Morrocan tea with mint

 

Tea (Arabic: أتاي, atay?) in Morocco is an essential beverage, the country being the world’s largest importer of green tea.

Moroccan tea mint

Herbal infusion has been popular in the country long before the arrival of tea in Morocco. There is much speculation about the arrival of tea in Morocco, the main one being that King Ismail bin Sherif was given green tea by Queen Anne after the release of sixty-nine British prisoners. The United Kingdom held a virtual monopoly on the tea trade in Morocco during the nineteenth century, particularly with the renovation of the port of Essaouira in the 1760s. Tea became a widespread drink by the middle of the century. Mint was soon added to it: with its powerful taste, it reduced the bitterness of the tea without changing its color.

 

Contents

1 History of tea
1.1 Origins
1.2 British monopoly
1.3 Integration into Moroccan culture
2 Consumption
2.1 Green tea with mint
2.2 Utensils
2.2.1 East Asian porcelain
2.2.2 Usual utensils
2.2.2.1 History
2.2.2.2 Composition
2.3 Occasions
2.3.1 Time of day
2.3.2 Guests
2.3.3 Family
2.3.4 Special Occasions
2.4 Demand
3 Commerce
3.1 Production
3.2 Importing
3.3 Trademarks
4 Representations in culture
4.1 Representations in Moroccan art
4.2 Representation of Moroccan tea internationally

History of moroccan tea with mint

 

Origins of Moroccan tea

 

Infusions of various herbs, and in particular peppermint, are very popular throughout the country long before the arrival of tea in the country.

 

The arrival of tea in Morocco remains unclear: there are several explanations and dates for it. The first theory is that tea was brought to Morocco as early as the eleventh century by the Phoenicians who settled in the north of the country for eight centuries. Another hypothesis is that the Berbers brought it with them when they arrived from the Orontes2. Abdelahad Sebti and Omar Carlier claim that the British were already selling tea in some Moroccan ports as early as the sixteenth century, with the trade intensifying in the following century. Another hypothesis suggests that pirates brought tea to Morocco with them. Yet another theory suggests that Moroccan pirates captured a ship loaded with tea during the military conquest of Spain and Portugal in the eighteenth century. A final and more credible theory is that the Moroccan tea trade was the result of the Spanish and Portuguese wars.

 

A final and most credible theory6 is that King Ismail bin Sherif was given green tea by Queen Anne after the release of sixty-nine British prisoners. In 1789, the English surgeon William Lemprière, who was present at the court of Mohammed ben Abdallah, observed the tea service: it lasted at least two hours, during which the drink was served in very small quantities in tiny porcelain cups. The drink is extremely expensive and rare. It was prized primarily for its medicinal qualities and was consumed with the same utensils as in the UK.

 

British monopoly

The United Kingdom held a virtual monopoly on the tea trade in Morocco during the nineteenth century1 , particularly with the renovation of the port of Essaouira in the 1760s. Tea became a widespread beverage by the middle of the century, particularly as a result of the Crimean War: with the Baltic Sea ports no longer accessible, British merchants disposed of their surplus tea imports from China by creating new trading markets in Tangier and Essaouira. It was this British influence that brought the Moroccan tea trade to Morocco. It was this British influence that brought the name of tea to Morocco, atay, a variant of the Cantonese “te”, as opposed to the names inspired by the Mandarin name, variants of “cha “.

 

Moroccan Moorish traders set out from Guelmim to sell British tea in the western Sahel, particularly in Mali, but also in Mauritania and the rest of the region. Tea thus arrived in Africa via Morocco11. In 1819, Charles Cochelet reported that the green tea found in Guelmin was bought by the British in Canton in exchange for opium and Spanish money. Mint was soon added to it: with its powerful taste, it reduced the bitterness of the tea without changing its color. Mint tea is called a “complete tea”, in reference to a Moorish proverb: “tea without mint is like a tongue without sense “.

 

Initially, the faqīhs deemed tea illicit in Islam. In 1826, the faqîh Ahmed Ibn Abdelmalek Alaoui, who practiced as a judge, refused the testimonies of tea drinkers, stating that “man must avoid anything of which he is unaware of the verdict of Allah.” The faqîh Hajj Abed El Baichouri, at the beginning of the twentieth century, claims to have heard of a “tea and sugar factory in Paris where they used carrion bones and blood”, thus supporting the ban on tea. The Mauritanian sheik Ahmed Hamed Ben M’hamed Ben Mukhtar Allah adds that tea leads to “mixing with slaves and young people, hearing obscene speeches and slandering people. The discourse is quickly defeated, with many Moroccan writers defending the drink in the name of medicine and temperance. The Faqîh Idriss, son of Slimane ben Mohammed, served tea to his students when he noticed that their concentration was declining. In 1925, Sheikh Mohammed Ben Al Mouayyad Ben Sidi wrote in a fatwa that “one should not forbid what has not been forbidden in the Koran, the Sunna and the consensus”, referring to the consumption of tea.

