Perhaps the best known drink in this part of the world is Somali tea, well-featured on these pages. But there’s another, less-noticed cuppa that pops up from time to time. It’s well-known around these parts, but not as embedded in local culinary identity as Somali tea.
Khanshar, or xanshar, is the less-caffeinated cousin of coffee, made from the papery husk, or chaff, of coffee beans, that slips off during the roasting process. You can find a similar drink elsewhere in the region and in the world, from the Yemeni qishr to Ethiopian buno or bunna, to cascara tea in El Salvador and Bolivia.
I attended a funeral mourning a few weeks ago in the home of a friend, and she served warm cups of xanshar to visitors, brewed with milk and sugar, to lift their spirits. I wanted to learn more about what goes into (the Somali version of) this drink, so when I came upon large sacks of chaff in the souk, I grabbed a bagful for around $0.30, and asked a few colleagues to show me the ropes.
The preparation is more extensive than I would’ve guessed. The chaff is first rinsed in water and then spread on a pan over high heat to dry out and toast. Steam rises from the pan, giving off an aroma that’s mellow and slightly fruity.
The chaff goes from pan to pot of water, where it’s brought to a low boil while the spices are pounded in a wooden mortar and pestle, and then sprinkled in: dried ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and a couple spoonfuls of black tea and Ethiopian powdered coffee.
For the record, these photos feature our Finance Officer, Hamda, whose skill set extends from Excel spreadsheets to kitchen counters (I’m grateful for both) and beyond.
Milk (or it’s nearest counterpart) is added next, along with a cupful of sugar. As I stood over the pot, the liquid smelled smoky and slightly Christmas-y with its cinnamon and cloves.
Hamda brought the mixture to a boil and then strained it with help from a couple of extra hands.
Xanshar tastes like thin, liquid caramel, with a bit of spice and a punch of caffeine from the black tea, and with a smokiness that lingers after you swallow. We set out the xanshar with an assortment of pastries, but the hot drink took the cake (pun fully intended).
Thanks to Hamda for warming up our morning, and letting me snap a few shots!