Why do Moroccans drink Mint Tea?
Ask any Moroccan and they’ll tell you that drinking mint tea is a national occupation! It is not only served at set times but enjoyed throughout the day and is the foundation of Moroccan hospitality.
The Moroccan Mint Tea or Thé Marocain (also Thé Maroc) differs from the regular mint tea found in the West in that the mint leaves are steeped alongside green tea. This is no ordinary green tea but specifically a type of green tea called gunpowder tea.
Gunpowder Tea (image below) is produced in south east China, in a province called Zheijiang and dates back to the Tang Dynasty which was in power from the 7th to the 10th century. It is believed that the English name gunpowder tea comes from the fact that the tightly rolled tea leaves resemble gunpowder pellets, as you can see from the image below. The tea itself is a bright golden colour with just a hint of smokiness with a clean aftertaste.
A few theories abound as to how and when gunpowder tea got to Morocco but the most popular of these seems to point towards the Crimean War. Apparently, sometime in the 1850s, a British merchant who was unable to sell his stock as usual to the Baltic States, stopped off at the Mediterranean and discovered a whole new world of customers in the Maghreb, hence the Moroccan Mint Tea also being known as Maghrebi Tea.
What is the area of Maghreb?
Maghreb, in the modern world, is the area in North West Africa that runs from Mauritania and includes Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. All these countries share this mint tea drinking culture, with variations of course in the serving and presentation.
The Moroccan Mint Tea is also flavoured with other herbs from time to time. One of the most common herb we got was Sheba or tree wormwood, which gives it a bit of a bitter taste that I’m not a fan of at all. Then you have saffron, pennyroyal, za’atar, the list does go on somewhat. But I love the plain old gunpowder tea and mint leaves combination!
Moroccan Mint Tea
Is very sweet, for one thing, sweet tea, is in fact, a way of life in North Africa as well as many parts of the Middle East. But of course, the amount of sugar is very easy to adjust to one’s taste. In Morocco, serving mint tea is part of the Moroccan hospitality and there is a ritual to how the tea is made and served, with rinsing the teapot as well as the green tea leaves to remove any bitterness.
The host would serve their guests 3 cups of tea from the same pot that’s refilled with hot water, with the guest adding sugar and quite frequently, fresh mint leaves to the tea cup as required. An old proverb says,
The first glass is gentle as life; the second glass is as strong as love; the third glass is as bitter as death.
We were fortunate enough to have made some lovely friends in our time in Morocco, one of our neighbours had a daughter who was doing double English at University, they were lovely to talk to and drink tea with! The picture below shows you the entrance to one of our neighbours’ homes. Pretty, isn’t it?
Needless to say, the Maghrebi or Moroccan mint tea is not reserved for the home alone. There are hundreds of tea houses found everywhere in Morocco and men while away their time, chatting and drinking much like they do in pubs in the West. We enjoyed a whole lot of mint tea in our month in Morocco, even the kids absolutely loved it; we’d pop down to the various cafes dotted along the streets for some Moroccan mint tea, some Ghriba (Moroccan cookies), some Lben (yoghurt drink/buttermilk) and some baklava.
How to make Moroccan Mint Tea?
Moroccan Mint Tea is brewed in traditional round bodied metal teapots called bred and served in pretty little teacups know as keesan. Little glasses should be easy enough to find wherever you are, even if they’re not coloured but you can always serve your mint tea in little espresso or lungho cups. Don’t worry about the teapot, of course it’ll enrich the whole experience and presentation but whatever teapot you have will suffice.
Moroccan Mint Tea Recipe
So here we are then, the recipe for Moroccan mint tea as we were served during our time in Morocco. Some people will extract a first quick brew from the green tea and set that aside before rinsing the tea leaves proper, then only will the actual steeping commence.
This first quick extract is called the “soul” of the tea and will be poured back into the teapot. I dispense with this step unless my kids are there with me and insist on this romantic first step!
The amount of green tea I give here will give you the perfect brew that has the green tea and mint tea complimenting each other, anymore and you’ll end up having a stronger gunpowder flavour, but it’s all a matter of taste.
I would definitely recommend going for gunpowder tea as regular green tea just doesn’t have enough of a character. I get mine from the Chinese grocer because it is either unavailable in the regular shops or ridiculously expensive!
Moroccan Mint Tea, Thé Marocain
- 1 heaped Tbsp gunpowder green tea leaves
- 2 large handfuls fresh mint leaves
- 750 ml boiling water
- sugar as needed (nutritional info is based on 2 tsp per person)
- Pour a small amount of the boiling water into the teapot, swirl to warm up the pot and pour out.
- Place the gunpowder tea leaves into the pot and immediately pour about 100ml of water in. This is a rough estimate, about the size of your small Moroccan tea cup.
- Again, swirl the water around to wet the tea leaves, then pour this tea out. This rinsing of the tea leaves is to remove any bitter tastes associated with the extra tannins in the tea.
- Now, place one large handful of mint leaves in the teapot and pour the rest of the water in. Leave it to steep for five minutes.
- Pop a few leaves or a small spring of mint in each empty cup and leave the rest on the tray for your guests to top up with.
- Then pour the mint tea into the tiny little Moroccan teacups. If you are brave enough, start pouring near the rim of the cup, then raise the teapot up and let the tea fall into the cup from a height, creating a slight foam. This aerates the tea even more. Just an optional step!
- Sweeten with sugar as required.