With coronavirus making travel a tricky and even potentially dangerous prospect this year, we’re embracing the summer staycation. All week (and all summer) long, we’ll bring you transportive flavors and travel-inspired ideas from around the world, so you can take your tastebuds on a trip and give your mind a mini vacation while you’re still at home. Here, how to make Moroccan mint tea, a ritual of hospitality and a ceremonious experience—not just a drink.
If you’ve ever steeped some fresh mint leaves in hot water for a few minutes and colored yourself impressed with the outcome, Morocco’s national beverage, Maghrebi, is here for a…polite awakening. (It is tea, after all, the least rude of all the beverages.)
“To make mint tea properly,” explains Omar Jalouni, “it would take 20 to 25 minutes.” Simply put, that’s a lot more time and effort involved than the typical slapdash mint soak one might deem acceptable on this side of the Atlantic. Jalouni is a food guide who gives travelers a taste of Marrakech, working through a company called Urban Adventures, for tours of its famed Jemaa el-Fna square, with its cacophony of sights, sounds, smells, and, of course, tastes.
Marrakech Guided Food Tour With a Local, $32 on AirBnb
Hang out with Omar and delight in the hospitali-tea.
Among the heady spices and rich meats, the briny olives and garlicky snails, it is the customary beverage—at once bright and soothing—that defines Morocco. “In each culture there is a way to sit together,” says Jalouni, “and mint tea is extremely important in the Moroccan culture. Some drink it up to three times a day.” Three times a day at a 25 minute process is no small undertaking for a person, but it underscores the importance of patience and connection in its preparation.
Steeped not only in flavor, but in care, ritual, and hospitality, you can make your own Moroccan mint tea at home with the following guidelines.
What You’ll Need
“It only takes four things to make the tea,” instructs Jalouni, “water, green tea, and mint, without forgetting sugar,” and before you even get a chance to protest: “If it’s not sweet, it’s not Moroccan.”
Having had it a number of times during my stay in Marrakech, I myself was surprised to learn that the backbone of the tea is actually tea, and not just the mint itself. (I was not surprised to learn that sugar is integral.)
The type of green tea is actually called “gunpowder,” so named for the fact that the leaves are rolled into little pellets, which the extensive process helps to unfurl. Mint should be acquired fresh, and should have thick leaves that are bright green. Spearmint is typically preferred, which has a fresher taste with less menthol. Sugar is often in the form of cones or bricks that play a part in the mixing process, outlined below, but which are all but unavailable in the U.S. (Sugar cubes will suffice.)
Whether you are making tea for one or for many, an elegant tea set completes the set up, including glasses and a kettle with a built-in loose leaf tea strainer with a spout for “the long pour,” which is “important to the hospitality” Jalouni explains, but that also goes for hospitality to oneself. To spend the time making this correctly calls for a bit of ceremony in the service, even when you are enjoying it solo.
Organic Gunpowder Green Loose Leaf Tea, $14.99 on Amazon
The requisite tea.
Roland Rough Cut Demerara Sugar Cubes, $6.06 at Walmart
The requisite sugar.
Moroccan Tea Serving Kettle, $34.99 on Amazon
The requisite kettle.
Moroccan Tea Glasses, Set of 6 for $38.95 on Amazon
Let's be honest, you're really in this for the glassware.
In the way certain things are done from muscle memory when they are performed up to several times a day, precise measurements for Maghrebi mint tea are hard to come by, and perhaps not entirely critical. (A recipe can be found here by My Moroccan Food for the fastidious.) By Jalouni’s estimation, about a tablespoon of green tea works for making a “pot” of Moroccan mint tea, of which most of the tea pots are about a liter in size, about four to five cups of water.
“First we boil the water,” says Jalouni, “and then we add the green tea and boil it for another five minutes. After the green tea is boiled, we add fresh mint leaves and push them in using sugar.” A “handful” of mint leaves seems to be the typical measurement, and the “pushing” function of the sugar is attributed to its particular shape in Morocco, which is more like a bar than a cube, keenly suited for the dunking of the mint until itself dissolves into the elixir.
The next steps are where this tea takes a departure from any other tea I’ve known. “To get more flavor you have to pour some of the tea into a glass and back into the tea pot,” continues Jaloumi. “That’s how you mix in the sugar, get more flavor, and get the bubbles.”
In addition to the pour-over technique that Jalouni describes above, which continues until the sugar is melted, aeration also takes place during the tea’s finale, or the long pour.
“You begin with the pot close to the glass, and then pull it up as you pour so that it’s pouring from up above,” explains Jalouni. “It goes back to the tradition of getting bubbles, cooling it down, and hospitality.”
The hospitality in the pouring technique is three-fold, part showmanship and panache in the action itself, part presentation, to achieve a bit of desirable froth in the finished product, and part practicality: the elegant teacups typically don’t have handles, and so the tea must be hot, but comfortable enough to hold.
Once the tea is poured, additional fresh mint sprigs should be applied for garnish, the beverage itself equal to the beauty of the cups.
One final act of hospitality and encouragement from Jalouni, as to whether he thinks Americans should try to make this at home: “If people want to give it a shot that would be AMAZING.”
Header image courtesy of Craig Hastings/Getty Images.