By Nina Clapperton
When most people think of Morocco, they probably imagine a camel ride through the Sahara Desert, or perhaps picturesque scenes of whitewashed villages against a backdrop of rugged mountains.
But there’s another side to the country that’s just as alluring: its centuries-old tradition of hospitality that is on full display during the elaborate tea ceremonies.
Tea ceremonies may be more commonly linked to Japan or the ornate British high tea that many enjoy on visits; but the sedate practice in Morocco was what called to me when I first arrived in Northern Africa.
You won’t want to miss out on an opportunity to experience a traditional Moroccan tea ceremony for yourself.
Moroccan Mint Tea History
Mint tea wasn’t always a staple in Morocco. In fact, it’s a rather new tradition.
The practice was introduced when the British arrived in the 18th century with what they called “gunpowder tea”.
This was an early type of black tea that got its name from the fact that tiny pellets of the dried leaves would “pop” like fireworks when brewed.
The British were looking for new markets to export their tea to and found a willing partner in Morocco.
The high-quality green tea grown in the Moroccan mountains was a perfect pairing with the aromatic mint that is abundant in the country. They freshened this bitter tea with sugar and fresh mint leaves that made it much more palatable.
Experiencing A Moroccan Tea Ceremony
While you can find mint tea in cafes throughout Morocco, nothing beats the experience of enjoying it in the company of a local host.
A typical Moroccan tea ceremony will last anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. It’s a time-honored tradition that is steeped in hospitality and respect.
When I arrived in Marrakech, I was greeted at my riad — a traditional Moroccan house with a garden on the inside — with a Moroccan tea ceremony.
I was led to a room with a crackling fireplace and an amalgamation of Berber and Moroccan rugs across the floor, and we sat on round ottomans that looked like giant pillows in traditional prints.
My host had laid out a plate of cookies and what looked like shot glasses wrapped in intricate iron lacing.
He poured a steady stream into the glasses from over a foot above the glass with a silver kettle, dimpled slightly to reflect the light.
Once he had poured the filtered mint tea into my glass, he offered it to me on the silver tray and gestured to the cookies.
That was my first experience with a Moroccan tea ceremony.
It wasn’t flashy or a big production. It was done with small gestures that clearly meant something to the culture.
I was too jetlagged to really appreciate the symbolism or to ask more about it; but, it made me feel warm and welcomed.
Mint Tea With Local Women
After learning the basics of mint tea ceremonies and becoming truly addicted to the tea — so much so that I was running through at least three kettles a day — I decided to book a local cooking class.
Amal Women’s Center and Restaurant is a non-profit community organization that teaches local women English and business skills in exchange for them working in their restaurants.
The locals get to practice their English on customers, learn how a business operates, and take classes to work towards university degrees.
I thought it would be all about the cookies, but as a bonus, they also taught me how to have a traditional tea ceremony, and what all of the movements symbolized.
My guide was a lovely young woman named Fatima who was working towards her law degree. She had impeccable English and endless knowledge of Moroccan culture.
After touring their fresh mint garden, she led me to an outdoor seating area. There was a red Moroccan rug on the ground that stretched the length of the patio. On top of it were small pastel-colored pillows that bordered the carpeted area.
She had me sit — kneeling or cross-legged as I wished — on the carpet while she fetched the ingredients we needed. When she laid them out before me, it again all looked very simple.
There was a silver teapot made of real silver so it could be heated over a bunsen burner-style flame, two of those little shot glasses with silver trimming, a few sugar cubes, a handful of fresh mint that we picked from the garden, a small satchel of dried tea leaves, and water.
That’s all it took to create this amazing tea that I still salivate when thinking of.
What To Expect At A Moroccan Mint Tea Ceremony
Okay, so if you’ve never been to a Moroccan mint tea ceremony, here is what you can expect:
1. The host will start by boiling water and adding gunpowder green tea to the pot. If the teapot is not real silver and cannot be heated, this can be done in a kettle on the stove and then poured into the silver teapot.
2. Next, fresh mint leaves are added to the pot.
3. Sugar is then added to taste. Do not stir it!
4. Steep the tea for two minutes.
5. Pour the tea into the glasses, then pour that tea back into the teapot. This is how you stir the flavors and ensure the sugar is broken up. It also creates a foam that is believed to add air to the tea.
