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How to Start Your Own
Celtistani Bardic Coffee House!

What It Is, Plus the Usual SCA Legal Blather

The Magic Carpet Kavehane* is a bardic Middle Eastern coffee house which appears at events in the Oaken region of the Middle Kingdom, Society for Creative Anachronism. Visitors are charged "a song, a tale, a tune, or a dance" for a beverage or sweets. It's been a very successful component of our push to increase bardic activity in our area.

Although it is now considered part of Gorsedd* and thus has many co-owners, it was founded in 2008 by Juliane "Lady J" Bechaumpe and Llywelyn "Crazy Llyw" Glyndyverdwy. This document reflects Llywelyn's opinions only, certainly not those of the SCA, Gorsedd, or even Lady J.

Crazy Llew mellows out on caffeine

photo credit: LlG

Crazy Llyw mellows out on caffeine and a fine butane/propane mix.

There are references to the Recipes throughout this document. These are what we use, but as the recipes themselves say, your version may certainly vary. You'll find these at:

How It Started and Whether or Not You Should Do It

We've always enjoyed Your Inner Vagabond at Pennsic, and then we attended a hafla where our friend al-Sayyid Da'ud ibn Zahir was brewing Turkish coffee.* He made it look easy, and Juliane, who had learned how to make it as a teenager, wanted to set up a coffee corner at an upcoming middle-eastern themed event.

We discussed how this could be made to happen, and inevitably the talk turned to what we should charge. Accepting donations came up, but the equipment isn't terribly expensive and ingredients are really rather cheap, so we hit on the idea of charging "a tale, a tune, a song, or a dance" because we'd been searching for a way to increase bardic activity in our area. A daytime coffee house was perfect for that purpose, because many events in our area are one-day affairs where many or most people don't stay into the evening, the traditional time for bardic activity - and because we wanted to expand beyond the "traditional" bardic crowd.* Very quickly, the bardic idea became much more important than the coffee house per se, although we still work very hard on the coffee house aspect.

So it may be that you need to ask yourself a question: which do you want to start - a coffee house or an interesting bardic venue?

Much of this article will be useful (perhaps) to someone aiming to start a Middle Eastern coffee house, but you'll have to put up with some discussion of bardic activity.

But if the emphasis is really on the bardic stuff, then a coffee house might be the right idea, but you'll have to consider the conditions in your own area. Is East Asia more popular than Middle Eastern in your area? Then maybe you want to start a tea room. Are weekend camping events most common in your area? Then maybe you want to start a tavern in the evening. So, some of the material in this article will be helpful (perhaps) regardless of the venue you choose, but most of it is pretty Kavehane-specific.

We've done some variations ourselves. Sometimes we run the Kavehane during the day and switch over to a tavern at night. We've simplified some "landings" at hot-weather events by setting up the tent and pillows, but serving only cool syrups mixed with water, which we call "jalabs".* When we do this we call it Jalabbe-the Hut.* The syrups are not difficult to make (see the Recipes), and all the preparation can be done in advance. At the event, pour some syrup into a big water jug, stir, and you can spend the day enjoying your guests instead of brewing coffee.

Although we've certainly enjoyed complexifying the Kavehane's offerings, decor and atmosphere, creating a coffee house doesn't have to be complex. At our first event, we had only a Coleman stove, a Turkish coffee pot, three ingredients, a table and some pillows. We started very simple and got more elaborate over time as money and opportunity allowed. There's a short list of the essentials at the end of the article, followed by a much, much longer list of the other stuff we have. Having more of the non-essentials will make the venue more inviting and fun.

Over the last few years, we've gone from having just a couple of us who can run the Kavehane to having a half-dozen people who can brew coffee* if we do the setup, and a couple who have run a "franchise" entirely on their own, so the Magic Carpet can land at multiple events on the same day.

Getting Supplies

Most of what we take on the road is Middle Eastern looking stuff we've cobbled together over the years. You will need some items which are pretty specific, though.

