Sitting on a mat made from palm fronds under the shade of tree, a group of older Omanis enjoy a round of coffee served in traditional cups and poured from a silver pot called a deleh.
It is a place where villagers meet every evening to discuss communal issues, but village elders now say such traditions are near extinction because the younger generation prefer to gather in franchises such as Starbucks and Costa to idle away the time.
“It makes me angry because young people in the cities are putting our proud coffee-drinking tradition in jeopardy,” Abdallah Al Tamami, 84, a resident of Buraimi in the Al Dhahira region, told The National.
“They are sitting in the evenings in cafes like Starbucks and drink coffee in a foreign environment. Where is their national pride?”
Said Al Khaldi, a resident of Muscat who is originally from the town of Saham in the Batnah region, said the open-air coffee majlis, once a feature of Omani life, is fast disappearing.
“To use the words of young people, our coffee majlis in the open air is like the dinosaur – it is going into extinction very fast,” Mr Al Khaldi, 77, told The National.
“It is a place where we talk about our communal problems and solve them in a very amicable way. There are only a few of us now sitting outside on the mat drinking coffee the way our ancestors did centuries ago.”
In Omani tradition, the youngest man at the majlis serves the coffee, pouring it from the deleh in his left hand into the cup held in his right, with which he hands it to the guests.
“It is considered rude in Omani tradition to serve a cup of coffee with your left hand,” said Soud Al Jarwani, 63, a retired civil servant living in Muscat.
“In coffee franchises, they just place your coffee on the counter where you go and pick it up yourself. I guess now young people are not only compromising our traditions but also the good manners our ancestors left behind for us to follow.”
Young people, however, say they mean no disrespect when they gather in international franchises to drink their coffee.
“I hate to say that we are breaking traditions, but we do,” said Muneer Al Subhi, 27, an accountant in Muscat. “We don’t intend to show disrespect to our elders when we drink our coffee in franchises like Starbucks or Costa. But times are changing and I guess the coffee majlis under the shade of trees will eventually disappear.”
The open-air coffee majlis was made popular by the late Sultan Qaboos bin Said between 1980 and 2015 with his televised “Meet the People” tours, when he visited Omanis in regional towns and villages in the winter months to hear their views about the running of the country.
He died in January 2020 after ruling Oman for five decades. His cousin Haitham bin Tarek succeeded him as Sultan.
“I was part of the royal entourage of these regional town visits. The late sultan sat with ordinary people on a simple mat and was served coffee from a deleh like everybody else. But young people still prefer an instant coffee from Starbucks instead of from a brewing pot,” said Mohamed Al Shidhani, a retired weather forecaster from the Civil Aviation Authority.