Orient Mills was founded by Tewfic’s grandfather on the historic Al-Manara square in the heart of Bethlehem’s old city.
The quality of their coffee and the location brought all Bethlehemites in. They roasted the coffee in their home and brought it to the shop. Since that time, all Bethlehemites knew that if you entered the Lama shop, you would be offered a cup of coffee to taste.
Since 1936, Orient Mills never moved, staying at that intersection between Star Street, from which pilgrims came in to Bethlehem, towards the Church of the Nativity and the Souk Street, that linked part of Bethlehem’s Old city, its market, created in 1929, and Manger Square.
In 1987, young Tewfic joins the family business and starts working in the mill. He is the third generation of Lamas to work the coffee roasters, the spice grinders and to exercise the art of spice mixing.
The shop lives with the seasons, early December, when the Burbara craze takes over Bethlehem, the shop smells of anise, fennel and shines with the sugar-coated chickpeas. In early June, the Mill is taken over by the intense smell of freshly dried zaatar as all Bethlehem families rush in to buy that year’s zaatar mix from Tewfic.
Having grown up with a grandmother who presided the next-door Arab Women’s Union, I spent many hours near the shop, inhaling the spice aromas, watching with fascination the coffee grinding.
Today, one of my favorite pass times is to sit on the little ladder that leads to the upper floor storage and watch shoppers pop-in for some spices or some coffee while discussing with Tewfic the latest usae I have done of one of the spices or exchanging notes on some recipe he, as an eager food connoisseur, wants to try next at home.