Ibrik, cups and backpacker stove

photo credit: LlG

Our small ibrik, various cups, the backpacker stove

The only item which will set you back* is the coffee pot, or ibrik (also known as a briki, cezve, etc., etc., etc.). I just saw a small one on the internet* for $20, and they go up from there. This item is essential. It appears to be a simple shaped saucepan, but the shape is what enables you to brew the coffee perfectly, no matter how dumb you are. It's also very cool looking. See the Recipes for more information. We have two, one which holds about 1 cup of liquid (serves about 3), and one about triple that size, useful when the house is hoppin'.

Turkish coffee is normal coffee beans ground to the consistency of confectioner's sugar. It costs about the same as an equal amount of "good" coffee beans (about $8 per 12-ounce bag, last time we bought). You might find it in a large grocery, but you'll probably need to haunt Middle Eastern or Mediterranean stores. Possibly you could grind the coffee yourself (not in a normal western coffee grinder; try a mortar and pestle or a grinder made for Turkish coffee), but it seems like more trouble than it's worth.

Sugar. For quite a while, we used normal refined white sugar, but recently we switched over to "raw" sugar. It does impart an additional layer of flavor to the coffee and it no longer seems to be an expensive gourmet item - even Domino's makes it, about twice the price of white sugar; gourmet brands will run more.

A 12-ounce bag of coffee and a 2-pound bag of sugar ought to last you for several events.

Spices. People who "don't drink coffee" often find they like Turkish coffee, because the coffee flavor is only one layer in the brew, and not necessarily the most prominent one. In addition to the coffee and more sugar per ounce than almost anyone puts into western coffee, Turkish coffee is usually spiced. Cardamom, one of the prime spices, is very pricey.  But our most popular spice mixture, Moroccan Mix, is only 1/8 cardamom, and the rest is much more reasonably priced spices. See the Recipes. (The brewing process also results in a much mellower flavor than western coffee, never bitter or acidic.)

You'll need a way to heat the coffee. This is one area where we absolutely favor convenience over authenticity - we don't have a little charcoal brazier, or use a bed of heated sand. We've tried a standard Coleman camp stove, a little backpacker's stove (see photo above), and a gas burner (the type caterers sometimes use). The backpacker and the gas burner have a major advantage in allowing better control over the flame (we've found Colemans lacking in this area). But the backpacker is so tiny that it has stability issues and the gas burner doesn't do well in cool weather. The Coleman has the advantage of having a large, easily cleanable area where you can shove a pot that's boiling over. We always have a couple "electric matches" around to light them, of course.

Ibrik, cups and tray

photo credit: LlG

Our large ibrik, various cups, and a tray

Cups. Any demitasse-size cups will do (or larger ones, just don't fill them full). See photos above and to the right. You'll find these all over ("import " stores like Pier One and World Market; fine china departments), but Middle Eastern groceries often have lovely sets of ceramic cups, very cheap. We have some slick insulated glass ones from Bodum, purchased online. We also have nice set* of ceramic fincans with brass zarfs and saucers.* We travel with 18 cups*, displayed prettily, and wash up throughout the day.

Sometimes the logistics are overwhelming, and we're forced to use disposable cups. You can find 6-ounce Styrofoam cups at restaurant supply houses (occasionally at party stores). These are slightly too large. Solo makes a 4-ounce paper espresso cup in their Mistique series that would be perfect, but it appears you can only buy these in increments of 1,000 (about $100). Possibly you could talk a local coffee house into getting them and buy some from them.

Sweets and savouries. Not strictly a necessity, and different for each event. We often bring a box or two of Turkish Delight, which can usually be found in large groceries nowadays, in multiple interesting flavors; certainly you'll find it in a Middle Eastern grocery. We also bring wafery cookies; Anna's brand cookies (sometimes found in the Imports section of grocery stores, sometimes in the regular cookie section) come in convenient sized packages and interesting flavors like ginger and orange, and they're light and crispy. We often pick up some dried fruits in the produce section of the grocery store as well.*

Once you've purchased the ibrik and cups, you will be spending less than $10 on each event. There's no reason not to ask for cash donations as well as a bardic piece, though, if your budget is tight.

Actually Running It

For the actual brewing part of the process, see the Recipes.


It takes us half an hour or more to unpack and lay everything out and brew the first pot of coffee, not counting the set up of a tent or fly. There are photos of indoor and outdoor setups on the main Kavehane page, above, and below.

