Nothing defines Moroccan culture as distinctly as its tea. Moroccan tea is not only delicious, the way the tea is presented is beautiful, & the ritual serving the tea is meaningful. It is a tradition passed through generations.
We explore the Morocan & Magrehbi tea ceremony…
From the tea to the tea pot, from the tea pot to the tea glasses, and from the tea-glasses to the tea-drinking, Moroccan & Magrehbi tea culture is all about being unhurried and artful, gentle and graceful, warm and welcoming.
The tea is also known as Magrehbi tea, with Maghreb (meaning “sunshine”) being the region comprising the Northwest African countries of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya & Mauritania. Each of these countries has a very similar approach to the minty tea, with slight variations.
Tea serving. Marrakech 1988
There is an interesting story that the Moroccan traveler, Ibn Batuta first brought tea to Morocco in the 14th century & it is in the 18th century the British introduced tea to Morocco.
Tea serving. Marrakech 1988
Today, there is a remarkably vibrant tea culture in Morocco that the Moroccans are rightly proud of. Tea is intricately woven into the social fabric of life and has become a symbol of traditional Moroccan hospitality.
In Arab-Islamic culture, the concept of hospitality is triangular - it consists of God, guest and host. - For the guest, hospitality is a right rather than a gift - For the host, hospitality is a duty to God and then to his guest.
Preparing a cup of tea in the Maghreb does not only mean boiling water and adding mint leaves, but represents a ceremonial art that is handed down generation after generation.
The Moroccan tea ceremony is based on four main principles: •Marhaba (Arabic: مرحبا, meaning Welcome) •Salam (in Arabic: سلام, meaning Peace) •Baraka (Arabic: بركة, meaning the Blessing) •Alhamdulillah (Arabic: الحمد لله, meaning Gratitude).
In Morocco, every guest, at home or office or shop, is warmly welcomed with freshly brewed tea. Tea precedes, accompanies and ends every meal. Tea is also at any time between meals. The day ends with tea before going to bed.
Also called Maghrebi tea or Tuareg tea, Moroccan tea is prepared using the Chinese green tea, particularly the tightly curled gunpowder grade. Fresh spearmint leaves are the signature addition that gives Moroccan tea its flavour & sugar is added to give it sweetness.
Atai is also the symbol of Moroccan hospitality & like in many tea cultures around the world, refusing Atai is considered impolite & rude. The preparation & the process of Atai is also unique. It entails signature steps and gestures - each having a special meaning and symbol
A typical Moroccan tea ceremony will last anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. It’s a time-honored tradition that is steeped in hospitality and respect.
During the tea ceremony, the host sits before a tray holding decorated glasses and two teapots. Fresh mint leaves (or other herbs), dried green tea leaves, sugar, and boiling water should be nearby.
In Morocco, the metal teapot is called "berrad", literally "cooler", a term that presumably comes from the central role played by the teapot, where it is used to collect boiling water, to infuse tea with mint and keep it, paradoxically, warm during the ceremony.
The host begins by rinsing the teapots with boiling water, then adds the tea leaves to each pot and rinses the leaves with a little boiling water. The water is discarded.
Sugar is added to the pots and the host fills them with boiling water. The tea steeps for several minutes before being stirred, and then the host fills the tea glasses halfway while pouring simultaneously from both pots.
The pouring is usually done from a height of twelve inches or more. There are many reasons why Moroccans are so particular about pouring tea from a height. Of course, the main reason is for the tea to have a layer of froth at the top.
If the froth is not sufficient, the host might prepare the tea afresh. But many believe that pouring tea from a height ensures that tea gets re-aerated and gains the oxygen that it lost during boiling of the water.
Another reason is that pouring tea from a height reduces its temperature and cooling it just enough so that the guests do not get scalded.
The Moroccan tea ceremony becomes a spectacle as the tea is poured, from high above, into small patterned glasses. It’s theatrical & as the tea doesn’t spill all over the table & it is always impressive.
While the guests drink their first glass of tea, which is quite strong, the host will replenish the pots with more tea leaves and sugar. Large handfuls of fresh mint will also be added, and then the host again fills the pots with boiling water.
It is this second pot of tea, fragrant with mint and usually heavily sweetened, that has gained fame both within and outside of Morocco. But the tea ceremony need not stop there, a third pot is traditionally brewed while the second is enjoyed, making tea a leisurely affair.
The unique facet of Moroccan tea is that it is always served thrice. The first serving is the strongest, followed the second serving that is milder and finally, the third serving which is the weakest.
There is a famous Maghrebi saying that captures why tea is always served thrice:
The first glass is as bitter as life,
the second glass is as strong as love,
the third glass is as gentle as death.
The Maghrebi tea ceremony is an art-form that is a joy to experience.