Maghrebi mint tea
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Maghrebi-style mint tea is served all through the Maghreb (North Africa). It is served not only at mealtimes but all through the day, and it is especially a drink of hospitality, commonly served whenever there are guests. Unlike Maghreb food, cooked by women, this tea is traditionally a man's affair: prepared by the head of the family. It is served to guests, and it is impolite to refuse it.
It is believed that green tea (gunpowder tea) was first introduced by the English to the Maghreb in the 18th century, and began spreading through the country in the mid-19th century at the time the trade between the Maghreb and Europe started flourishing.
The main provider of tea to the Maghreb remains China.
The method of preparation of atai is relatively complex and varies from region to region. It is normally sweeter in the north of Morocco than in the south, and in some places, pine nuts are added. In the winter, if mint is rare, sometimes leaves of wormwood (chiba or sheeba in dialectal Arabic) are substituted for (or used to complement) the mint, giving the tea a distinctly bitter flavor. Lemon Verbena (louiza in dialectal Arabic) is also used to give it a lemony flavor.
The typical green tea used is a gunpowder tea variety imported from China. A simple and practical method runs as follows:
- In a teapot, combine two teaspoons of tea-leaf with half a litre of boiling water. Allow it to steep for at least fifteen minutes.
- Without stirring, filter the mixture into a different stainless steel pot, so that the tea leaves and coarse powder are removed.
- Add sugar (about one teaspoon per 100 millilitres).
- Bring to boil over a medium heat. This important step in the preparation process allows the sugar to undergo hydrolysis, giving the tea its distinctive taste.
- If desired, add fresh mint leaves to the teapot or directly to the cup. Remember to remove the mint within two minutes, as it can give some people acid reflux.
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 Algerian proverb:
|Le premier verre est aussi doux que la vie,
le deuxième est aussi fort que l'amour,
le troisième est aussi amer que la mort.
|The first glass is as gentle as life,
the second glass is as strong as love,
the third glass is as bitter as death.
- Much of the content of this article comes from the equivalent Arabic-language Wikipedia article, accessed September 30 2006.