We try to find a compromise location which is highly visible but quiet enough to talk, sing and tell stories. Different events and sites call for different solutions, but these have worked for us: in the merchant area (if it's not stuck off in a backwater); near the lunch tavern; on the path between fighting and daycamps. Of course, this should be pre-arranged with the autocrat.

At Northern Oaken War Maneuvers, a major three-day event with 15-25 merchants, we have teamed up the autocrats and merchant coordinator to create a "town square" - a large pavilion which houses Youth Point, dancing, and some of the classroom spaces (also used for Court), surrounded by rows of merchants and the Kavehane (which is situated as if it's just another merchant). We* arrange for performances (by our local Middle Eastern dance and commedia troupes, for example) to occur around the square throughout the day.

Not all events are outdoors, of course, but if outdoors is an option, we take it, so there's the factor of weather to consider.  We have used covers as small as a 10x10 popup, but this is really inadequate - the "kitchen" is about 50 square feet in itself - and there isn't much room left for visitors. A 12x12 or larger fly or pavilion canopy is better (and better looking), but we've found a 10x20 carport is best of all. Some day we'll "Trojan horse" it.

We set up two low tables, about 2-1/2' x 5', one of them VERY stable to hold the stove and frequently needed supplies (coffee, sugar and spices) and the other to hold the pretty boxes, cups, and other stuff. Behind this (forming a rough U shape) we put a wire three-shelf unit for more supplies (sweets and savouries, backup fuel and coffee). In the middle of this, we set the Barista Vente's Chair and nearby, the Barista Grande's.

We scatter pillows, director's chairs, stargazers, musical instruments, and low tables (2-1/2' x 5' and 1-1/2' x 1-1/2') around for the guests.

We've also used slingy camp chairs, but these detract from the atmosphere* and most people don't really seem to like sitting in them (at least, not to sing from).

The tables are all low, (western) coffee-table height, so they can be used by people on the pillows. You can see them in some of the photos here and on the main Kavehane page.

Water:  You will want perhaps two gallons for coffee; much more if you're serving jalabs (the actual requirement will vary, depending on local circumstances, of course.*) We take a full 5-gallon container for the coffee, and an additional 5-gallon for wash-up and offering water to the needy (free, of course). Note that it's not desirable to chill the water, unless you're serving jalabs. Juliane made a couple of cute Jug Cozies so people don't have to see a fluorescent orange Home Depot water cooler.

We're not Authentistas. Your mileage may vary, but as far as we're concerned, the purpose of the Kavehane is to create a fun, relaxed atmosphere where people will feel comfortable telling their first story. So, for example, we dress "Celtistani" - an eclectic mix of vaguely Middle-Eastern garb.

Unless you have an enthusiastic corps of volunteer baristas, you will probably find yourself stuck in the coffee house for quite long periods of time. Bring a cooler with food and beverage* for yourself. Grab a schmatte from your soft-goods bin to cover it.


Washing up. The ibriks and non-disposable cups need to be washed out after each use. The best situation is to locate the Kavehane near to the event kitchen and get permission to use the sink (failing that, a restroom works). If we know or suspect the site can't provide this, we bring a dish tub and some dish soap, and position a five-gallon water jug over it, rinsing into the tub. Disposable cups simplify this requirement, of course, and having multiple ibriks would reduce the number of runs to the washing station.

This washing-up is messy. There's a sludge-residue (the dregs) in the ibriks and cups. We separate the washtub area from the rest of the Kavehane (e.g., we have the kitchen facing in and the wash-up facing out and towards the back), and if possible find an inconspicuous spot to slosh out the cups.

Generally, unless event requirements dictate otherwise, we run the Kavehane from 11am to 4pm. In our experience, this is the way the flow of visitors works: We get a little rush of visitors before noon, for their last cup of coffee of the morning; business drops off during lunch and early afternoon; and our largest rush happens late in the afternoon (from about 2:30 on), as the lists close and non-combatants are too whipped to continue with their primary purpose for being at the event. There will be a group of people who consider themselves full-time bards who will drift in and out at any time, or even camp out for the entire day.*

The Bardic Part

Ultimately, everything is about encouraging people to perform.

