Taroudant, Morocco – Tea, locally called Attay, has become more famous among Moroccan families to the extent of being perceived as the number one hot beverage consumed in the country.
But, not long ago, tea, particularly in the South-east of Morocco, was a luxurious drink limited to the well to do families, exclusively men.
In a refined setting and chosen time, affluent people and men of power had the privilege to brew and serve tea in high ritualized protocol that all the attendees had to strictly respect. As tea became widely present on Moroccan tables, many traditions and customs grew with it and became deep-rooted in the Moroccan culture. Simply, it was more than a hot drink.
In special occasions, at the arrival of guests, or just in family gatherings, tea had to be served in very firm social conventions. As soon as everybody arrived, the host would appoint a man among the guests to prepare tea. Locally called “Amghar nw Atay”, (the chef of tea) the person should be a man of character and of sound reputation. Amid amusing talks and entertaining ambiance, the person in charge would start necessary procedures that generally take a quite long time. First, he would wash “lberrad” the tea pot with hot water then diligently put some tea leaves in the tea pot and clean it. Second, after having put in the required quantity of tea and sugar, he would add boiled water and place the tea pot on very low fire. While tea was slightly being brewed, emitting a distinctive pleasant aroma, the tea man would arrange glasses on a disc shape plate called “siniyt” and then cover them with a white fancifully embroidered fabric.
It is customary good manners for a host to offer tea to guests soon after their arrival. Even though not all the guests were received with open arms, serving tea was a part of the hospitality characterizing those south-easterners. Yet, the way people used to prepare tea could reveal whether the guests were welcome or not. Taking a short time to serve tea was a sign that the guests were not received with pleasure. Another symbolic gesture that showed the honest feelings of the host was the position of “lmokrach” a large kettle used for boiling water on fire. If the kettle was placed with its spout blowing smoke towards the guests, it should be understood that they were not very welcome, but if the spout of the kettle headed to the wall, then the guests were more than welcome.
Until recently, women were not allowed to drink tea, since it was expensive, and the quantity a family could get was just enough to afford pleasurable moments of overwhelming joy for men. Hadda, an elder woman, told MWN about how tea was a very luxurious drink that was prepared and enjoyed only by men during tea times. “Women never had the chance to drink tea like their husbands until recently, and we used to suck and shew “Tuga nw atay” (tea leaves that were left at the bottom of the tea pot)” she said. “Sometimes we would steal some tea and sugar and prepare it secretly at the absence of our men” she added.
Even though tea is still the most popular drink in Morocco, the protocols and conventions that used to accompany the preparation and drinking tea are no longer in practice. Only few families do still keep the traditions alive. Nowadays, the majority, however, prepare tea at a fast pace in kitchens and serve it without any traditions that were until recently much more cherished than the taste it affords. Today’s tea is no more than a hot drink. My grandmother, may her soul rest in peace, used to say, “I hate tea prepared behind walls, in reference to tea prepared in the kitchen.” She was so right because tea nowadays has been reduced to a mere daily drink.
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