Tunisian mint tea
Le premier verre est aussi doux que la vie,
le deuxième est aussi fort que l’amour,
le troisième est aussi amer que la mort.
It’s impossible to be a guest in Tunisia without being offered something to drink. That drink is typically tea. There are several stories about the origins of tea in North Africa, and most of them conclude that the beverage was first brought to Morocco. One of the more widely accepted theories is that it spread in the mid-1800s when Baltic ports were closed due to the Crimean war and thus, British merchants had a surplus of tea from China. Their solution? Dump it, figuratively speaking, in Morocco, with the hope of finding new markets. At first it was a drink of the elites, but in the years that followed, it democratized and became a drink for all classes. Tea in Tunisia, however, is a bit of a different story. Like Algeria, coffee reigned supreme during Ottoman rule and it is still a popular drink today, with Tunisia apparently being the only country in the region where it is subsidized. Coffee dominates in the male-only cafes all over the country, but tea (also subsidized) certainly has its place in the mixed gender salons de thé and is part of any good Tunisian host's arsenal.
This past summer, I was in the Siliana region of northwest Tunisia on a visit to our aunt’s brother’s olive groves. The older caretaker of the land greeted us and from the backseat of his van, he pulled out a thermos of piping hot mint tea and a plate of makroudh. As I bit into the cookie and followed it with a sip of tea, the adhan (call to prayer) came over the loudspeaker from a nearby mosque. In that moment, as the sun set on the mountains in the distance, I was reminded of the beautiful hospitality of Tunisia.
TUNISIAN MINT TEA RECIPE
2 cups of water
2 tea bags or 2 tsp loose black or green tea (amount of tea can also be adjusted to how light or dark you like your tea)
2-4 tbs sugar (or to taste)
A large handful of mint sprigs
Pine nuts (raw or lightly toasted) (optional)
Note: For those unaccustomed to North African tea, it may seem overwhelmingly sweet. Please adjust the sugar quantity according to your tastes.
Put water in a small pot or heat-safe tea pot, add tea and sugar, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add all the mint leaves and let boil for another minute, then take off the heat and let sit for about 5 minutes. Strain liquid into your teapot.
Put about 1 tsp of pine nuts in each glass. Then pour strained tea into the cups. You can also garnish with a fresh mint leaf in each cup.