 

Integration of the mint tea into Moroccan culture

Between 1830 and 1840, the volume of tea imported annually by Morocco increased from 3.5 to 20 tons , while its consumption spread to the urban middle class5 ; in the 1880s, it was consumed by the entire society and tea and sugar made up a quarter of the country’s imports6. Prices fell largely in parallel, as European powers spread tea cultivation in their respective colonies, increasing supply. The usage was born of a desire to imitate the wealthier classes of Morocco, not the English: utensils imported from Britain were often stamped in Arabic to hide their imported nature. At this time, there were two opposing views. European travelers and settlers insist on the rapid adoption of tea by all Moroccans. Local oral sources, on the other hand, emphasize that tea spread very slowly from one social class to another and was seen as a very masculine drink at first.

 

At that time, the French protectorate of Morocco wanted to guarantee the local crafts. Prosper Ricard deplored the influence of European products and sought to direct the craftsmen towards the production of luxury objects: the coppersmiths worked for notables and tourists, but their market was running out of steam. They therefore embarked on a reform of the trade, seeking to copy the models of tea utensils imported from Europe, and created a corporation of swâiniya (“tray makers”) in the Fez region in the 1910s, particularly in the city’s Seffarine Square. A tea-drinking ritual, which was to become the norm in the region, was to be introduced in Fez. A tea-drinking ritual, as well as a whole set of utensils, was born.

 

In 1946, a coppersmith introduced the mechanical lathe to the country after seeing one in Italy. Thanks to the new tool, the Et Taj company began to copy the Wright teapots made in Manchester. They are now made in Fez, keeping the English shape and decorations, but the traditional Moroccan chasing of the decorations.

 

In 2008, Morocco is the largest importer of Chinese green tea in the world18. In 2014, Morocco is the second most consuming country of tea with a consumption per person per year of 4.34 kg.

 

Consumption Green tea with mint

 

Service of mint tea.

The tea used for mint tea, which is most commonly drunk in Morocco, is Chinese Gunpowder green tea. Moroccans add sugar loaves and handfuls of peppermint. Sometimes mint is accompanied by other herbs, such as wormwood, marjoram, sage, or verbena: these additions are more common in winter. In March, the addition of flower is a common practice. In March, the addition of orange blossom is common. Dried cactus fruit can also be used and added to tea to resolve gastrointestinal or sleeping disorders. Milk is never added. In the south of the country, saffron is sometimes added.

 

The aristocrats can drink amber tea. A piece of amber is wrapped in wool and placed at the opening of the teapot. The steam from the tea penetrates the wool and touches the amber. The steam, enclosed in the teapot, makes the tea taste like amber.

 

There is no “standard” recipe for tea, each family using its own brewing times and quantities of ingredients. However, there are general trends depending on the region. The Fez region produces a lighter tea, while the Berbers of the High Atlas add many herbs for a stronger taste. In the southern part of the country, tea is brewed for longer periods.

 

The tea is brewed for a relatively long time. During the brewing process, it is gently stirred with a spoon. Then it is transferred between a glass and the teapot to see the level of infusion and to recognize when it is ready. When the taste is satisfactory, the liquid is returned to the metal teapot and the tea is served, holding the teapot high, in small glasses, usually decorated with gold piping6. Holding the teapot so high is not just to impress with its agility. It also serves to aerate the boiled water, helping it to cool and creating small bubbles that give a slightly different taste to the tea.

 

The glasses are always only half filled. This allows drinkers to hold the top of the glass without burning their fingers. The decoration on the glass is used to identify at which level to stop.

 

A red tea box with a sugar loaf on top. On the left, a pile of mint leaves.
Ingredients: tea, mint leaves, sugar.

 

 

A half-filled glass, several empty glasses, a glass being filled with tea in which there are many residues.

During the brewing process, the tea is transferred between the teapot and the glasses to get rid of the residues.

 

Utensils to prepare moroccan green tea with mint

In the pre-modern era, Moroccan dignitaries appreciated the use of East Asian porcelain, especially Imari porcelain. This was especially the case in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. These porcelain tea sets were often given to wealthy families for births and weddings, as in the rest of the Middle East. Chinese porcelain arrived much earlier than tea: Ibn Battuta mentions it as early as the thirteenth century.

