Tea is a celebrated drink that forms part of daily life and social ritual around the world. We look at some of the tea rituals and customs on the African continent, where types of tea and styles of serving vary from country to country.
Morocco. Welcoming guests in Marocco 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 flavour varies, as they say, “the first glass is as gentle as life, the second is as strong as love, the third one is as bitter as death”. Refusing any one of these servings is considered bad manners.
Egypt. Egyptians love their tea or shai as 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 flavoured with sugar, milk and mint leaves. Salidi 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 Kurkadeh is made of dried hibiscus flowers and can be drunk hot or cold. It is considered good for the heart and is often served at Egyptian weddings.
Senegal. Tea culture in Senegal is defined by a ritual called ataya – the word Ataya is derived from Arabic, meaning ‘the gift from God,’ – which is an important part of daily social life. Because the preparation of the tea takes a long time – between one and three hours – there is plenty of time for conversation and the ceremony becomes a means to connect with friends, family and guests.
The ataya ceremony consists of three stages. Green tea is boiled strong and bitter in a kettle over a charcoal stove. It is then poured from a standing height into tall glass to another until a thick foam is formed on top, making the tea strong and bitter. 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.
It is considered rude not to comment on the quality of the tea that you are drinking, and friendly arguments are even encouraged. At the end of the day, the tea is only one part as the ritual is more about sharing a moment and welcoming guests into your lives.
South Africa. 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 the tea into the drink it is today as it was an alternative to an 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 flavour and can be consumed all day but especially before bedtime as it has no caffeine. Many health benefits are attributed to rooibos, and it particularly helps to combat headaches, insomnia and allergies.
Kenya. The country is one of the largest tea producers in the world, behind China and India. Locals enjoy their tea with milk and sugar or “strunggi” – black. Another popular variation is “tangawizi,” with additional ginger steeped with the tea leaves.
In Kenya, tea is served practically throughout the day; for breakfast, at mealtimes and also during teatime. It is also the choice drink when showing hospitality to guests. Teatime in Kenya embraces different cultural influences, from the British tradition of afternoon tea to the Indian way of preparing tea with masala spices.
Most Kenyan people drink black tea with 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 back 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. Another popular variation is “tangawizi,” with additional ginger steeped with the tea leaves. (Ilse Lasschijt/Inzozi – Famous Moroccan mint tea and silver kettle in High Atlas Mountains. Photo 123rf)