Asali Desserts & Cafe

107 Edinburgh Drive, #106-A, Cary


For Hanadi Asad, sahlab is synonymous with winter the way that hot chocolate might be for others. 

Her Palestinian mother only made the steamed-milk beverage in winter, though chilly nights were rare in Kuwait, where she was born. When Asad was eight years old, her family moved to Raleigh; happily, that meant her mom made sahlab more frequently, especially when it snowed. 

Sahlab is warm and comforting, but what makes it so special is its namesake main ingredient, a starchy powder made from ground orchid root that lends the drink a thick, spoonable consistency. It’s typically scented with cinnamon, and, in some Levantine countries, it’s perfumed with rose water, too, then garnished with toppings such as spices, nuts, and dried fruit. 

Though it was summer when Asad and her husband, Jamaal Ali, opened Asali Desserts & Cafe in Cary’s MacGregor Village—a brick-and-mortar extension of their popular dessert and events company—she decided she couldn’t wait until winter to serve sahlab. 

I’m glad she didn’t. 

I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I sampled it last August. Dipping your spoon into a cup of sahlab feels like an act of self-care. You can’t absently sip it; it requires you to be in the moment. It begs to be savored as you scoop up a little froth with some toppings to make a composed bite. 

At Asali, Asad uses a sahlab mix imported from Turkey that’s lightly sweetened with sugar and cinnamon. She combines it with milk and uses a frother to continuously stir and steam the milk, allowing it to thicken without scalding the milk. 

Asad tops each cup with a dusting of cinnamon and a scattering of chopped pistachios and shredded coconut, just like her mom made it. 

The drink is rich enough to enjoy as a dessert, particularly if you don’t have a sweet tooth. But it’s hard to resist sampling the confections beckoning from the gleaming cases that greet you when you walk in. 

If you’re solo, try pairing a cup of sahlab with a macaron (or two), which come in flavors such as pomegranate and lavender, then retire to one of the couches in the lounge area. In the mood to share? Bring a crew and order a round of sahlab and a sampling of desserts, as many groups do on Friday and Saturday nights when the place pulses with an old-world-coffeehouse vibe. Families and friends and people of all ages and nationalities crowd around tables where wedges of coconut cake sit alongside plates of baklava.

Whatever you decide, don’t wait for the first snowfall to spoon a cup.

Comment on this story at 

Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.