 

It is highly likely that the use of porcelain cutlery in Morocco is explained by a hadîth forbidding eating from precious metals. The popularity of Imari porcelain in Morocco eventually became an integral part of Islamic arts.

 

The mercantile relations with Europe come with their own influence on tea utensils. The Moroccan population saw the generalization of brewed tea and the dishes that accompanied it: tray, teapot, glasses, sugar and tea boxes16. The glasses and the teapot are placed on a copper, nickel silver or silver tray. This tea tray (siniyya?) became an element of interior decoration in its own right, common to all social classes but of varying material and form. It did not depend on an English import: it was already present in families since protohistory, which saw a golden age of copper production in North Africa. Metal tableware was also widespread long before the arrival of tea in the region. The Algeciras Act, signed in 1906, marked the massive arrival of European objects on the Moroccan market, as European producers sought to compete with local production. At the same time, the market for tea utensils developed, allowing the brassware industry in Morocco to gain in importance. At the beginning of the twentieth century, it was fashionable to place the teapot, made of pewter or silver, on a silver tray. Copper tea kettles and samovars were also common in imports from England. Wright silverware, made in Manchester, entered Morocco under the name rayt; English products were often stamped in Arabic to maintain the impression that they were locally made.

 

Under the French protectorate of Morocco, coppersmiths set about reforming the trade, seeking to copy the designs of tea utensils imported from Europe, and created a corporation of swâiniya (“tray makers”) in the Fez region in the 1910s, particularly in the city’s Seffarine Square. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, there were about sixty of them; in 2011, they sometimes reached 10,000 artisans in nearly 600 factories in Fez.

 

In 1946, after the introduction of the mechanical lathe, the Et Taj company began copying Wright teapots. They are now made in Fez, keeping the English shape and decorations, but the traditional Moroccan chasing of the decorations.

 

 

Composition

 

The equipment differentiates between the richest, who have dedicated utensils, and the working classes without dedicated utensils. However, it always includes a large tray, a small tray where the containers of tea, sugar and mint are placed, a teapot and glasses.

 

For the less affluent families, wooden boxes are used. Wealthier families may have gold or silver boxes, richly decorated.

 

 

The glasses can be very richly decorated, but must always remain partly transparent in order to see the tea being drunk. Their decorations also serve to identify how full the glass should be.

 

Occasions to have mint tea in Morocco

Time of day

Tea is usually served three times a day. The particularity of its service is due to the fact that the tea and spearmint leaves are kept in the teapot and continue to brew. As the tea is served, the resulting drink changes in flavor and appearance (light at the first, balanced at the second, very astringent and bitter at the last). Traditionally, three glasses are drunk6 , symbolizing the three tastes in the quote: “Mint tea should be bitter like life, frothy like love and sweet like death. ”

 

Once the tea is served, it should be sipped hot, without blowing on it or making any mouth noise.

 

Guests

Tea is served before any negotiation or sale as a sign of hospitality. It is disrespectful to refuse it. Some families have two teas: one brand is used for daily consumption, the other for special occasions and guests19. It is very impolite to serve tea prepared before a guest arrives, or prepared out of sight.

 

Family

Tea is most often prepared and served by men8. In the nineteenth century, the patriarch chose who would have the honour of preparing the tea5,4. Even today in more modern households, it is usually the woman who prepares and serves the tea, the man can also do it but this is more for festive occasions with lots of guests (as the woman is already busy preparing food).

 

Green tea is served to children at an early age, but it limits the absorption of iron, which can cause health problems for infants.

 

Among poor families, bread and tea (Khobz wa atay?) is a common and frugal meal: bread and tea are the mainstay of their diet, sometimes supplemented by black olives in the north, butter and olive oil in the south, or dates in the Sahara.

 

Special occasions

Tea ceremonies may be held on the occasion of weddings, pilgrimages, and other occasions. In this case, the person who will prepare the tea will be chosen in advance, and sometimes even a specialist brought in specifically for the occasion. She is always of mature age and reputed for her wisdom and the quality of her tea.

 

On this occasion, the tea will be prepared while sandalwood is being burned. The person preparing the tea may pour a few drops of rose water or orange blossom water over the guests.

 

Request

The tea used for the mint green tea, which is most commonly drunk in Morocco, is Chinese Gunpowder green tea6,8. Tea imports are therefore split between this tea, which makes up 70% of sales in the country, and the rest being Chun Mee, which has a less bitter taste and is more popular among the Tuareg in the south of the country. The mint consumed with the tea often comes from the Meknes region, which is said to produce the tastiest plants.

 

In 2008, per capita consumption of Chinese green tea was 1.76 kg per year. In 2014, Morocco is the second most consuming country for tea with a per capita consumption of 4.34 kg per year8. There are few reliable statistics on actual tea consumption, according to Moroccan economists, so consumption is measured by import volumes.

