Moroccan Mint Tea: a national symbol of conviviality
150 year of Histor
It might seem as if the Moroccan mint tea, as it is known today, has been that way since the beginning of time. Seeing how ancred it is into the everyday lives and big occasions. However, it is not before the 19th century that it was introduced in Morocco.
The Crimean war (1853-1856) had forced the British merchants, who could no longer sell their merchandise, to the baltic states to look for new markets to explore. That is how the green tea from China was made widely available to all maghreb countries, mainly through the port of Tanger and Mogador where the ships with the precious merchandise docked.
At that time, Moroccans were familiar with mint and absinthe infusions known for their healing and digestive properties. The green tea was well received by the population who appreciated how, when added to these infusions, the green tea would lower the bitterness without altering its taste or color.
Very quickly the green tea was largely adopted by all and expanded all over the maghreb region and to west African countries through nomadic tribes.
Each time taking a slight variation, so it tastes differently depending on where you would drink it. Each household will hold their own traditional recipe, adding other herbs or spices such as sage or cinnamon.
Ever since, the tea has become omnipresent in Morocco, which is one of the world’s largest importers of tea. Indeed, there is no tea culture in Morocco!
Step by step, a full ritual, folklore as well as arts and crafts grew around this new drinking habits making it the national drink as it is known today.
A way of life
The Moroccan mint tea is more than a hot drink, it is the symbol of the country’s culture of hospitality, as well as Moroccan households’ daily ritual.
A welcoming gift to guests, it is served following a ceremonial form. While women are in charge of the food, the tea ceremony is usually performed by the head male of the family, or sometimes by the eldest son. Occasionally, as a way to honour the guest, he might be the one preparing it.
The preparation always takes place in front of the guest. A practice from olding days to ensure no poison had been added when it was prepared amongst tribes’ chiefs.
There is no wrong time to serve the Moroccan mint tea. It is served at all times of the day: At breakfast as the main drink, after the meals at lunches and dinner, in the middle of the day when the family gathers or when a guest is visiting. The tea is consumed as part of the social activity. A Touareg proverb says:”Three conditions are needed to make the tea: Time, Embers and Friends”
The main ingredients for a morroccan mint tea are:
- The gunpowder green tea. A chinese green tea which owes its name to the form of its leaves rolled into small round pellets, making them to resemble grains of gunpowder. It is appreciated for its thirst quenching qualities and freshness
- Boiled water
- Nana mint leaves: A variety of spearmint preferred by the Moroccans. These leaves are clear, pungent,and have a mild aroma.
Typical Moroccan teaware
The tea ceremonial calls its own accessories. Typically a traditional teapot, small decorated glasses, and a metal tray
The Moroccan teapot is made of gilded or silver copper chiseled, hammered or engraved with an oriental decoration and worked by hand with finesse by Moroccan craftsmen.
It has a unique recognizable shape. Its cover is conical and it is perched on four small feet.
The authentic Moroccan teapot is made either in Marrakech or in Fez.
- Tea glasses
Moroccan mint tea is traditionally served in small colored glasses decorated with flowers, and oriental designs such as gilded or silvered palace doors to match the teapot.
- The tray
Like the teapot, the tea tray is made of gilded or silver-plated copper, hammered with an oriental decor by Moroccan craftsmen.
It is usually matched to the color of the teapot.
It is either placed on the table, or on foldable legs (scissor style) in carved wood and decorated with oriental decorations, thus forming a small coffee table.
The person preparing the tea adds a large tablespoon of green tea in the teapot, and rinses it with boiling water to remove the bitterness. Spearmint leaves and sugar are then added to the teapot and boiling water is added all the way up.
The mixture is then left to infuse, before the person tastes it. Mint tea and leaves can be added as per needed.
To mix the tea, the person does not use a teaspoon. Tea is poured into a glass and then poured back in the teapot, and this is repeated several times to mix the tea. Each time, the person preparing the tea will taste it and adjust with sugar or spearmint leaves as needed, the person also checks the infusing time, to not let the tea to infuse for too long or the tea would turn out bitter
Once the tea taste is satisfying, the person then lifts the teapot high to oxygenate the tea and create a foam. With boiled water, the tea loses its oxygen. Pouring the drink from high allows for it to oxygenate for a better digestion and it reinforces the taste of the tea.
The foam is also a good omen of chance and prosperity, and a way to honour the guest.
The tea is then poured into small decorated glasses. It is served and drunk very hot.
The tea is served three times from the same teapot. Each one sweeter than the last.
A proverb describes the three servings:
The first tea is “bitter like life”
The second a little sweeter, “soft like love”
The last,is syrupy, “sweet like death”
The Moroccan mint tea is usually sweeter than other type of preparation from other countries. It also tends to be sweeter in the North than in the South where it can be more bitter
For the Chibah tea, the recipe is identical and the Nana spearmint leafs are replaced by absinthe leaves. Sometimes both are also mixed together. Moroccan Mint tea is also sometimes perfumed with herbs, flower or orange blossom water. In the cold season, they add many warming herbs like pennyroyal mint and wormwood
Moroccan mint tea is usually served with traditional pastries such as Kaab el Ghazal (gazelle horns) a pastry made of cinnamon flavored almond filling wrapped by a thin pastry shell generously flavored with orange blossom water
Recipe to make the Moroccoan mint tea for 6 guests:
- 10g of green tea
- Fresh spearmint leaves
- Sugar as per your preference
Put 2 teaspoon (10g) of green tea in the teapot.
To rinse it, pour in half a tea cup of boiled water, turn the teapot slowly and throw away the water.
Add the mint leaves to fill in ¾ of the teapot
Add the sugar and the boiled water
Let it sit for 2/3mn, and then it is ready.
Pour into tea glasses moving your arm up and down to oxygenate the beverage and liberate its taste
Tips: Do not reheat the tea, it changes it taste and quality