Doug Hastie of (Chanui fame) was in Morocco last January so insisted that we have a look at their tea customs in this week’s blog.
In Doug’s words:
Yeah, we went to this lovely Airbnb in Casablanca and the lady showing us around the apartment made us tea. We all sat around a table as she heated the water, steeped the tea and mint then frothed the tea up by pouring it back and forth into the cup a few times.
It was great! She did everything with so much care and attention and the tea was nice. Extremely sweet.
Go get your teapot of happiness and let’s steep ourselves in the aromatic brews of Morocco.
Mint, sugar, green tea
Maghrebi mint tea is traditionally served as a blend of gunpowder green tea, sugar, and mint leaves.
It’s enjoyed like this throughout the Western Arabic world but is widely believed to have started in Morocco before being introduced to Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and the nomadic tribes of the Sahara.
Morocco’s relationship with tea is closely linked to its colonial history - a recurring theme throughout this series of blogs.
We’ll touch on it briefly but if you’re interested in learning more, this dissertation on Morocco and it’s tea is an excellent place to learn how the interplay between war, commerce, local produce and ancient customs coalesce into the Maghrebi mint tea tradition.
Sweetening the Pot: A History of Tea and Sugar in Morocco, 1850-1960 by Graham Hough Cornwell
British traders brought tea to Morocco in the mid 1800s when finding alternative markets due to the disruption caused by the Crimean War.
Moroccan people have a long history of making herbal infusions and took to the practice of tea drinking quickly and enthusiastically. Caffeine has a habit of taking hold!
Gunpowder tea - a green tea so called because tightly rolled tea leaves resembled pelleted gunpowder for cannons - is preferred for its robust flavour and bitterness which can stand up to blending with other flavours.
The leaves of the native spearmint ‘naʿnāʿ’ are typically used when making tea. It’s considered the best variety of mint to use but other varieties like flio (peppermint) is often used.
In the colder months, mint is sometimes replaced with shiba (wormwood) and no one would look at your funny for adding oregano, chamomile or basil. This variation can happen throughout the course of a day with people enjoying more savoury warming herbs in the morning and the more cooling mint as the day warms up.
As you might expect from a culture consuming an unfathomable amount of mint, Moroccans consider mint to have its own ‘terroir’ with the mint growing around the city of Meknes known for having the purest and sweetest flavour.
During World War 1 the French requisitioning authorities started paying high prices for soft wheat, incentivising local farmers to sell their produce in colonial markets where they could make more money. This made it difficult for most people to get hold of food staples like wheat as prices went up and the wealthy started hoarding resources.
Meanwhile, refined sugar imports from French manufacturers continued relatively uninterrupted, making it a more affordable commodity for local people.
The sugar provided some relief in terms of calories lost due to bad harvests or export demands and, goes some way to explain the prevalence of drinking very sweet tea.
Sugar and tea came to symbolise the rapid economic, social, and political changes experienced by Morocco during the war.
Among urban populations, partaking in the tea ceremony became a symbol of status and savoir faire, while among rural farmers it was a way to emulate the urban class they both envied and resented.
Graham Hough Cornwell
Moroccan tea is traditionally prepared using an ornate silver or steel teapot called a berrad. This loosely translates into "teapot of happiness” which is just lovely.
It involves multiple washing and extraction steps before adding a lot of mint and sugar. It’s then taken back up to the boil before pouring multiple times to dissolve the sugar (don’t use a spoon for goodness sake), aerate the drink and to cool the tea down to drinking temp.
This video is the best one we found in researching this post.
Probably the most interesting nugget of Moroccan whiskey culture is the height from which the tea is poured. The higher the pour, the higher esteem your host holds you in. There are some pretty impressive examples of this on YouTube if you’re in the mood.
Don’t turn it down
Accepting at least one round of tea is considered polite, and refusing tea can be seen as impolite unless there is a valid reason.
This deeply engrained tradition of hospitality may or may not have been weaponised by savvy salespeople at Jemaa el-Fna Square in Marrakech!
If you think this might be the case, make sure you show appreciation of the gesture of hospitality while turning them down politely.
Is customary to serve three rounds of tea, each with its own significance:
The first glass is as gentle as life,
the second is as strong as love,
the third is as bitter as death
Served in glasses
Even if you go for tea on your own, it’s likely that you’ll be given two glasses as a sign of Moroccan hospitality and more proof that tea is something to be shared. A lovely little nod to the universal language of tea.
Moroccan tea is a delicious break from what many of us are used to when it comes to enjoying tea. The bitterness of gunpowder green pairs so well with the amount of sugar added. Not unlike Japanese green tea flavoured Wagashi.
The flavour of mint is also greatly enhanced in the presence of sugar and the whole thing comes together for something more substantial than your regular cup of tea.
We’re off to give this a try with our Organic green and see if it lives up to the standards set by Doug’s holiday host.
Until next time.