A Cup of Mint Tea
Ever since I was a child, I have loved tea - black tea, green tea, herbal tea, tea with milk. And one of the sweetest, most delicious teas has to be Moroccan mint tea. In the coming Scheherezade Tea Box, I've included a small portion of Moroccan Mint Tea to try, and no, it's not traditional, but if you're short on time the taste comes as close as anything I've tried. Here, I'll tell you a little bit about Moroccan mint tea, tell you the traditional method for brewing, and then you can decide if you prefer the easy way or the traditional way.
Traditional Moroccan mint tea uses gunpowder green tea (don't worry - the only explosive in there is the flavour!), an entire bunch of mint, some orange blossom water if you're in the mood, and lots and lots of sugar. Can you make Moroccan mint tea without sugar? Well, sort of. When I was studying Arabic in Morocco a few years back, they would make mint tea every day at break time, including one pot of sugarless tea for some American students. However, I never saw any Moroccan person drink their mint tea without sugar (not to say it never happens, but I just never saw it), and honestly with the way it's brewed it's quite bitter without it (you'll see why in the instructions).
The history of tea in Morocco is unclear - for centuries, tea was enjoyed only in China and pockets of East Asia, so coffee likely arrived in Morocco much earlier. In the 14th century, a wily traveller named Ibn Battuta travelled all the way from Tangier in Northern Morocco all the way to China, stopping in countless places along the way, meeting new people, trying new foods, and learning new things. He likely would have tried tea when he was visiting China, and I'd like to believe that he brought some back with him to Tangier and started the mint tea tradition from there - however, there's absolutely no evidence for that. Given that Moroccans generally drink Gunpowder green tea, it is more likely that it was brought to Morocco by European merchants in later centuries.
Gunpowder tea is so named not for having gunpowder in it, but likely for what it was packed with. This tea was shipped across great distances from China to Europe, packed alongside other common exports - such as gunpowder. At the beginning of British colonisation, there was no tea production in India and thus all tea had to be shipped from China. Tea was so expensive in Britain that the few who could afford it would keep their tea in a locked box out of fear that their servants would steal a few leaves. But even if tea is a little cheaper now, I'd argue that this delicious brew is still a jewel to be cherished.
When I was in Morocco I had the joy of staying in the home of a local family in Rabat. Whenever they had guests stop by the house, it was inevitable that tea and sweets would be served to show their hospitality. They'd pour each cup in front of their guests, often making a show of pulling the pot extremely high and back down again to aerate the tea and add pleasant little bubbles to the top. And so, my Moroccan "mom" taught me how to make mint tea the traditional way, and here I'll list the steps for you.
Pour a small amount of water onto the tea leaves in a big pot, let it steep for a few seconds, and pour it out.
Fill the pot again with water and let steep a few more seconds.
Pour the tea into a cup, then back into the pot, then into the cup, then into the pot, multiple times to aerate the tea and concentrate the flavour. The tea will be very strong, so if you don't add sugar the taste may be a little unpleasant.
Add in an entire bunch of mint leaves and a generous portion of sugar (in Morocco they break off sugar from a large cone similar to sugar cubes, but regular sugar is fine, or even honey).
Add orange blossom water if desired (I never actually saw anyone do this in Morocco, but I like the flavour).
Let steep about 5 minutes.
Pour into a cup from a height, increasing the bubbles even more.
There are definitely regional differences with Moroccan tea. In Fez the tea is a little more bitter, and in the South, particularly in the Sahara, tea is brewed with lots of spices in a way that is completely different from the North. But whichever way you brew it, tea is best had with friends, and even in a pandemic where we are far from one another, it is sure to warm your heart.
I'd love to hear your experiences with Moroccan tea! Let me know in the comments if you've tried it before, how you liked it, or if you're from North Africa, perhaps you have your own family method of brewing it.