6. When the tea is ready to be served, pour it into the glasses from the silver teapot. You should always pour at least six inches above the cup. The higher you go, the more respect you’re showing.
7. Drink and enjoy with your cookies!
I made the mistake of trying to stir in the sugar — years of living in the UK make it a reflex! Fatima immediately caught my hand and told me to stop.
The right way to do it is to let the sugars mix in as you pour. It ensures that you don’t mash up any of the tea or the mint, and saves you from cleaning a spoon.
Why Is Moroccan Tea Poured From A Height?
Fatima asked me to pour the tea, but instructed me to raise the teapot as high as possible.
I was terrified I’d spill it everywhere and destroy the beautiful hand-woven rug we were sitting on; but, she assured me that it would be okay.
I started low — around six inches above the tiny glass cups — and rose as I gained confidence. The thin spouts of the teapots in Morocco make it very easy to be accurate with your pour.
“Why do I need to pour it high?” I asked, unsure if there was some more mixology happening that I wasn’t aware of.
“To show respect,” she replied.
Moroccan mint tea ceremonies are done in front of your guest. You do the entire process, from boiling to serving, in front of them.
The more care and time you take, the more respect you’re showing. By pouring the tea high, you’re instilling more respect upon your guest.
However, pouring the tea low isn’t just a way to signal your disdain. It’s also used in Moroccan arranged marriages.
In Morocco, arranged marriage is very normal. The two families bring their children together for a multi-generational meeting and discuss the match.
When the tea is poured, the young woman can accept or reject the match depending on the height of her pour of the tea. A low pour means that she is rejecting the man. A high pour allows the conversation of marriage to continue.
Symbolism Of The Moroccan Tea Ceremony
The Moroccan tea ceremony is more than just a way to enjoy a cup of tea. It is also a symbol of the country’s rich culture and hospitality.
The host will often offer their guests multiple cups of tea, which is a sign of respect.
It is also seen as an act of generosity, as the host is sharing their time and their tea with their guests.
Tea With Fatima
The tea ceremony doesn’t finish with the pour. From there, you must leisurely drink the tea.
It’s a relaxing and almost meditative experience to go through this ceremony. You find yourself focusing on the pours of the tea back and forth between the teapot like you would focus on your breath in yoga.
Then you warm your soul with this soothing cup of tea and deliciously sweet cookies. It was even cooler that I’d baked the cookies with these amazing local women.
But my favorite part was then getting to relax and speak with Fatima about her life and her dreams.
Tea created a bridge for us to talk for nearly an hour about her goals of law school, her children, and her love of Morocco.
I felt like I’d made a best friend as we refilled our little glass cups over and over.
By the end, she taught me how to say thank you in Berber and wrote it on a piece of paper for me to take home.
I was genuinely saddened to leave the Amal Women’s Center and Restaurant, even if I was armed with a baggie of gunpowder tea and a box of homemade cookies to enjoy later.
Do You Cheers In A Mint Tea Ceremony?
Moroccans do not clink glasses or say cheers in a tea ceremony.
Instead, they raise their glasses and look each other in the eye before drinking.
Mint Tea & Morocco
I started every morning with a delicious Moroccan breakfast and a cuppa, and seemed to find myself bookmarking every major event in the country with it — from buying my first Berber carpet (even though I was living nomadically without a home) to shopping the local souk for groceries.
Every amazing activity had mint tea. And I began to notice the ways people made alterations.
More tourist-y places had clearly pre-made the tea and only poured it in front of guests. They often didn’t even pour it very high, since guests didn’t understand the significance.
Some places skipped the mint and just put in gunpowder tea with a hint of mint oil, which tasted much less appealing.
But traditional places, like at a Moroccan hammam spa I visited, you’d get the real deal.
When they really wanted to impress us, they’d do a high pour and fill multiple glasses at once with that pour.
It’s little bits of showmanship like that that add an extra hint of sweetness to the tea, even without sugar.
What Do Moroccans Have With Tea?