We charge a single bardic piece for a whole day at the Kavehane, but we usually cajole people into "paying" more. We have accepted virtually any performance as payment, including Boy Scout campfire songs, limericks, and jokes. Our purpose is to get them performing; authenticity can come later. (People also just sit around and chat and jam.)

We place price-card table-tents* around. We're getting very well known, but there are still visitors who don't know the price structure and don't notice the cards. Depending on how mischievous I'm feeling (and how flexible the visitor seems), I sometimes serve them a cup of coffee and wait until they've taken the first sip to mention the price.

Often it's necessary to coach really recalcitrant guests through their first time* - "Well, did anything interesting happen at morning court?" After they've struggled through the story of the Herald's mispronunciations, I might go back over the story with them, and suggest how to reshape it into a real tale ("you've got a great 'middle', and a terrific punch line; now what you need is a grabber to open the story with").

The real goal here, in my opinion, is to encourage people to realize that "bardic" isn't something that happens around someone else's fire -it's part of the fabric of life.

Depending on how elaborate the day's activities are, we may post a bardic schedule on an easel and white board, one of those pasteboard science-project display boards, or simply a plastic display sleeve. Again, you'll see these in the photos here and on the main Kavehane page.

Scheduling those activities. As mentioned above, early afternoon is often the slowest part of the day. If you are going to use the coffee house to host bardic classes, this is a good time. It might also be a great time to schedule a fairly specific but free-form activity.* I'm not sure if this is Kavehane-specific or simply a fact of life in the SCA, but we've found attendance at morning classes to be low.

These sorts of activities can actually be disruptive, though. On occasion, we've had a great jam session going but had to call a halt to it to run a class. Use your own judgement, or try out different options.

We typically schedule structured activities like competitions late in the afternoon (4:30pm seems to work), as the lists close and before people have to get ready for court or the feast, in which case we'll keep serving coffee as long as people want it. We do tend to "capture" a few fighters that way, as well as the A&S junkies who spent all day in class. Of course, it always helps if such an activity is actively promoted in advance; and pre-arranging some ringers is never a bad idea.

The Lists

You can probably figure all of the following out for yourself, but I'm a compulsive list-maker*, and perhaps this will help.

Our entire setup packs into our van, in:

Two table-top wooden boxes (for the small stuff like cups, spices, some of the coffee and sugar, trivets, dishtowels, etc.)

Three big bins: One for all the soft-goods (tablecloths, wall hangings); two for the "other stuff" - stove, signs, paper towels, backup sugar and coffee, etc. When emptied, these bins can act as the pedestal for a plywood table top.

And whatever it takes to hold the big stuff and actual camping equipment: tables and chairs, pillows, rugs, canvas, tent-poles, etc.

Here's what we travel with.

You can see most of these items in the pictures here and on the main Kavehane page.

This first group is the bare essentials:

A tent, because you never know.* At some events, of course, we're indoors.

An indoor setup

photo credit: LlG

A simple indoor setup

Ibriks (coffee pots). These are small, packing into the table-top boxes.

A stove (and stove fuel; and a way to light the burner).

A fire extinguisher.

Turkish coffee, sugar and spices. See the Recipes. A 12-ounce bag of coffee and a 2-5 pound bag of sugar should do it for a multiple events. We carry one jar each of our two spice mixtures (straight cardamom and Morocco Mix).

Cups. We travel with 18 in all different styles, which is plenty assuming you're doing some washing up frequently through the day (you have to wash the ibriks anyway).

Disposable hot cups. Sometimes this is unavoidable on very busy days, or even desirable (if you're allowing people to get coffee to go).

Sweets and savouries.

Jalab syrups and a serving jug.

Cold cups. We always use disposable for this. We carry a lot of smallish ones for jalab sipping; also some large ones because inevitably a fighter will come by begging for plain water (which we don't charge for, of course).

That's what you HAVE to have. The rest of is what makes it fun.

Furnishings and other big stuff (some of which actually fits in the tubs):

Other usual camp stuff, as appropriate. You may not be camping, but you're setting up a camp. Tarps, extra stakes, ropes, etc. I bring my "camp tool pack" (with at least one mallet!), a pocket multi-tool and a portable drill. Somehow they always get used, although not always by us. Duck tape, of course.*

Directors' chairs and stargazers. I suspect you'll want a chair for yourself, unless you're 22, and many guests will be too old and creaky for ...

