In case it’s hot again tomorrow…notes on MINT TEA

MINT TEA….a hot drink that brings instant recovery

European travellers experiencing intense North African heat will find instant refreshment if they request Mint Tea…no visitor to Morocco should miss out on a charming-shaped tea pot with fresh mint leaves poking out of the top: when you order your waiter should ask you your preference regarding sweetness.

Moroccan Mint Tea will be loose green tea with fresh mint sprigs and rough lumps of white sugar….your little pot should give you at least two glasses of magical hot refreshment. Wandering within the Marrakech Souk, perhaps a little bit lost within its maze of fascinating narrow lanes, you’ll come across the Cafe des Epices, appropriately located near the spice market. If, like me, you’re desperate for a decent coffee they’ll make you a good cappuccino. However, if it’s even vaguely hot, go for MOROCCAN MINT TEA…with a small dose of sugar if you’re not into very sweet drinks. Afterwards you will feel more than able to return to the heat and constant invitations into shops bursting their colourful goods towards any passer-by.

Wherever you find yourself (city or countryside) every cafe will have this wonderful version of Camellia Sinensis which combines the history of hospitality with our daily basics of sugar and mint…a flavour that many only carry in their mouths via toothpaste, or after-dinner chocolates.

There is a story that the first version may be attributed to a valuable 18th century consignment of Gunpowder Tea for a diplomat that ended up being combined with fresh mint and sugar…the green of the mint being symbolic of life: the sweetness of historically precious sugar representing friendship. The gift of such expensive commodities as tea and sugar smoothed the diplomatic process in the release of European prisoners…..The long-term outcome became a tea ceremony revealing the importance of hospitality. The traditional preparation process returns into memory as I picture the “Blue Peter” team visiting Morocco and sitting through the complete version which involves many more stages than the simple putting-together of a pot of fresh tea. Being received as a guest in this way requires the honoured recipient to accept at least three cups: tea will continue to brew which, I believe, must explain the following…..

The first glass is as gentle as life

The second glass is as strong as love

The third glass is as bitter as death

Bunches of fresh mint piled high on market stalls in Djemma el-Fna Square punctuate memories of the Marrakech scene…although research which reveals that consumers are concerned about the use of pesticides on the growing crop somewhat ruin this image. Growing mint in my own garden I find it is rarely attacked by ravenous slugs and snails: my theory that the strong essential oils protect the plant was wrecked when a little cutting from Egypt was munched to stalk the night that I left it outside….I was saddened as the delicate green growth came only days after I’d brought back a sprig from the tea tray of our wonderful new friend Mahmoud. The crumbling remains were quickly returned indoors and are now recovering, although I dare not leave it outside. Comparing it with the garden mint inherited on moving to this house, in appearance my imported friend is more delicate, although this may simply be due to its suffering I suspect it’s a cousin…..another mini research project: might call for a few trips abroad! Most years my big garden stalks have simply been made into new cuttings to help fill difficult gaps for free: having witnessed the voracious appetite of those trail-leaving monsters I’m fed up with the pounds spent on carefully-chosen plants disappearing overnight. This year I’ve been snipping the mint on a regular basis: it’s been putting out fresh, bright green shoots flavouring many refreshing cups. Watching my caffeine intake to help reduce incidences of palpitations I’ve taken to making a mint “tisane” without Camellia Sinensis. This is almost as good as Moroccan Mint Tea as it carries the refreshment and slight sweetness….I use at least three good sprigs (about 4 inches long) as my garden plant is thriving from repeated visits with scissors.

I use Twinings mint tea bags as I always have them in stock, fresh mint and one or two little sugar lumps per small pot, or large mug (1 bag and 3 sprigs per mug).

Gather the mint and give it a shake outside before bringing into the kitchen…..this should dislodge any minibeasts, returning them to their habitat.

Rinse in cold water and leave on kitchen paper to drain….avoid crushing to dry as you’ll lose flavour. If more convenient you can cut and leave in a jar of water until required, although I think it’s better straight from the garden.

Boil the required amount of water and grab the sugar and mint tea bags….be ready to get your brew going as soon as the kettle has boiled. Warm the pot with boiling water: throw this water away. Place mint tea bags, sugar and fresh mint in tea pot, or mug, and pour boiling water over. Leave to brew for 3 minutes…I remove the bag but keep the mint. If making in a pot you can use a tea strainer and pour it “clean” into cups: depending on personal taste. For a caffeine-infused brew take green tea….if using loose leaf tea use 2 level tea spoons for a small pot for two….don’t make it too strong. You can adjust according to preference and make as weak as you desire….the mint and sugar is a major contributor in the overall taste.

Whilst visiting the home of our charming Egyptian travel agent, Mahmoud, we were treated to Lipton’s Yellow Label with fresh mint…this was simply wonderful in the heat, and all the more enjoyable for its presentation in their best china tea set. From my first (crazy and exhilarating) day visiting his home town of Luxor I enjoyed an Egyptian speciality: deep pink “Karkadeh” especially ice cold and whizzed up to a froth, as experienced at the Nubian coffee shop in the Souk. Otherwise it was Nubian coffee in tiny cups (rather like Turkish/Greek style), or their delicious beers….Stella and Saqqara, which are heavenly in 40 degrees of heat, after a long dusty day visiting the sights/sites. Being used to partaking of their other offerings, (bearing in mind that the Egyptians invented beer!) the only mint tea experience was a little glass served on our cruise ship after a hot dusty visit to the magnificent Temple of Edfu…they had prepared an urn and poured out little glasses of a very delicate pale green: a mouthful of instant refreshment of which I could happily have imbibed those three glasses required of one’s Moroccan host.

Whilst researching my recent visit to Tunisia it looked promising. In the, suddenly, over-powering heat of a visit to the Ribat of Sousse we spotted a friendly cafe where I introduced my son to the pleasures of this speciality. It was a dark brew served in tall glasses, containing fresh mint with some green tea leaves at the base: ordering I’d checked it was ‘traditional’ and requested not too sweet….it was presented with two little cakes creating a welcoming picture after the intense heat of the fortified Ribat. The soothing calm of the hot drink also smoothed away the irritations of the souk and its heaps of tourist tat. My raging thirst would, again, have enjoyed those three cups required of the traditional ceremony.

My son caught the taste so we were quite excited when, the following day, we came across numerous cafes after a long hot sandy walk…..MINT TEA was called for!

How very disappointing to be told it was a tea bag when I checked with the waiter….WHAT: NO REAL MINT!

We decided it wasn’t what we’d come for and ordered cappuccinos instead.

It IS part of their tradition, but an enterprising sales rep got right in there with a box of tea bags….it’s amazing how an experience of a country can be made or broken by such simple things as a drink…but then the pleasures of life are simple.

Keep those traditions alive…even if all about you have moved on to Coca Cola…and tea bags!

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