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Friday, January 18, 2013

Kishr: Make it a double

Posted By on 01.18.13 at 01:12 PM

I'm a bit late to the qishr party, but it's been in the back of my mind ever since a lunch at Albany Park's Yemen Restaurant* long ago, when a nephew of the owner told my group they'd soon be serving the hot beverage infused from dried coffee cherry husks, cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger (aka kishr, kishir, Yemeni coffee tea). As of yesterday, they still don't offer it, I'm guessing because it's nearly impossible to import the dried fruit that surrounds the coffee bean. That is, unless you're Rowida Assalimy, who launched her own blend, Kishr, about year and half ago, selling it in teabags in stores like Standard Market, the Goddess & Grocer, Floriole, even the East Bank Club. Assalimy, who grew up drinking the stuff, markets it for its healthful benefits—it's high in antioxidants, low in caffeine, boosts immunity, etc.

As I was steeping my first cup I was a bit disconcerted to read that Assalimy was selling a weaker version of what Yemenis actually drink. Per Time Out:

"Through sampling events, Assalimy found that timid American taste buds don’t want too much of kishr's traditional flavor of baking spices, reporting that she'd toned it down for American palates."

Don't mess with me, all right?

It does taste nice, though: with merely a hint of coffee bitterness, a nice tingle from the cinnamon, and a glowing warmth from the ginger. Assalimy takes hers a bit stronger, telling me she steeps it for eight minutes in eight ounces of hot water instead of the recommended ten ounces. She says to make sure the water is boiling when you start.

I had to go a few steps further. I took my used Kishr bag and added it to a new one in five ounces of boiling water. After eight minutes the color hadn't deepened appreciably, but the spice intensity had. It's not likely to charge your batteries the way, say, a Burundi pour-over might, but it's a perfectly respectable beverage. Especially after you add a shot of whiskey.

*Which, since the demise of Sheeba, is the region's only Yemeni restaurant

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