About 15 big decorative pillows. Find closeouts at World Market or Pier One. We actually use a couple of Great-Dane-sized dog pillows. Woof, woof.

Some very basic all-weather area rugs for ground cover.

An all-weather rug with a nice pattern in it for the guest area. We used to take a "real" (inexpensive) Turkish carpet, but the travel is hard on items like this.

A coffee-table sized folding table. This is VERY stable (like a very good cafeteria table, but only about 2' tall). Good place to situate the stove. Kindergarten tables would be nice, if the legs fold.

A couple of 2'x4' plywood sheets to use as table tops.* The transport tubs serve as the table pedestals; be careful, of course, about stability - use a large enough tub, or multiple tubs per tabletop. Of course we cover them with drapes.

Four low folding "side" tables, about 1-1/2' square, to scatter around. We got our not-hopelessly-out-of-period wooden slat tables in the outdoor section at Target.* They're useful in places other than the Kavehane, too.

An easily transportable three shelf unit.

A broom; not a bad idea, although we usually do without.

A largish tub full of middle-eastern-y drapes, bedspreads, tablecloths, swags and schmattes - for decorating, and for covering tables, excess equipment and camp chairs.

Clips to hold tablecloths in place? We actually use drapery fabric, which is usually heavy enough not to need this.

Lanterns. When the Kavehane is making an overnight stay, we rig lanterns for light.

Decorations:  Table cloths and hangings out of the soft-goods bin, but also camel bells, appropriate Christmas ornaments, etc.

Two wooden old-looking boxes we pack all the small stuff into. They have shelves and drawers, and they look pretty good on one of the tables.

A wooden sign which we dangle from a dowel in a portable hole (see the first photo on the main Kavehane page). One of those green fence stakes (surveyor stakes) works fine as a portable hole, but isn't as decorative as the ones from Panther Pavilions and others.

Paper towel spindle and paper towels. It ain't period, but it's really a necessity.

Wastebaskets, garbage can. Even with all-ceramic cups, there will be waste.

Windbreaks and paper-weights, if you're outdoors.

A cooler?

Running the Bardic:

Musical instruments. Depends on your tastes and your clientele, but we find a bodhran and tambourines are handy. We also bring a little box of kazoos, slide whistles, penny whistles, finger cymbals, etc. Adults have fun with them, and they're great for kids, of course.


Anything you need to support classes - easel, whiteboard, office supplies?

Office supplies. We've found that we become a focal-point/way-station, so in addition to your own needs (to publicize activities, etc.) it's handy to have a little box of pens, tape, etc.

Flyers for bardic activities at upcoming events.

Our own promotional material: we use business cards with our bardic household* website info, etc., and a nice business card display stand.

Display stands for bardic schedule. Remember to protect these from the wind.

Running the Coffee Operation:

Bottle opener, waiter's corkscrew. Just in case.

Dish-wash tub, dish soap, dishrag and towels.

Water containers. We often travel with three five-gallon containers, if the site doesn't have water handy. Always at least two (one for coffee water, one for the thirsty populace).

Water jug cozies.

Price cards/table tents. Protect from wind.

We also have some pretty, probably not period, larger jugs for jalab syrups.

Coffee house tray

photo credit: LlG

That specialized coffee house tray (what's ON the tray is all loaner gear)

Nice spoons for measuring. Long-handled ones (what we used to call iced-tea spoons) may be useful, depending on what your supply containers look like. But none of this is rocket science, so anything will do - it doesn't have to be an actual measuring spoon. We have a few nice wooden ones, and some brass ones.

Nice implements for handling food.*

Pot-holders and trivets or large cork coasters. Things get hot. The second burner on a Coleman stove may be satisfactory for this purpose.

Serving plates and bowls (for the sweets and savouries).

Trays. We have some World Market-y trays, usually placed decoratively on tables, sometimes used to serve drinks, ferry dirty dishes to the kitchen, etc.

There is a particularly Middle-Eastern looking type of tray (see photo at right) used in actual kavehanes. Hard to find. Don't even know what it's called. But some of the middle-east oriented merchants at Pennsic have them.

Tea kettle* and box of various teas.