 

Quantity of tea consumed in Morocco

 

In the 1970s, there was an attempt to grow tea in the Larache region, but it turned out to be more expensive than importing and the experiment was abandoned. In 2020, due to the Covid-19 pandemic in Morocco and China affecting tea imports and demand, the Moroccan Association of Tea and Coffee Manufacturers asked its ministry to encourage a resumption of cultivation experiments with the objective of covering 20% of the country’s needs.

 

Importation of tea to Morocco

Chinese Gunpowder tea.
Morocco is thus the world’s largest importer of Chinese green tea, at least from 2008 to 201818 , ahead of Uzbekistan, Togo, Japan, and the United States, and accounts for 17% of China’s green tea exports in 2016 in terms of volume31 and 30% in 201932. The Chinese market accounts for 85-95% of the country’s imported green tea, with the remainder coming from Sri Lanka and India18. In the first quarter of 2020, due to the Covid-19 pandemic in Morocco and China, Chinese tea imports fell by 46%.32 The government imported a six-month supply of tea in case of a supply disruption and established trade relations with Sri Lanka.

 

After the nationalization of tea imports in 1958, the market was liberalized in 1993. Prior to this liberalization, Somathes had a 95% market share, which fell to 35% in the early 1990s.35 In the late 2000s, some Moroccan economists were also concerned about the lack of specific regulation of tea imports.18 The Office national de sécurité sanitaire des thé (ONSS), the Moroccan national food safety agency, has been working on a number of issues. In 2018, the Office national de sécurité sanitaire des produits alimentaires stated that it was systematically monitoring imported teas. The following year, it introduced a new system for monitoring tea imports. The following year, it introduced new health standards for tea imported from China. These standards follow an audit that showed that teas sold in Morocco tend to contain high levels of pesticides and set maximum measures, which several trade groups felt were too stringent. The tea is usually packaged in bulk and is not sold to consumers.

 

Tea is generally packaged in bulk and very rarely sold in tea bags, but in the second half of the 2010s this form of packaging is gaining popularity.

 

Commercial brands of tea in Morocco

There are about 400 tea brands in Morocco, marketed by about 100 groups . Many brands are regional and rural.

The tea import market is dominated by Somathes (formerly ONTS, Office National du Thé et du Sucre) and Mido Food Company (formerly called Haj Hassan Raji35), which together hold 55 percent of imports. The market is also dominated by Mido Food Company, which holds the largest share of tea imports. In 2018, Mido Food Companies, now Haj Hassan Raji again, is the largest group in the country. It is followed by the Bellakhdar Group, owner of the Lion brand, and the Astaib Group. The Zine, Somathes (10% of the market) and Salman groups follow the podium and these six brands make up 80% of the market36. In the 2010s, new groups emerged: the Novatis group of the Badaa family, whose main brand is Taj Bladi, and the Astaïb group, owner of the Bellar and Loubane brands, bought the Kamanja brand from the Belafqih group. In 2017, Moncef Belkhayat launched the Miaz brand with his Salman Tea group. A year later, the company accounts for 4% of the market.

 

Somathes owns the Souiri, Kafila and Ménara brands, which accounted for 70% of its sales in 2005 . It also owns many regional brands, including Oudaya, sold in the North, and Tour Hassan in the Khouribga and Béni Mellal regions, as well as a luxury brand, Chaâra no 135.

 

The Mido Food Company owns the Sultan brand, the most popular brand in the country. Other brands in the group include Al Arche and Raïs.

 

The Algerian brand Khayma has strong sales in the east of the country due to its much lower prices than Moroccan brands.

 

Representations in culture

Representations in Moroccan art

In 1895, an Aït Baâmrane poet from southwestern Morocco wrote a long poem in Chleuh describing the aesthetics of the tea ritual as metaphors for Moroccan society, noting in particular the inequalities between social classes and European colonial influences. In the early 1970s, the Aït Baâmrane group was the first Moroccan group to be represented in Moroccan art.

 

In the early 1970s, the music group Nas al-Ghiouane performed the song As-sīniyya (“the tea tray”). Tea was used as a representation of community values, showing the loneliness of individuals in a capitalist society.

 

Representation of Moroccan tea internationally

 

The Moroccan tea ceremony is presented as an essential for tourists to discover in the country; on advertising brochures, it is often presented as “the essence of Moroccan life and the symbol of Moroccan hospitality. In the context of tourism, the ceremony is extremely standardized and often lacks authenticity, being more of a caricature of the Moroccan way of life

 

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Moroccan tea with mint
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