The air was heavy with a scent of something unidentifiable, arid and subtly spiced. The taxi wound its way through the small hills until the land flattened out and desert sand stretched out on both sides of the road. The palette of entire landscape was muted, as though a thin veil of smoke had settled over everything. It was a two-hour ride to Petra from the border, an easy trip despite the vast emptiness around us.
Camels ranged in the distance, and when we came across two that crossed the road in a ragged lope, our driver pulled over quickly and insisted we take as many photos as possible. We stopped at an overlook and stood at the edge of a deep ravine, buffeted by strong gusts of wind, the strata of the pale coral rock stretching out below us, a testament of time passing.
We said no to the repeated offers of our taxi driver to take us far into the desert, to see the red sands of Wadi Rum, made famous by the movie Lawrence of Arabia. We figured that we would have barely enough time for the trip to Petra before we had to return to the Israeli border in time to cross before closing. After an hour of persistent negotiations, our driver finally fell silent and drove us without further protest to the gates of Petra, stopping only once more–more for himself than for us it seemed–to admire a flock of sheep on the side of the road.
We arrived back in the late afternoon to find our taxi driver in a fuss about how late we were. It was hard to find a horse to carry us out we explained. We had to walk instead. He was nonplussed by our excuses, clearly concerned about making the trip back in time. After a while in the car, he calmed down, seeming to settle into the rhythmic monotony of the drive. We passed through several towns and then several roadside stands as civilization started to fade into the distance.
Suddenly, the driver whipped the car off the road, pulling up shortly in front of a small crumbling white building that looked like a small shop. “I invite you to a coffee,” he said. I said no, used to buffeting his propositions and a little confused by the strange offer. My friend also said no. She doesn’t drink coffee. He insisted twice more until I finally gave in, feeling too American, imagining I was being rude in a culture that likely valued hospitality over personal desire. In a moment, he returned to the car with a small silver tray, bearing two glass cups, filled with a coffee so dark and rich, it looked almost black. I smiled, grateful for his kindness. I was hit in the same moment with the scent of something so strange and wonderful, I was momentarily spellbound. The coffee smelled as though it was laced with spices and tasted of the bright lemony notes of cardamom. It was thick and rich and unlike anything I had ever tasted before. It was then that I realized that this is the moment that defines traveling. The kind of moment that cannot be found anywhere else in the world, that can never be repeated. A singular sensory experience bound up in place and time. I went home and tried to recreate that coffee again and again based on a quickly fading memory. This is closest I came.
I use a small Italian coffee pot, or macchinetta as they call it in Italy. The most common Italian brand is Bialetti, and they are easy to find in any kitchen store. They are simple to use and make a consistently good pot of strong espresso. Although my Italian friends inevitably choose Lavazza, I always use Illy espresso because I prefer the taste over Lavazza. It carries a more nutty and chocolatey flavor as opposed to the brighter more acidic notes of Lavazza. Given that I am no expert on these matters, I’ll leave it to you to choose your brand. The only thing we will both insist on is using best water you can find.
- Illy coffee
- 5 cardamom pods
Crush the cardamom pods in a mortar. Fill the coffee basket with coffee to the top and add the cardamom pods, tamping it down so as to not leave air gaps but not too tightly. Fill the bottom chamber with water until just below the screw. Close tightly and heat over a medium flame. Watch the pot closely. As soon as the coffee finishes brewing, remove from the heat to avoid burning it.