Libya might be known for having Africa’s largest oil reserves but it’s coffee that really fuels daily life here. Some scholars suggest that coffee grown in east Africa and Yemen was brought to Venice via Tripoli – so it could be argued that Libyan merchants introduced coffee to Italy. Either way it’s clear that Libyans take their morning cup very seriously: some drink the silty traditional version found elsewhere in the region but most prefer the brew as it was prepared by the former colonial powers across the Mediterranean.
Today, Tripoli’s cafés boast sleek Italian espresso machines and customers can be a discerning bunch. The most popular choice is a nus-nus: a shot of espresso splashed with lightly foamed milk. It helps everyone – from politicians to militiamen and mothers – get through their day and beyond.
It’s also not unusual to see Libyans sipping coffee well into the night. In a country where alcohol has been banned since the late 1960s, socialising is centred around the café. After the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, many young entrepreneurs opened their own. When I lived in downtown Tripoli’s old Italian quarter in 2014, I could have my morning nus-nus to take away from a street kiosk or savour it while sitting under the elegant arches of Algeria Square.
Later that year the country tipped into a civil conflict that continued in various iterations until a ceasefire was agreed last October. A fragile peace prevails for now; elections are planned for December and there are some renewed signs of optimism. Foreign companies are once again taking notice too. Earlier this month the inaugural Libya Coffee Expo took place, drawing 43 exhibitors and 10,000 visitors. Whatever happens, Libyans will always have their nus-nus.
Mary Fitzgerald is a Monocle correspondent based in Marseille and a regular visitor to and expert on Libya.