What to Know About Café Touba
According to Senegal-raised chef Pierre Thiam, it’s holy coffee.
By Chef Pierre Thiam for Food Network Kitchen
Chef Pierre Thiam is a Senegal-raised, New York City-based chef, author, restaurateur, social entrepreneur and culinary ambassador.
The concept of a "sacred coffee" drink may sound unusual. However, I like to refer to Café Touba as just that: holy coffee. Café Touba is named after the holy city of Touba, one of Senegal’s most important Sufi centers and its biggest pilgrimage destination.
Amadou Bamba, the spiritual guide and founder of the Murid’s Sufi Brotherhood, a school of mystical Islam, had a hand in creating the beverage. During the 1800s, French colonials, concerned about Bamba’s popularity as a religious leader promoting self-reliance and passive resistance, arrested him and took him into exile to faraway Gabon. Upon his return seven years later, Gamba introduced a recipe that added Selim pepper and cloves to brewed coffee, and Café Touba was born.
At first, devotees drank the beverage to stay awake during night prayers at religious gatherings. It quickly became the people’s coffee: the average person who could not afford imported coffee embraced the inexpensive drink. Every year, over three million pilgrims travel to Touba to commemorate the Magal, which marks the celebration of Amadou Bamba’s return from exile. The success of café Touba is certainly linked to its connection with the holy city of Touba. In fact, the beverage is so popular nowadays that sellers are visible on every street corner of Senegal.
What Does Café Touba Taste Like?
What makes café Touba so special is its spice blend of djar (selim pepper) and cloves. Ground and roasted together with coffee beans, the blend gives a robust peppery, spicy and slightly anise flavor, which makes an intoxicating brew.
Café touba is served black, often with generous helping of sugar to balance its strong flavor. I personally prefer it with much less sugar or with honey.
Café Touba Benefits
Selim pepper (pictured above), the seeds from an evergreen, aromatic plant originally from Guinea, is peppery and botanical. It’s used instead of black pepper in dishes, and it is known to have medicinal as well as aphrodisiac properties. It is used as an antiseptic, and a remedy for cough, colds, flu or asthma. It is also believed to relieve rheumatism, liver disease and stomach aches. Lastly, it is also used as a prevention for toothache.
Café Touba Recipe
(Excerpted from SENEGAL: Modern Senegalese Recipes from the Source to the Bowl by Pierre Thiam, Lake Isle Press, Inc., 2015)
1/2 cup coffee beans, still green
2 teaspoons selim pepper
2 teaspoons whole cloves
3 cups boiling water
In a skillet, toast the coffee beans, selim pepper and cloves until they turn a nice dark brown color.
Grind the mix in a coffee grinder.
Place 4 tablespoons of the ground blend in a coffee filter set over a coffee dripper. Slowly pour boiling water over the blend and let it drip. Sweeten to your liking and serve hot.