Tea in The Desert: Morocco

Tea-drinking is a big deal in most corners of the globe, from the Far East, Russia, India, to the United Kingdom, the Middle East, and North and East Africa, to say the least. Each nation has its own tea customs and rituals, and not everyone drinks the same blend of tea. Morocco is a nation of tea-drinkers (apparently it was the English who introduced tea here in the 19th Century!) and the preparation and serving of tea are not to be taken lightly. You can’t just “put the kettle on”, you need to savour the process and take time over it.

The best way to appreciate tea in Morocco is when it’s prepared over a charcoal brazier or the embers of a campfire. This allows a longer brewing time and also a focal point for the room or group; nothing draws a group of people in more. It also serves as a useful opportunity to catch up on the latest news while the tea is brewing. We show a clip below of Jayar (pictured) preparing tea in the desert.

Moroccans use Chinese gunpowder green tea leaves and either fresh herbs (e.g. absinthe or sage, or a mixture of various alpine or desert herbs), or spices (e.g. saffron) or mint leaves are added, sometimes nothing, along with the vital sugar (broken off from a sugar loaf) and perhaps acacia resin (which gives the tea extra sweetness and froth).

Arriving as a guest at a home, once the greetings are over with, the next stage is the tea preparation and serving. Often when we visit relatives, the lady of the house has prepared the tea. The male guest may be invited to make the tea. Normally three glasses are consumed at each sitting, each glass is served from a newly prepared pot of tea (although the leaves from the first pot will be re-used and added to). The first glass is, of course, the strongest, and the third the weakest (or sweetest).

The person who prepares the tea will hand out the glasses, usually to the men first, you do not help yourself. Once you’ve finished place your glass on the serving tray, if within reach, or pass it across to your neighbour who will return it to the tray for you. The tea preparer will usually rinse out the glasses and clean them before pouring the next glass, or they will arrange the glasses such that they know the owner (if you’re with a smaller, informal group).

Tea is served before a meal, not after a meal as you would take a ‘digestif’. The vital part of the tea-serving process is the pouring technique – this allows the tea to aerate (forming the froth and cooling the liquid) and the sugar/resin/flavour to dissolve. Often, glasses will be poured out about two-three times, and poured back into the pot, before the final glass is served. If yours is still too hot, ask for an empty glass, which you can use to transfer your tea in/out of to cool it down.

Even if you’re not a tea-drinker back home, you can overlook that in Morocco!