By Rima Al-Mukhtar
March 25, 2012 (Arab News)
Tradition, culture, and how to prepare your own cup of tea
Moroccan tea is one of the important traditions and cultures of Morocco, and making it is an art form in itself. Made up of green tea and mint leaves, this tradition, which started in Morocco, spread throughout North Africa, southern Spain and to the many Moroccan restaurants all over the world.
“The first glass is as bitter as life, the second glass is as strong as love, the third glass is as gentle as death,” says the proverb. Moroccan mint tea is a favorite among many people outside of Morocco because of its strong and sweet taste.
In fact, Morocco is the only country in the Arab world that was not part of the Ottoman Empire. The Turks successfully spread coffee culture throughout the Arab world and gave the tea a very minor role. Without the Ottoman influence, Morocco held on to its tea culture, setting it apart from the rest of the Arab world. Even though coffee can be offered in Morocco, it has a French style and taste, unlike Turkish coffee.
In the Arab world, mint tea is only served after a meal; however, Moroccan tea is served throughout the day due to its popularity. Moroccans take special pride in their green mint tea culture. While being served everywhere, from small gatherings to big ones like weddings, restaurants and even at home, Moroccan tea is ceremoniously prepared in front of guests at formal occasions. In Morocco, green tea is a sign of hospitality friendship, and tradition and is always served when there are guests over, so it is impolite to refuse it.
Moroccans use a special kind of green tea known as “gunpowder” tea. “When the green tea leaves are harvested, the leaves are rolled into tiny balls and dried,” explained Fatima Al-Zahraa, a tea specialist and owner of a teashop in Marrakech. “Green tea has strong antioxidant elements, and it is also very high in caffeine, so it definitely gives you a healthy energetic boost and refreshing taste.”
Many Moroccans grow mint in their gardens; however, it is cheap and always available in their marketplace. “When a housewife is in short supply of mint, you would find her prepare green tea with either sheeba (leaves of the wormwood tree) or with lemon verbena leaves,” said Al-Zahraa.
Moroccan teapots come in different sizes. A small pot usually holds about a half liter (six glasses) of tea while a larger pot holds just about a liter (12 glasses). “Moroccan teapots can be either be very simple or very ornate, and they are usually made of stainless steel to keep the tea hot inside,” explained Al-Zahraa.
Moroccans call their teapot “bred” and the typical Moroccan tea glasses “keesan.” They serve them on a serving platter called “senia,” which is made of wood, plastic, brass, copper or silver.
To prepare Moroccan mint tea at home, you will need:
1) One large handful of fresh mint leaves (preferably spearmint of peppermint).
2) Six teaspoons of dried, loose gunpowder green tea.
3) One liter of hot water.
4) A quarter to half a cup of sugar
Start by boiling the water and pour a quarter of a cup of the boiled water into a clean teapot. Then, add the loose tea leaves into the teapot and let the tea steep for two minutes. “After the two minutes, you will need to swirl the pot to wash and rinse the tea pellets and pour out the hot water. After that, add the mint leaves and sugar to the teapot and add the hot water, letting it steep for five minutes or longer,” said Al-Zahra. “Pour one glass of tea and then pour it back into the teapot. Do this three or more times because it helps cool the tea and melt the sugar.”
When it comes to serving, Moroccan tea has its own etiquette, which is what makes it special. “You will need to carefully pour the tea from a high distance,” explained Al-Zahra. “Doing this will help to create a thin layer of foam on the top. When pouring, make sure the tea pellets stay the tea inside the pot. You also need to make sure you only fill two quarters of the cup to enable the aroma to fully develop. Then, garnish the tea with extra mint,” she added.
This kind of tea was originally planted and bought from China. It was brought to Morocco when the trade connections made that possible. Now, it is an important buy and sell bond between the two countries. This introduction was also made possible by the association between Europe and Morocco, and it has now returned again to Southern Spain as a uniquely borrowed Moroccan experience.