All over the world, tea is a celebrated drink that forms part of daily life and social rituals. And although people across the world drink their tea differently, the simple pleasure of drinking tea unites us all. Whether it is white, green, black or herbal, tea is believed to relax the mind, offer consolation, improve mental clarity and cure all kinds of afflictions. The tea drinking ritual itself strengthens friendships, connects family members and shows hospitality to strangers. Let’s take a closer look at some of the tea rituals and customs on the African continent, where type of tea and style of serving varies from region to region.
Welcoming guests in Morocco is not done properly without a glass of hot Maghrebi mint tea, also known as Touareg. Traditionally, the tea is prepared by the eldest male in the household from green tea leaves, lots of dried or fresh mint and heaps of sugar. It is poured into tall glasses from a standing position in an elegant gesture, to allow the tea to air and release its aroma throughout the room. Each guest is served three cups and each time the flavor varies, as they say: “The first glass is as gentle as life, the second is as strong as love, the third is as bitter as death.” Refusing any one of these servings is considered bad manners.
Rooibos tea (or red bush tea) is a popular herbal tea native to South Africa. The plant is found in the Western Cape region. Dutch settlers are said to have turned to the drink as an alternative to expensive imported black tea from Europe. Rooibos makes a bright red tea, typically served on its own without sugar or milk. The tea has a naturally mild and sweet flavor and can be consumed all day but especially before bed time as it has no caffeine. Many health benefits are attributed to rooibos, and the tea is consumed to combat headaches, insomnia and allergies.
Egyptians love their tea, or shaias they call it. Traditionally, they drink tea with guests and after lunch and in the afternoon, the tea is accompanied with sweets, such as baklava, basbousa, or konafa. Koshary tea is black tea steeped in boiled water and flavored with sugar, milk and mint leaves. Saiidi tea is a long boiled and bitter black tea sweetened with copious amounts of sugar. Herbal teas and tisanes are also popular and are often consumed for health benefits. The bright red sweet-sour Karkadeh is made of dried hibiscus flowers and can be drunk hot or cold. It is considered good for the heart and often served at Egyptian weddings.
Tea culture in Senegal is defined by a ritual called attaya which is an important part of daily social life. Because the preparation of the tea takes up a long time – between one and three hours – there is plenty of time for conversation and the ceremony connects friends, family and guests.
The attaya ceremony consists of three stages. Green tea is boiled strong and bitter in a kettle over a charcoal stove. It is then poured from standing height into tall glasses called kas. The tea is then poured slowly from one glass to another until a thick foam is formed on top. This is a strong and bitter tea. In the next stages fresh mint is added and more and more sugar as you go so you end up with a thick and very sweet cup. The custom is to slurp when drinking, to avoid burning the tongue.
In Kenya, tea is served practically throughout the day, for breakfast, at mealtimes and also during Kenya’s teatime. It is also served showing hospitality to guests. Kenyan teatime embraces different cultural influences, from the British tradition of afternoon tea at 4pm, with finger food to the Indian way of preparing tea with masala spices. Most Kenyans drink black tea milk and sugar, which they call chai though there are some who prefer it just black. To make chai, bring the milk to a boil on the stove, add the black tea leaves and, if you like, the masala spices. Stir the mixture until frothy and pour through a strainer into a cup. Then add sugar. Kenyans like to drink their tea very hot!
This article appeared in Inzozi Magazine, Summer 2018 issue under the title “African Tea Rituals”