Large garbage bags. For waste, of course, but also very convenient for packing up pillows, dirty dishes.

Llywelyn "Crazy Llyw" Glyndwr, October 2010 (revised often)

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These are in alphabetical order, not the order they appear in the document.

*  A previously useless wedding gift. Return

*  A real coffee house would have halvah and baklava, of course. Messy. Return

*  Actually larger; these are just whatever leftover rectangular plywood I have around. Return

*  ... assuming you already have a camp stove ... Return

*  At a 100+ heat-index event where we were on the path the fighters used to limp home, we had to refill the five gallon jugs at the kitchen, more than once. If you are in the South, avoid that limping path. Return

*  Baristas. Juliane is the Barista Vente and anyone assisting is a Barista Grande. I call myself the Kulübe Efendi, which may (or may not) be a Turkish term for the same thing. Return

*  Gorsedd. The site you're currently on: Return

*  Have you ever noticed? When you announce an evening bardic activity and there's a fire nearby, the Bards all set up a circle around it. One very warm night - no need for the fire's warmth - we had a tavern set up with a bar, a performance space, tables and chairs. The Bards disassembled the tavern and dragged the chairs over to a nearby fire. This is warm and comforting to bards, but it is also, I think, very off-putting to anyone else - some people would no sooner step into "The Bards' Circle" than they would walk unauthorized onto a battlefield. If your goal is to make existing bards warm and comfortable, by all means run bardic circles. If you want to expand the circle, though, don't run a circle. My opinion only, although I have to acknowledge the great influence that Master Owen Alun has had on me in this area. Return

*  ... having arranged to be designated Master and Mistress of the Revels for the event ... Return

*  I'm also a compulsive bringer of backup supplies. I don't mention backups in the lists, but I take 'em. Return

*  In case anyone is watching. Return

*  In which case we train them to brew coffee. Return

*  Just showing off. "Zarf" is the word for a (usually brass) cup-holder with a handle. "Fincan" is the name for the handle-less cup you insert into a zarf. "Saucer" is the term for a saucer. Return

*  "Kavehane" is a Turkish word for "coffee house". We called it the Magic Carpet because it travels and "lands" at different events. Mixing Turkish and pseudo-Arabian terms is very much in keeping with our eclecticism - we call it a Celtistani coffee house. Return

*  Many people, of course, need no encouragement. Among folks to don't think of themselves primarily as bards, this seems commoner among the rapier community, for some reason. Return

*  More often I use gaff tape (I work in the theater, so I can get it at wholesale prices; it's rather expensive). It's not quite as strong as duck tape, but its real beauty is that it leaves no residue. It comes in various colors, all matte, so isn't quite as glaringly non-period, as well. Return

*  No, after two years, one of the Bodums couldn't stand the abuse any longer; we're down to 17. Return

*  Oddly enough, our local ME grocery doesn't carry these, but carries everything else. Return

*  Okay:  in Northeast Ohio, you never know. Maybe you are in Hawaii, where you can predict the rain unto the very hour, for several months in advance. Return

*  Or you have to cover them with drapes, which is either clumsy or uncomfortable, or both. Return

*  The community of bards in northern Oaken. Return

*  The design has changed slightly, but they were still there during the recent summer seasons. Return

*  There are only so many cups of coffee you can drink. Return

*  "Turkish" coffee, of course, is really a phenomenon which spans a vast region, but (like most westerners) we use the term "Turkish coffee" generically. For the authentistas: it is period for the Middle East, and (according to some) had reached Italy and/or Vienna by the end of the Renaissance. Coffee in any form would be totally alien to anyone in period who had never left northern Europe, and nowhere did they brew coffee the way we normally do today. Return

*  We call them "jalabs" generically, although one of them is the popular sekanjabin, and the word "jalab" may refer to a specific drink. Return

*  We used to have a couple of plastic restaurant display stands and I'd print off 3x5 cards with the prices, but we go through them quickly, so I got a package of Avery 5302s, and I made some weights out of 1/4" steel bar to keep them from blowing around. This is actually more stable than the plastic stands. Return

*  We're fond of "The Harper's Hour". Return

*  Yes, we do serve Salacious Crumbs. Glad you asked. Return

*  You can use an ibrik as a kettle, of course. Return

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