[ Moroccan Mint Tea ] ~ from Monterey Bay Herb Company

[ Moroccan Mint Tea ] ~ from Monterey Bay Herb Company
Moroccan mint tea, also known as Touareg and Sahrawi mint tea, is a staple in Moroccan households. In fact, it is the national beverage, a symbol of hospitality, and is served with every meal, every day, and while negotiating the price of a rug or pottery at the market or before conducting other business. Because the Koran forbids alcohol, the Muslim population affectionately refers to Moroccan tea as Whiskey Berbère.

For the uninitiated, it is tempting to think it is a simple infusion of green tea and mint leaves in hot water. Not so, not by a long shot. The preparation of Moroccan mint tea is very exacting, and its service significant as a reflection of the host’s opinion of his guests. It is also very sweet and syrupy...to the point that you may wonder if there is any actual tea in it! Fortunately, when in a restaurant in Morocco, you can request that your atay b’naana be served to you bla bzucar bzaf, or with less sugar.

[ Moroccan Mint Tea - Migration to Maghreb ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

migration to maghreb

Maghreb is Arabic for "west," or, more poetically, "where the sun sets." Geographically speaking, the term refers to a portion of northern Africa that borders the Mediterranean Sea and includes the countries of Morocco, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and Mauritania. Although dominated by Arabs since the 8th century, the region embodies a blend of African and Arabic cultures today, while collectively sharing a common history in European colonialism. Most people in the Maghreb consider themselves Arab, but Berbers, descendants of refugee Moors that settled in North Africa in the 10th century, also reside in pockets throughout the region, as well as in Egypt and Niger.

The Maghreb also enjoys a long-standing history of trade with southern Europe and western Asia that reputedly began with the Phoenician colony of Carthage, which dates to the first millennium B.C. in what is now Tunisia. This, coupled with colonization by Spain, Italy and France, has not only resulted in a merge of various cultural traditions in the region, but a shared culinary ethos as well. Tea was first introduced by the English in the 18th century, and Morocco remains the largest importer of green tea from China today.

[ Moroccan Mint Tea - Meanwhile in Morocco ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

meanwhile in morocco

If you were to visit Morocco today, the first thing that would be apparent is the marriage of ancient and modern in terms of architecture. In the medinas, or rustic old towns, you might be fortunate enough to score accommodations in a traditional dar, a townhouse with an interior courtyard at its center. Should the courtyard also contain a garden and fountain, the house is called a riad, many of which have been converted into cafes and restaurants. Aside from usually being enveloped by high stone walls and flowers and herbs growing in vibrantly colored clay pots, another interesting feature of the medina is a communal bread oven.

The rich culture and history of Morocco is readily apparent at first bite upon sampling its cuisine. Fresh goat cheese, fried eggs with cumin, khlea (beef jerky seasoned with garlic, coriander and cumin) and thick slabs of khobz (bread) paired with jam and butter is typical fare for your first breakfast. While strong, black coffee is available, be assured that mint tea will be served without asking for it. Your second breakfast comes at mid-morning, much like the “elevenses” tea break is taken in England. The daily meal count in Morocco numbers five, each a highly social event that includes mint tea and coincides with the five daily calls to prayer. In fact, in rural Moroccan towns, few people have clocks in their homes and schedule their daily activities by meal and prayer times instead.

[ Moroccan Mint Tea - What's In It? ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

what's in it?

the tea
The Touareg people, indigenous members of the Berber family, enjoy a type of mint tea known as ashahi (also atai). Like other versions of Arabic mint tea, it is most often prepared with “pearl” tea, a Chinese green tea also known as "gunpowder" because each leaf is rolled into a round that resembles gunpowder pellets. An alternative to gunpowder tea is another Chinese green tea called “chun mee,” which means “precious eyebrows.” Both teas produce a golden-green color, but the latter has a slight plum-like undertone.

the mint
A generous amount of fresh mint, which is in abundance in every marketplace, is required, the preferred variety being “nana” (Mentha spicata), a cultivar of spearmint. When availability is scarce, other Mentha cultivars are substituted, as well as louiza (lemon verbena), chiba (tree wormwood), or yerba bueno.

the sugar
The amount of sugar to use is a matter of personal taste, but authentic Moroccan tea is quite sweet. In fact, in Morocco, sugar comes to the table in the form of blocks or cones, not in a small cup with a teaspoon.

