A ritual of hospitality, friendship and tradition, mint tea is a lifestyle and social staple across the Maghreb region of Islamic Africa. Particularly important in Morocco, this flavored tea serves almost a ceremonial purpose and is usually enjoyed with a hefty dose of sugar. Whether you are welcoming friends into your home, arriving at a carpet boutique or having a roadside picnic, the preparation, serving and drinking of mint tea is a refreshment, ritual and art form - a prerequisite for almost any social interaction.
Poured out of the teapot from high above the receiving glasses, mint tea requires an artistic sense for fine preparation. Moroccans take great pride in their tea, and while cooking is usually a woman’s task in this area of the world, men often step up to make the tea – each claiming that his creation is the most superior. Mint tea preparation varies from region to region; it is sweeter in the north of Morocco than in the south and in differing parts of the country, you may find that wormwood leaves, pine nuts or lemon verbena are added to the drink.
Hot tea is served all day long, after every meal and with each conversation. Minty and refreshing, the tea produces a cool sensation in the mouth and respiratory tract, a welcoming chill in the toasty desert lands. Imbibed by desert dwellers because it quenches thirst better than cold water, Moroccan mint tea is actually a blend of dried mint leaves and Chinese gunpowder green tea. While Nana mint leaves are used in Morocco, spearmint leaves will work just as well, although you want to avoid peppermint leaves as they impart a different flavor.
Also called Touareg tea after the nomadic people of the Sahara Desert, Moroccan mint tea can be purchased pre-mixed in dried combination of mint and green tea leaves, or you can just mix the two yourself. Use half mint and half green tea for best results.
How to Make Moroccan Mint Tea
1. In a teapot, combine two teaspoons of tealeaf with half a liter of boiling water. Let it steep for at least 15 minutes.
2. Without stirring, filter the mixture into a different stainless steel pot to remove the leaves and course powder.
3. Add sugar if you prefer sweet tea. Moroccan tea is usually very sweet, with approximately one teaspoon of sugar per 3 ounces of tea.
4. Bring to a boil over medium heat. This important step allows the sugar to undergo hydrolysis, a process that gives the tea its distinct taste.
5. If desired, add fresh mint leaves to the teapot or directly to the cup. Remove the fresh mint within two minutes, otherwise it might give some people acid reflux.
6. Traditionally, the tea is served in small glass vessels three times; the flavor evolves from gentle to strong to bitter as the ritual unfolds. Pour the tea into the glasses while holding the teapot high. This creates foam on top of the glass, aerates the liquid and enhances its flavors, while showing off your skills as a tea master. Enjoy.
Image: Jon Juan