By Meredith – Port Elizabeth, 23rd December 2018. Mint tea is the national drink of Morocco and a favorite activity of many. Steeped in tradition tea is enjoyed throughout the day, especially upon entering people’s homes. The ritual of mint tea has been passed along for generations and is the foundation of daily life in Morocco. Families gather around to converse and debate while drinking multiple cups of mint tea. A common site when exploring Morocco are men sitting on the verges of cafes sipping tea, discussing business, playing chess and people watching. The equivalent elsewhere in the world might be drinking beers on the porch with friends, or meeting after work with friends to mull over a glass of wine.
‘He who rushes is already dead.’-Old Berber saying
Tea is a symbol of relaxation in Morocco- taking time out of one’s day to brew and elaborately pour the perfect cup using the family’s prized teapot. This ritual is something all travelers should appreciate and incorporate into their daily lives- taking time to enjoy the little, quiet moments, instead of being consumed by the need to be busy. Drinking tea provides the opportunity to slow down and fully enjoy the company surrounding you, to make meaningful connections, to feel like you belong.
In Morocco things go slowly- don’t expect your typical convenience store where you’ll select the items you need, queue at the teller, pay and immediately leave. In the souks, you will enter, sit down on a rug or low stools, enjoy a cup of tea, and debate the weather or local news with the shopkeeper before getting down to the process of buying something. There are usually no tills and the items are not priced, you simply ask and then haggle to a price you think is acceptable. Time is of abundance as is tea, nothing is rushed.
Brewing the perfect cup
‘Water is the mother of tea, a teapot its father, and the fire its teacher’ – Chinese Proverb.
Green tea, specifically Chinese gunpowder tea, is used in Morocco. Gunpowder refers to the loose leaves being compressed into little pellets. It is brewed with fresh mint leaves and a lot of sugar and served in glass cups. Spearmint is the herb of choice, however, dried mint or fresh pennyroyal can also be used, producing a more pungent aromatic tea. Sometimes other herbs can be used such as sage, wormwood, lemon verbena, wild thyme and wild geranium.
In the south of Morocco tea is generally served sweeter, although it is too the preference of the tea maker. Sugar is usually bought as cubes or even large 2 kg sugar cones, that need to be broken up for use (seems pretty messy!). I estimate that Moroccans would use 3 sugar bricks in a teapot, which is about 7 tablespoons!
Most families have a fine tea service consisting of an engraved Moroccan teapot (El-berrad), tea glasses and a serving tray. For everyday use they have a casual tea set, reserving the fine set for guests. Traditionally the male head of the family will make the tea.
‘Mint tea without foam is like a Berber man without his turban’
Loose tea and water is added to the kettle and cooked over a gas burner or fire until boiling. Fresh mint and sugar are added and allowed to brew for a further 5 minutes, some leave it to stand while others keep it on the heat for this time. Traditionally only a little water is added to the teapot and allowed to rest, it is not swirled around. This clear amber liquid is then poured into a glass and kept. Referred to as the soul of the tea, the first glass is the most flavorful as it was the first water to come in contact with the tea.
More water is added to the teapot, allowed to rest a minute and then swirled around the pot, washing the tea. When poured into a second glass, the liquid is murky and is discarded. The teapot can now be filled and the first glass is added. The tea is then boiled over medium-low heat and the mint and sugar are added. At first, the mint rises to the top, but after a few minutes, the tea leaves will float to the top and a foam forms on top.
Instead of stirring the tea, it is poured into a glass and then added back into the teapot, four of five times. A Moroccan teapot usually has a built-in strainer and the spout is curved to enable pouring the tea from a high height, about an arm height above the glass. This helps to aerate the tea and make a good foam. Some will add fresh mint into the glasses. Tea is usually enjoyed during meals or with nuts and sweet biscuits.
‘You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy tea, and it’s kind of the same thing.’
The art of tea pouring is great to experience and even more fun to practice. See who can pour from the highest height without spilling! Enjoy your holiday exploring adventurous Morocco, then retire to your accommodation and sip some relaxing mint tea.