Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Moroccan Tea Culture

Morocco is a country hooked on tea. Drinking tea is a major part of each day. Unlike the British, Moroccans do not have a set time for drinking tea. Literally, they can drink tea all day. Their tea is very flavorful and distinctive. Since this is a unique part of Moroccan culture, I thought I would share about it here.

There are differing views about when and how tea came to Morocco: In in a book I've been reading about Genghis Khan, the author explains that thanks to the effective trading routes guaranteed by Genghis Khan and his descendants which connected China to the West, tea made it to North Africa (hence, Morocco) in the 13th century. Other sources I've read (mostly guide books) trace tea drinking in Morocco to the 18th century and the British tea trade. Regardless of how it started, Morocco is one of the world's largest importers of tea.

The tea they drink in Morocco is not just any tea. It is a special kind of green tea known as "gunpowder" tea. When the green tea leaves are harvested in China, the whole green tea leaves are rolled into tiny balls and dried. Here is what they look like in Morocco before they are steeped in boiling water:
Green tea has powerful antioxidant elements and it is also very high in caffeine, so it definitely gives you an energy boost. Moroccans prepare it with fresh mint and sugar, so a cup of Moroccan tea tastes a lot like Wrigley's spearmint gum. Although many Moroccans have mint in their gardens and mint is cheap and readily available in any marketplace, if they do not have mint on hand or if it is wintertime and mint is scarce, Moroccans will prepare their green tea with either sheeba (leaves of the wormwood tree) or with lemon verbena leaves.

A typical Moroccan tea pot holds about 5 cups (US measurement) of water. Their teapots can be very simple or very ornate, usually made of stainless steel. Here is a picture of a very typical Moroccan teapot called a bred and here is a picture of typical Moroccan tea glasses called keesan. The platter used for serving tea is called the senia and it can be very simple, made of wood or plastic, or very ornate and made of brass or copper. Here is a picture of a beautiful tea tray with tea glasses and a tea pot in the traditional Moroccan style.

Here is the way I have been taught to make Moroccan mint green tea:

Boil about 5 cups of water. Put 2 tablespoons of gunpowder green tea into a Moroccan tea pot. Pour about 1/4 cup of boiling water into the tea pot and swirl the pot around to "rinse" the tea leaves. Pour out the rinse (not to be reused). Put 6 tablespoons of sugar into the pot on top of the rinsed tea leaves. Take a bunch of mint leaves and twist the bunch to release the aroma of mint. Put mint into tea pot. Fill tea pot to just below the brim with boiling water. Place tea pot onto a stove at high heat to bring the mixture to a boil (about 2 minutes). Remove tea pot from the stove once it begins to boil. Pour tea into a Moroccan tea glass then pour the tea from that glass back into the pot to mix the tea (repeat 2 or 3 times until well-mixed). Pour tea into Moroccan tea glass, lifting the pot far away from the glass (at least one foot away) so a foam is created as the tea is poured. Serve with Moroccan cookies or treats.

Moroccan mint green tea is truly a cultural tradition. Here's a bit of a history lesson, as told to me by a Moroccan friend: Morocco is the only country in the Arab world that was not part of the Ottoman empire. The Turks loved coffee, so throughout the Arab world there is a "coffee culture" and tea plays a minor role. You can certainly drink coffee in Morocco, but it is prepared in the French fashion, not in the Turkish fashion with cardamom seeds. Without the Ottoman influence, Morocco held on to its tea culture and this sets it apart from the rest of the Arab world.

If you order tea in a café, they bring you your own steeping pot. I posted this picture of my pot of tea in a café once already, but I am reposting it so you can see it in the context of today's topic. Here is my own little pot of Moroccan mint green tea -- notice the clear tea glass in the top right of the picture, waiting for me to pour my tea:

I got this quote from Wikipedia and I love it, because I can use it in teaching French and sharing Moroccan culture:

Traditionally the tea is served three times, and the amount of time the tea has been steeping gives each of the three glasses of tea a unique flavor, described in this famous proverb:
Le premier verre est aussi amer que la vie,
le deuxième est aussi fort que l'amour,
le troisième est aussi doux que la mort.
The first glass is as bitter as life,
the second glass is as strong as love,
the third glass is as gentle as death.

This video shows how to make Moroccan mint tea with the added flavor of orange blossoms. It also demonstrates that there are many different steps in making Moroccan tea that not every preparer follows.

I also found this interesting video about Moroccan tea culture.

It's been fun blogging...I think I'll go have some mint tea now!


  1. This sounds delicious!

  2. I hope this tea is out-of-this-world delicious for as much work as it is to make it. I also drink gunpowder tea (having lived in China), but we just put the tea in the glass and add the boiling water, then wait till the leaves sink before we drink it.

  3. As A Moroccan, I m geving the Opportunity to our friends Here in Mexican and from USA,to try and learen about the Moroccan tea!!!

  4. thank you so much