For the rest of us, castor, also known as baker’s sugar, is the sweetness of choice. Mind you, this is not the same as confectionery sugar, or powdered sugar (10X Superfine) but is granulated sugar that is milled until nearly powdered. In stores, it is sometimes labeled as superfine sugar.

[ Moroccan Mint Tea - The Ritual ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

the ritual

In Arabic society, women are traditionally in charge of family, home and hearth, but preparing and serving tea is man’s work. The preparation and service is considered a ceremonial act, much like tea drinking is in Japan. The preparation is very specific and the pouring of the tea is meaningful in that the height from which it is “streamed” into a waiting glass below is a measurement of respect for the person served. To illustrate, mint tea for the royal family of Morocco is served by specially appointed members of the court while standing on ladders. Affluent families and some shop keepers also employ a moul atai, a man whose duty it is to prepare and serve mint tea.

Be aware that it is considered rude to refuse mint tea at all, or even less than three glasses, in a Moroccan household or place of business. In fact, in case of the latter, it is expected that tea should be enjoyed before discussing anything of a business nature. Each serving yields a flavor and character unique from the last, as a well-known Moroccan proverb tells us:

“The first glass is as gentle as life,
the second is as strong as love,
the third is as bitter as death.”

[ Moroccan Mint Tea - Making Moroccan Mint Tea ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

making moroccan mint tea

feel like honoring history?
The tea is traditionally prepared using two teapots. After steeping in one, the golden liquid is combined with mint leaves and sugar by pouring at least three times back and forth between both tea pots to aerate the tea and help the sugar melt. It is then served by pouring from a height of 6-12 inches into small heat-resistant glasses, which produces a froth at the top. With a sugar-to-tea ratio of 5:1, or 5 teaspoons sugar per 1 teaspoon tea, the final product is quite syrupy and sweet, and is sipped slowly, as it meant to be savored.

feel like breaking with convention?
Let it be known that mint tea composed of anything beyond green tea, mint, and sugar is certain to raise eyebrows in Morocco.

That being said, and should you still prefer to spice it up a bit in the privacy of your own kitchen without risking insult to Moroccan society at large, you can enhance your sweet tea experience by brewing a quality green tea (gunpowder, sencha, etc.), peppermint, and a variety of spices such as fennel seed, licorice, clove, cardamom, ginger, and perhaps black pepper. Don’t worry…it’ll be our dirty little secret.

Besides, in some Berber communities, it’s not uncommon to find sage, thyme, lemongrass, or other herbs and even dried flowers or berries added to mint tea.

[ Moroccan Mint Tea - The Simple Fix for Six ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

the simple fix for six

a moroccan mint tea recipe
4 cups water
3 teaspoons loose gunpowder tea
8-10 sprigs fresh mint
3 tablespoons sugar

1. Boil the water. Pour a little of the water into a tea pot and swirl it around. This warms the pot.

2. Add the green tea, mint, and sugar to the tea pot and cover with the rest of the boiled water. (If also using dried flowers, spices or other herbs, add now.)

3. Let the brew steep for 3 minutes. Strain; reserving and returning the liquid back to the tea pot.

4. Pour from overhead into tea glasses (or cups). If there isn’t a bit of foam at the top of each glass, pour the tea back into the pot and pour again, this time from a bit higher distance. Serve with additional springs of mint, if you wish.

no time for tradition?
Try our loose leaf Moroccan Mint Tea which is a premixed version of this classic. We’ve combined gunpowder green tea with dried peppermint so you can recapture the flavors of old without taking too much time out of your day.

moroccan mint tea recipe ideas