Moroccans often enjoy sweet pastries or cookies with their tea. This is another way of showing hospitality and inviting their guests to stay longer and enjoy more of their company.
Some of the most popular pastries include:
- Kaab el ghazal (Gazelle horns)
- Almond briouat
These and other sweets are an important part of Morocco food culture.
If you’re ever lucky enough to experience a Moroccan tea ceremony, be sure to enjoy the tea, the sweets, and the company of your gracious host!
When Do You Drink Moroccan Tea?
Tea happens at any time of day in Morocco.
My riad served mint tea with breakfast. I’d write in their cushioned alcoves and suddenly have another pot appear before me. Even before bed, they’d offer a fresh pot of this highly caffeinated tea.
No matter when you enjoy tea, it’ll be acceptable to ask for a pot of mint tea or “Berber Whiskey” as the locals sometimes call it.
What Types Of Tea Can You Use?
While gunpowder green tea is the most traditional type of tea to use, you can also experiment with other types of tea.
Some of the most popular include:
- Jasmine tea
- Earl Grey tea
- Chamomile tea
The different types of tea will impact the flavor, especially if you choose something more flower-y like chamomile.
Be sure to use fresh mint and not mint tea.
Moroccan Mint Uses
Moroccan mint is a type of spearmint that is commonly used in Moroccan cuisine.
It has a slightly sweeter flavor than regular spearmint and is often used to flavor tea, lamb dishes, and salads.
You can steep it alone in water for fresh mint tea or combine it with gunpowder tea to make traditional Moroccan tea.
Classic Moroccan Mint Tea Recipe
Tea recipes vary in Morocco, but this is the one I was taught by Fatima. It’s one I’ve continued to make as I travel the world, trying to grasp onto the sense of community I felt from that small experience.
This recipe makes about 4-6 small cups of Moroccan mint tea in a Moroccan silver teapot, depending on the size of the kettle.
- 1 tbsp Chinese green gunpowder tea (you can usually find this at Chinese supermarkets)
- 1 bunch of fresh mint
- Sugar cubes (brown or white, your choice)
- Hot water to fill the teapot
- 1 Moroccan teapot with a handle cozy
- 2 Moroccan teacups
If your teapot can be put on a stove directly, fill it 3/4 with water and place it on top to boil. Otherwise, use a kettle to pre-boil your water.
Then add the gunpowder tea to the teapot. If you pre-boiled the water, pour it over the tea.
Let it stand for 2 minutes.
Add about 10 sprigs of mint into the teapot. You will need to slightly crush them to fit them in. That’s good; it brings out the flavors.
Add 1-3 sugar cubes. Moroccan tea is typically very sweet. You usually add 2-3 based on the size of the cube. I prefer 1 cube, as I prefer to sweeten it with the amount of cookies I eat.
The tea now needs to be poured between the glasses from a high height to start stirring the flavors together.
Pour out one full glass. Then pour the glass back into the teapot.
Repeat until the tea is mixed and starting to foam when you pour it.
Serve with cookies.
How To Experience A Traditional Moroccan Tea Ceremony
If you’re looking to experience a traditional tea ceremony for yourself in Morocco, you’ll want to avoid tourist hot spots.
These places will offer you tea, but skip the proper ceremony.
For example, every carpet store you visit will offer you a glass of mint tea; but, none of them will pour it in front of you.
Instead, look for local experiences.
Visit a traditional hammam that local women attend. Visit the Amal Women’s Center and Restaurant for a baking or cooking class. Meet with locals, like the owner of your accommodation.
The best way to have a truly traditional experience is to have it with the locals.
There’s nothing quite like enjoying a fresh, hot cup of Moroccan mint tea while sitting in the company of friends or family. This centuries-old tradition is steeped in symbolism and meaning, and is a beloved part of Moroccan culture.
Whether you’re a tea lover or not, I encourage you to give it a try. Who knows, you might just find yourself becoming a convert!
Have you ever enjoyed a Moroccan Tea Ceremony?
Nina Clapperton, founder of Nina Out and About, is an expert expat. She shares her passion for living abroad with young women, to empower them to live their dreams today. If she can move to Italy alone at 16, anyone can do it!
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