Never mind the bags and boxes of so called mint tea sold for ridiculous prices at tea vendors and coffee shops, making real Moroccan mint tea is easy, inexpensive and can be fun to enjoy with friends. Just follow the steps below and you’ll be savoring this sweet and fragrant drink in no time.
Mint tea or Atay Bi Nahna is the Moroccan national drink. It is served throughout the country and everyone from shop keepers to street vendors with their urns will often be more than happy to invite you to join in savoring a glass or more of this sweet beverage with them. Mint tea is commonly served following a meal but also is offered throughout the day while bargaining with customers or conducting business. Sharing the splendors of this fragrant drink with friends, family and even total strangers is one of the most important rituals of the day for many in Morocco.
Introduced to Africa in the 18th century, tea was first brought to Morocco by British merchants seeking alternate markets in which to sell as a result of the Baltic Sea blockade that was enforced because of the Crimean War. These merchants brought tea to the Maghreb (the place of sunset in Arabic) or North Africa hoping to find new customers. They made a presentation of the unknown beverage to Sultan Moulay Ismail and his entourage, who instantly loved and wanted more of the drink. Tea was then used as a means of trading with the sultan for the release of European prisoners. Now common throughout all of North Africa tea has become an integral part of the culture and is important in the offering of hospitality.
Tea sets for Atay Bi Nahna tea ceremonies can easily be identified by their elaborately engraved sterling silver pots with unusually long and elegant spouts. These curvaceous teapots are perfectly designed to allow the tea to flow smoothly into what are equally beautiful hand-painted drinking glasses known as rabat. The tea is traditionally poured into these vessels from heights of half a meter or more which aside from being interesting to watch serves the purpose of aerating the tea and enhancing it’s flavor.
Unlike the preparation and serving of food the tea ceremony is a traditionally male part of hospitality and is generally offered by the head of the household to guests, when in Morocco it is considered very impolite for one to refuse an offering of tea. As part of the ceremony guests are sometimes offered three glasses of tea and according to an old proverb: The first glass is as bitter as life, the second glass is as strong as love, the third glass is as gentle as death.
In the traditional ceremony the guest is first presented a little flask containing water and orange flower to freshen their hands. Next, two silver trays are brought out, covered in muslin cloths. On one tray are placed the rabat glasses, and a silver teapot. On the other is placed a sugar bowl, a loaf of sugar, a small copper hammer, a dish containing fresh mint leaves, and a wooden box containing the tea. The hammer is used to break off pieces of sugar which are added to the tea.
The most common tea used in making Atay Bi Nahna is a Chinese green tea known as Gunpowder Tea or pearl tea which can be purchased for far less at your local Asian market rather than a specialty vendor.
Makes 4 cups
- Boil 4 cups of water.
- Rinse 2 tablespoons of gunpowder tea and place it into a teapot(rinsing removes dust from the tea).
- Add 2 cups of fresh mint leaves (stems removed and slightly crushed) to the pot.
- Pour boiling water over the tea and mint.
- Add ten or twelve teaspoons of sugar (this tea is sweet) and mix if you like.
- Pour some tea into a glass and back into the teapot to mix the ingredients and aerate the tea.(Repeat this at least three times)
- Allow the tea to steep for four to five minutes.
- Pour tea into glasses from a height to further aerate it, this should make the tea foam in the glass.
- If you wish, you may garnish with fresh mint, and jasmine or orange blossom flowers.