Among the many aromas of a Moroccan street one of the most delightful, and as thought provoking as the smell of freshly baked breads, are the stands of the Moroccan tea herb vendors. Stacked high with glistening wet piles of freshly cut, green, tea herbs with a dominant scent of fresh mints. But, as John Horniblow explains, there is more to mint tea than simply mint...
|Berber tea in the High Atlas Mts at Imichil|
Moroccan Tea and its flavours are a serious concern for everybody. Moroccans takes incredible pride in their tea, serving it with every conversation, all day long, and after every meal, so there is a extraordinary demand for a daily and endless supply of fresh herbs. Spearmint tea, Atay Naanaa (The gift of Allah), is as ubiquitous and quintessential to Moroccan culture as couscous or tagine, however, Moroccan tea is not exclusively flavoured with Spearmint.
|Organic herb and vegetable baskets, Oasis Casablanca|
|Tea herb vendor, Essaouira|
While there’s an abundance of fresh spearmint on the stall if you venture further into the piles of bundled sprigs the leaf shapes, colours and stalks change from mint to the other prevalent aromatic Moroccan tea herbs; the earthy scents of Wormwood or Absinthe (sheeba) for bitter, biting taste, the sharp,musky scent of wild Thyme (zatar), lemony, floral accents of scented geranium (tafliout), and the silky, rabbit ears of Sage,. Often tea preparations include smaller quantities of dried Peppermint leaves or fresh leaves of the strong fresh mint /menthol flavour of Pennyroyal (fliou), giving a tea a more pungent aroma and flavour. For the discerning tea connoisseur not all mints are the same either. Numerous varieties of Spearmint can be found in Morocco and the best tea herb vendors always stock a good choice of flavours from floral accents of tamaris to those with basil notes, zesty pineapple or peppermint scents depending on the season or region.
|A tea urn in Fez|
There are almost two schools of tea in Morocco, drawn distinctly down the blurred geographical boundaries of Morocco’s Berber and Arab cultures. Mint teas in the north can be found infused with Lemon Verbena, Pine nuts, Orange blossoms or Tunisian Jasmine. Berber teas of the south and Atlas Mountains tend to be stronger, darker shorter and can include number of herbal additions for flavour and medicinal purposes including Wild Thyme, Sage, Wild Mint (timicha), and Rosemary or even the subtle infusions of golden pistils of saffron. Personally my favourite Moroccan tea is a subtly sweetened, tall glass blend of Tamaris spearmint, fliou (pennyroyal) and tafliout (lemon scented geranium) made in accompaniment with a Tunisian jasmine green tea. It’s as equally divine in its aroma as it is in exotic flavours.
Beyond flavour and scent Moroccan Tea is more than just a drink, symbolic not only of Moroccan cuisine and Moroccan hospitality but also deeply steeped in ritual and ceremony. A typical Moroccan family will own a fine tea service used for special occasions and the serving of guests. An engraved Moroccan teapot (berrad) with a long, curved spout for accurate pouring from high above the glass, typical engraved or coloured Moroccan tea glasses (keesan) and special serving tray (siniya). The tea ceremony remains sacred as does the flair and art form of pouring the tea. The higher the pouring the better. Purportedly affecting not only its flavour but aerating the tea so a desirable foam head will form on the surface. Enjoy!
Story and photographs: John Horniblow
Making perfect mint tea (photo essay)
Making Mint Tea Recipe