Stories of Attay: Morocco's Sweet Mint Tea

You don't have to travel out of the country to have a cup of "Moroccan Tea." In fact, just a few minutes of scanning the supermarket aisles will bring you to a box stuffed full with individual mint tea bags, cleverly labeled to represent the national drink of Morocco. Alternatively, a quick Google search will result in step-by-step instructions for brewing your own authentic pot of Morocco's famous drink. But there is more to Attay—the name for the sweet, mint tea—than just tea, sugar, mint, and water, and what better place to start learning than with a few stories of the tea's history.


In Morocco, the history of tea is debatable. While hot, herbal remedies, such as sage, mint, and wormwood, had been around before actual tea, many Moroccans will say they have been drinking the same tea they drink today, for millennia. Others will say that it wasn't until the 18th century that green gunpowder tea was introduced to the lands. One story, set in the late 17th century has Queen Anne of Great Britain sending hundreds of gifts to Morocco’s Sultan Moulay Ismaïl, in order to release captured Europeans, and within those gifts was a batch of green tea leaves.


By the 1860's, as trade increased in various parts of Morocco, tea spread throughout the country. While tea was still very much a luxury item, and drinking it was a symbol of a high social status, it eventually found its way into city markets, onto the caravan routes of the Sahara, and into Atlas Mountains.


Green gunpowder tea is shaped like small cocoons, and very bitter in taste, one sip of it without sugar and mint, and you will understand why the Moroccans prepare their tea in the manner they do. It is because of the extremely strong and bitter flavor of the green tea that the leaves are brewed once, the water tossed out, and then brewed again. In fact, every part of the preparation of Attay has a specific purpose, and it is the complex brewing process that makes Moroccan tea unique.


A traditional pot of Moroccan Attay will include mint, sugar, green gunpowder tea leaves, and hot water. Served on a Sinia tea tray, gunpowder tea leaves, fresh mint sprigs and sugar cubes are first put into the teapot before it is filled with boiling water. After a few minutes of steeping, the first pot of tea is poured into the tea glasses, not to drink, but rather to warm the guest's glass, as the second round of brewing begins. Once perfect levels of sweet and bitter have been achieved, the host will hold the teapot high over the tea glasses, to create a little bit of froth. The glass is then held at the rim of the cup, and sipped carefully.


If you have traveled to Morocco, you already know there is not shortage of tea, and that you probably won't be leaving the country without a few glasses. Every city is full of reminders of the importance of tea in Moroccan culture. A quick pop into a cafe and you will notice a picture of the country's King, holding a glass of tea. Step into a local’s home, and the first thing you will be greeted with is a tea service. While the history may be debatable, there is no doubt that tea has become the epitome of home and hospitality in Morocco, as the Moroccans have been offering tea to guests and outsiders for years.

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