Moroccan mint tea
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Moroccan, Algerian or Tunisian mint tea (also mint tea, Tuareg tea, or Maghrebi mint tea), is a green tea prepared with spearmint leaves and sugar, traditional to the Maghreb region (Northwest Africa: Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia). It has since spread throughout North Africa, parts of the Sahel, and throughout the Arab world. It is most closely associated with Morocco, and in Spanish is known simply as "Moroccan tea", té moruno. A similar drink in prepared in southern Spain and France, but is typically served chilled as iced tea in the summer, instead of hot year-round. As a combination of imported ingredients (tea from China and originally imported sugar) and a local ingredient (fresh mint), it is an early example of globalization in cuisine.
Mint tea (in Arabic, شاي بالنعناع, shāy bil n'anā', or more commonly, in dialect, الأتاي, at tay) is central to social life in Maghreb countries. The serving of mint tea can take a ceremonial form, especially when prepared for a guest. Traditionally in the Maghreb, whereas cooking is women's business, the tea is a male affair, especially as a drink of hospitality: the head of family prepares it and serves to the guest, usually, at least three glasses of tea, and it is impolite to refuse it. It is served not only at mealtimes but all through the day, and is also widely consumed socially, with tea bars filling a similar social function to alcoholic drinking establishments in Europe. The beverage has a refreshing aroma, and its consumption produces a sensation of cold in the mouth and respiratory tract.
The cultivar Mentha spicata Nana, the Nana mint of Maghreb, possesses a clear, pungent, but mild aroma and is the traditional ingredient of mint tea, though many other hybrids and cultivars of Mentha named indistinctly Yerba buena are used, and other herbs find occasional use.
Spearmint is an ingredient in several related drinks, such as the mojito and mint julep, and sweet tea, iced and flavored with spearmint, is a summer tradition in the Southern United States. The oldest known recipe for sweet iced tea was published in 1879 in a community cookbook called Housekeeping in Old Virginia by Marion Cabell Tyree, who was born in Texas. The recipe called for green tea since most sweet tea consumed during this period was green tea.
The related Peppermint tea, sometimes called mint tea is an infusion of peppermint, (Mentha piperita) naturally caffeine-free. A tea made from blending peppermint and spearmint leaves is referred to as doublemint tea.
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 region 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.
Preparation takes green tea (usually strong Chinese tea, e.g. gunpowder, chun mee, or zhu cha), fresh mint leaves in large quantity, sugar, and boiling water. Beyond these ingredients, preparation varies widely, particularly in proportions and in brewing times, and is often relatively complex. Note that boiling water is used, unlike in East Asia, where cooler water is used to avoid bitterness, and the pot is left to continue brewing, changing the flavor from one glass to the next.
Tea is poured into glasses from height in order to swirl loose tea leaves to the bottom of the glass, whilst gently aerating the tea to improve its flavour.
In the winter, if mint is rare, sometimes leaves of wormwood (chiba or sheeba in Moroccan dialect) are substituted for (or used to complement) the mint, giving the tea a distinctly bitter flavor. Lemon Verbena (louiza in Moroccan dialect) is also used to give it a lemony flavor. The tea is sometimes sold as a ready-to-cook mixture of tea and dried mint, which is easier to store and to prepare, but with flatter taste.
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 helps the sugar dissolve).
- Fresh mint leaves can be added to the teapot, or directly to the cup.
A more complex method is as follows:
The tea is first put in the teapot and a small quantity of boiling water is added, the tea is left to infuse for a short time (approximately 20–30 seconds), this initial liquid is poured out and kept aside. This is the "spirit" of the tea and will be added back after the tea is washed, in order to restore the "spirit" to the tea (the "spirit" of the tea is essentially a strong, deeply flavoured liquid from the initial infusion, which adds extra flavour to the final infusion). The tea is then "cleaned" by adding a small quantity of boiling water, that is poured out after one minute (this lessens the bitterness of the tea), this process may be repeated more than once. Mint and sugar are added (amounts vary; approximately five teaspoons of sugar for one teaspoon of tea leaves is typical), and water at the boiling point is then poured in the pot, the pot may then be taken to heat and further boiled to increase the flavour of the infusion. After three to five minutes, a glass is served and poured back in the pot two to three times, in order to mix the tea. Tea is then tasted (sugar if needed may be added) until the infusion is fully developed.
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 Maghrebi 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.
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