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The Moroccan Tea Drinking Culture

The culture of tea drinking varies from country to country, each of them unique and historical in their own respect. Most of these tea traditions mainly begin with the tea being first used as a medicinal beverage and then gradually being accepted as a social drink. In countries like China and Japan, green tea is holds prominence over all other, while in India, masala chai or spiced tea is the one that is generally served to guests.

In Morocco, brewing and drinking tea is a much-loved tradition that signifies hospitality and friendship, and is carried out with great care. Using green tea as a base, with mint leaves and sugar, Moroccan mint tea is served throughout the day and particularly at mealtimes. While food preparation is the domain of women, the tea is often prepared by the male head of the family and is considered to be an art passed down through generations.

The preparation of tea, a process referred to as atai, is part of the tradition and is often done in front of the guests. The ingredients may vary slightly in different regions, and as the seasons change, but the principle of warm hospitality remains unchanged. The tea is served in small glasses, and is only considered to be drinkable if it has foam on top. The pouring of the tea from a teapot with a long curved spout is done from a height of at least twelve inches, causing foam to form on the surface of the tea. If there is no foam, the tea is not ready to be served and needs to steep a bit longer, so the tea in the glass is poured back into the pot. In some areas, the method of pouring and returning the tea to the pot is used to mix the ingredients and is part of the ritual. Getting the tea into the glass from that height is a matter of practice and the sign of an experienced host or hostess.

The tea ingredients generally include Chinese green tea, typically a variety called "gunpowder tea" from the Zhejiang Province of China, mint leaves (that generally consist of a mix of peppermint and spearmint) and sugar. In some places pine nuts may be added to the mixture. In the winter months, mint may be substituted with bitter chiba (wormwood) leaves, or with louiza (lemon verbena) giving in a distinctive lemon flavour. Interestingly, Morocco is considered to be one of the largest importers of Chinese green tea in the world.

To brew a pot of tea you would add two teaspoons of green tea to about a half litre of boiling water and allow it to steep for fifteen minutes or more. This mixture is then filtered into the teapot and sugar is added to taste, with the mint being added just before serving. Alternatively the host may put mint leaves into individual glasses and pour the tea over it, releasing the flavour and aroma that is distinctively Moroccan.

By Rickey Jones

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