Maghrebi mint tea
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Maghrebi mint tea (Berber: ⴰⵜⴰⵢ Atay; Arabic: أتاي Atāy), also known as Moroccan, Tuareg, Algerian, Tunisian, or Libyan mint tea, is a green tea prepared with spearmint leaves and sugar, traditional to the Greater Maghreb region (the Northwest African countries of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Mauritania). 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 Spain and southern 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 the Maghreb. The serving of the tea can take a ceremonial form, especially when prepared for a guest. The tea is traditionally made by the head male in the family, and offered to guests as a sign of hospitality. Typically, at least three glasses of tea are served, and it is considered impolite to refuse it.
The tea is consumed throughout the day as a social activity, with tea bars filling a similar social function to alcoholic drinking establishments in Europe and North America.
The cultivar spearmint (Mentha spicata) Nana, possesses a clear, pungent, but mild aroma, and is the mint that is traditionally used in Maghrebi mint tea. Other hybrids and cultivars of Mentha, including Yerba buena, are occasionally used as substitutes for Nana mint.
Maghrebi mint tea was introduced to Morocco in the 1850s during the Crimean War when a British merchant, unable to sell his wares of gunpowder tea in the Baltic region, stumbled upon Morocco as an alternate destination.
The main supplier of tea to the Maghreb remains the China.
Ingredients include green tea (usually a strong Chinese tea, e.g. gunpowder, chun mee, or zhu cha), fresh mint leaves in large quantity, sugar, and boiling water. The proportions of the ingredients and the brewing time can vary widely. Boiling water is used in the Maghreb, rather than the cooler water that is used in East Asia to avoid bitterness. The leaves are left in the pot while the tea is being consumed, changing the flavor from one glass to the next.
The 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 lemon 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 diminished flavour.
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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