3 cups of {Saharan} tea

Today my daughter made this interesting remark “I don’t really like tea, I just drink it to be Moroccan”.  Indeed it’s very much an entrenched tradition and to refuse tea would be antisocial.  The tea itself varies by region, and I can’t believe that until a couple of months ago, I’d never had Saharan tea (from the Sahara that is).  I’d heard that in the desert teatime can last for several hours,  hot water being poured over the same tea leaves and reboiled at least 3 times, the hours whiled away in talk and socializing.  I was lucky enough to witness this ceremony in Rabat of all places.  My sister’s in-laws are from the South and I was at her house when they came for a visit.  Almost the first thing they did after the long car ride was set up the tea stuff in the living room.  They explained to me that it’s a “3 cup tradition”, the first cup or brew being the strongest and most bitter, then more water is added on to the tea leaves for the next two brews .  They said that a gathering is only complete after all 3 cups have been shared.  I mentioned that there is a famous book that refers to a similar tradition in Afghanistan.  They said that Afghans must have Bedouin roots in that case…

My hosts were excited to test me out and see if I could stomach the infamously bitter and strong “1st cup”.  I couldn’t.  I had the second cup.  The portions are very small but so potent.  The tea is poured from cup to cup to cup, creating an impressive layer of foam.

I’m digging the butane bottle in the middle of my sister’s recently redone living room:

This innocent looking cup made me lose 6 hours of sleep, no joke:

Today’s Saharan woman: traditional sari-type clothes (melhfa), tea, cellphone and laptop open to Facebook.  University educated.  This whole tea experience was like travelling to a new place for me.  I’m not much of a tea drinker but the company made it worth it.  I agree with my daughter on that.

8 thoughts on “3 cups of {Saharan} tea

  1. I had tea with foam like this in Senegal – another tea obsessed country. Having loved it a lot, I tried many times to do it back home in Germany, and I failed badly. Probably I’m missing the impact from early childhood your daughter is getting right now…
    Missing this tea a lot here and loving your images…

  2. Catherine says:

    Lovely photos, Nora. One of the services your blog provides for this particular reader is that it helps me view Morocco with an appreciative eye! Blessings to you and your family.

  3. ahmed zouheir says:

    From the Book of Tea by Kazuko Okakura:
    “Lichilai has sadly remarked that there were three most deplorable things in the world : the spoiling of fine youths through false education, the degradation of fine art through vulgar admiration , and the utter waste of fine tea through incompetent manipulation”

    Tea drinking, bitter, sweet, bittersweet or otherwise has more of a social function than a nutritive or a gustatory one. In my mind, the “incompetent manipulation” refers to the strict and elaborate ceremonial around that “sacred leaf”. Item the 3 cup Sahraoui social ordinance. In many parts of this country tea prepared by women (no offense meant!) in the kitchen is still not considered drinkable although it might of excellent taste.

    Your daughter is absolutely right.

  4. How universal tea ceremonies are!
    One thinks of Japan
    and China
    and the samovar in Russian stories
    and tea and sympathy in England and the going over to people’s houses for a ‘cuppa’.
    Seems like tea is an extra good thing!

  5. Haitham Al-Sheeshany says:

    .. just to be Moroccan🙂 – God bless her, liked her “comment”


    I have tried THE tea once, a friend invited us , I was in KSA during that time. I liked it🙂 wouldn`t mind -at all- another try🙂

  6. Hajar says:

    Subhanallah, the famous three cups: “bitter as life, sweet as love and gentle as death” Your post brought tears to my eyes.

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