in Kaffa, in a country we know today as Ethiopia. Arabic coffee has been part of the culture here for centuries. When Arabic coffee is offered to a guest, it is considered a gesture of friendship.
Traditionally, ghahwas (coffee houses) were found in the souk and were designed with a very simple style: high wooden benches arranged in a square to give customers the opportunity to chat. Ghahwas served the urban population at a time when communication systems were rudimentary.
Without telephones, telegraph or even a fully functioning post office, person-to-person contact was the only effective way of getting news or spreading gossip. Not only did the coffee houses disseminate news, they also manufactured it.
However, today Bahrain has taken this tradition to another level, mixing local and international customs and introducing a whole new coffee house culture. The traditional ghahwas developed into luxuriously decorated places where music, chess and shisha (hookah or hubble bubble) can be enjoyed.
At every table you will find men and women puffing on the shisha pipe and blowing through their half-closed lips long jets of aromatic smoke that fills the air with its distinctive scent. Some will be playing cards, some backgammon and some talking eagerly among themselves.
While once it was rare to see a non-Arab or a woman at a traditional coffee house, the newly-opened cafés have made it fashionable for visitors and expatriates of both sexes to drop in.
To cater to wider tastes, cafés now offer numerous blends and flavours of tea and coffee. The success of a café depends on the ambience, food, its tea and coffee menu, and above all, an experienced shisha man.
Apart from the traditional coffee shops, there has been an explosion of sorts of the Western-style cafés. The district of Adliya is lined with many cafés that have opened up in recent years, offering not just coffee concoctions of every type, but also excellent salads, light meals and desserts served up in homey surrounds.
Bahrain also has its fair share of Internet cafés – Idea Gallery arguably being the pick of the lot –that combine high-tech computer access with laid-back social surroundings. These cafés are popular with students, tourists and many others in need of a web-fix.
Originally, I planned to provide you with a Top 10 list, but that would be unfair because Bahrain has more then just ten cafés that are worth visiting. So instead here are my recommendations and I suggest that you take a camera along.
This is Bahrain’s oldest tearoom. Here, you can find the best English breakfast, herbal teas in porcelain pots and tender scones. A total English experience.
Acasia Gallery displays many artifacts, sculptures and paintings from different corners of the world. It caters to all moods and cultures and offers live Iraqi entertainment on the weekends. Their menu selection is extensive and alcohol is available upon request.
This contemporary café displays curios, local artwork and artifacts. This offers busy tourists the opportunity to shop while taking a rest.
This is the most popular cybercafé in town. It provides its customers with the latest computer technology and a trained hostess to help even the most computer illiterate among us to play video games on CD-ROM, surf the net, or check e-mail. What separates one computer coffee spot from another is atmosphere. This one has it.
Layali Zaman reminds me so much of the cafés on the Egyptian Nile. It provides a sea-view rather then river view, but the combination of Egyptian waiters, falafil and tea with mint is unbeatable.
This bohemian-style café was one of the first on the island to serve garden salads and sandwiches. Customers still go back because they find it both healthy and irresistible. Check out the ginger chicken salad next time you’re there.
Found in the heart of Adliya, Casa Blu has certainly gone the extra mile; excellent location, good live entertainment on the weekends and good shisha. Ask for the Casa Blu Shisha special, it’s the best.
I believe that the garage here has been converted into a form of a conservatory, providing a charming garden mood. The menu delivers an exotic selection of snacks.
You can rely on Starbucks for consistently providing good coffee and espressos. Ordering café mocha is exactly what your brain cells need. Starbucks have strategically opened in the two largest malls on the island.
La Maison du Café
It is the largest café on the island and has many themes. Expect to be served by a Cleopatra look-alike in their Egyptian section. If you prefer having coffee amidst camel replicas, then there’s the Bedouin section.
This café has a book-line salon with novels and magazines to suit many tastes. Their shisha man has the friendliest smile and knows how to make the best shishas. For those of you with a sweet tooth, don’t miss the home-made blueberry cheesecake.
If you want the best Lebanese food on the island, then Al Arisha should be your choice. I can’t name a favourite dish from the menu because they are all good. It’s a restaurant/café, so you get first class service, good food, alcohol if you wish, and of course the shisha. To top that it also has a patio where you can sometimes listen to live entertainment.