How many glasses of mint tea will you need before you become tea-drunk?
After being in Morocco for a few weeks, even I become a little cranky if I haven’t been offered a glass of tea within milliseconds of arriving….anywhere! There is something soothing, relaxing, calming about being offered the chance to sit and wait for your tea, then drink it leisurely while filling out paperwork or ordering dinner.
I believe, the Moroccan tea-drinking culture may actually have been developed once people needed to navigate a medina (within the walls of the old town), since it can be a bit frustrating. Between trying to find my destination and fending off unofficial guides, I have to admit that every time I arrived, I breathed a huge sigh of relief and looked forward to a cuppa.
Mint tea is more than a drink, more than a tradition, more than a ceremony. It is a conversation. When someone offers you a glass of tea, it is an invitation to get to know each other, to settle in and enjoy your host’s company. It is bad form to offer tea or accept tea without expecting to spend some time conversing. Therefore, the making and serving of the tea is just as important as the consumption.
Visiting a Berber family south of Marrakesh, I learned how to make mint tea the Moroccan way.
Ingredients: hot water, mint, tea, sugar…lots of sugar!
First you put in the tea. With a normal pot, you put one handful and a little extra. Cover it completely with boiling water, and shake, shake, shake. At this point, you pour out all the water and completely discard. This is cleaning the tea, and the dirty water is called “chilil” or “chilila”.
Next, you put a big handful of mint, and a liberal amount of sugar in the pot, before filling the teapot with hot water. This you let sit and seep for a few minutes, shake, and pour it into one glass, but immediately pour it back into the teapot. You repeat this step three times, so that the sugar, mint, and tea can fully mix.
The next step is for you to determine if the mint tea has a good taste. Pour a small amount into your own glass and sample. Does it have enough mint? Enough sugar? This is your opportunity to make sure the taste is perfect. If you have to adjust it, put in the desired ingredients and repeat the pour in and pour out method three more times before serving the delectable tea to your guests.
The tasting step must not be skipped, because according to my teacher, Khailil, “It is shameful if your guest has to add sugar to their tea after it is served”, since it will not be fully integrated with no gritty pieces floating in the mix.
Serving the tea also takes a little practice. A talented server can hold the teapot up to a couple of feet above the glass, so that you can see the golden brown color and enjoy the look of your tea as well. By serving from a height, the splashing tea froths and foams. A perfect glass of tea will have at least a half inch of froth on the top. When poured, garnish with a few more mint leaves.
You will notice that at most tea houses or restaurants, the mint leaves are in the glass. If you watch your neighbors, you’ll notice that they will take the mint out of the glass and put it on a plate. As you can see below, Aicha’s food stall serves many glasses of tea each night, so they have put the tea and sugar in the glass and will only add the hot tea. To my foreign taste buds, it was still delicious, but I’m not sure what Kahlil would think about this assembly line method.
Now you are ready to try and make some Moroccan mint tea!
Have you had mint tea from Morocco? Will you try and make it yourself?