Like all observant Muslims, Libyans observe fasting during the month of Ramadan, which begins this weekend. From sunrise to sunset, they are forbidden to eat and drink, including of course coffee.

"The coffee that Libyans drink in 16 hours in normal times, they drink it in two hours during Ramadan, after sunset," said Mohamed Zourgani, who runs a café in the heart of the medina, the old city.

Inherited from his grandfather who bought it from a Libyan Jew in the 1950s, the small business of the 31-year-old man, with a well-trimmed beard, is always full. And Ramadan does not worry him: after breaking the fast, his customers will rush to "satiate themselves with coffee as naturally as we drink water".

A man drinks coffee on a pedestrian street in Tripoli, Libya's capital, on March 16, 2023 © Mahmud TURKIA / AFP

The coffee tradition dates back to the fifteenth century in Libya. Grown in Yemen, the grains traveled from the Arabian Peninsula to Europe, notably via Libya. Then, under the influence of the Italians, succeeding the Ottomans in 1911, the Libyans adopted the famous espresso in addition to the thick Turkish coffee, which they called "Arabic coffee".

Italian variants

"The older generation is still attached to Arabic coffee, but young people mostly order espresso or macchiato" (coffee topped with milk foam), says Mohamed Zourgani, while his employees pour the aromatic black liquid into cardboard cups.

"Even in the middle of war, Libyans cannot do without their coffee," the young boss joked, referring to the armed violence that has shaken the country since the fall and death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi during the 2011 revolution.

In Tripoli, life has resumed and cafes are full. On a terrace or a piece of sidewalk, we sometimes set up bar tables around which, sipping a "tazza" of coffee for less than one euro, we tell each other about the day or we lament the political chaos.

A waiter prepares coffee at a stall in Tripoli, Libya's capital, on March 16, 2023 © Mahmud TURKIA / AFP

The hot drink menus abound with Italian variants, espresso, for purists, affogato (alcohol-free), for the greediest. And as in Rome, the americano is more full-bodied than elsewhere in the world.

On the terrace of another café in the medina, men of all ages chat quietly over coffee. Wrapped up in a down jacket and hat, Abdel Basset Hamza abandoned his suitcase shop to quickly order his late afternoon coffee.

Caffeinated evenings

"There's nothing we drink more than coffee," says the 63-year-old with a white beard, a latte to take away in hand.

In neighboring countries, "you do not find coffee of this quality, made in this way with such machines," boasts the trader, who also wants to drink "every morning" the Turkish-Arabic version of his favorite drink.

So during Ramadan, "we think all day about the coffee we are going to drink," he says. And directly after the sunset prayer, he gives it to his heart's content, even if he claims to have reduced his consumption for his health.

Men wait to be served at the counter of a café in Tripoli, Libya's capital, on March 16, 2023 © Mahmud TURKIA / AFP

An inveterate drinker since adolescence, Ali Khawaja, 24, apprehends the days without coffee as every year. But Ramadan is also an opportunity to gather around the mesmerizing smell of this drink.

"Coffee is on every iftar table," the fast-breaking meal, said the young resident of the suburbs of Tripoli, wearing a leather jacket and his hair carefully brushed on his side. And after iftar, "we spend the evening drinking it outside with friends" during the long nights of Ramadan.

© 2023 AFP