How to make Moroccan mint tea
My first experience with Moroccan mint tea (atay bil naânaâ in Darija, or Moroccan Arabic) came not when I first arrived in Morocco, but when I first dined at a Moroccan restaurant some number of years ago.
I vividly remember watching the server lift a plump silver teapot (called a berrad) high above his head, and with sniper-like precision, pour a delicate stream of amber fluid from a narrow spout into a small, gold-plated glass, nearly two feet below. At the time, I naively presumed this to be a party trick unique to this one server, at this one Moroccan restaurant. Little did I know that this “party trick,” and everything it represents, is demonstrative of the collective spirit of millions of Moroccans — past, present, and future.
The preparation of Moroccan mint tea involves patient ritual. It’s sometimes grand, sometimes modest, always artful, and never fails to leave me awestruck. The arduous act of Moroccan tea preparation is a constant reminder that friends always come first, and that my fast-paced American life needs to decelerate a bit.
- 1 ceramic teapot
- 1 Moroccan teapot (Berrad)
- Serving tray (Siniya)
- 1 Strainer
- Tea cups (Cas)
- Chinese Gunpowder (or Chun Mee) Tea (Atay)
- Plenty of sugar (Sukkar)
- Fresh spearmint (Naânaâ)
- Other herbs [Recommended: Lemon Verbena (Louiza) and Wormwood (Sheeba)]
Step 1: Wash your mint. The most effective way to wash mint and other herbs is to immerse them in a bowl of water, swish them around, then lift them out to drain. You can also just wash them under a spigot. Something tells me this part isn’t difficult, so I’m giving you some liberty here.
Step 2: Heat water in the ceramic teapot.
Step 3: Rinse your berrad with boiling water.
Step 4: Add the gunpowder tea leaves to the berrad. Two rounded tablespoons for a one-liter capacity pot are sufficient, but you can use more or less depending on how strong or weak you want it. Moroccans generally measure the leaves in the palms of their hands.
Step 5: Pour a cup of boiling water into the berrad from the ceramic teapot. Swirl the hot water around, pour the water into a tea glass, then discard it. This water is only meant to wash the leaves. Washing tea leaves with boiling water is common in the Maghreb region, and is thought to prevent bitterness.
Step 6: Pour a fresh cup of boiling water from the ceramic pot into the berrad. Let it sit undisturbed for a minute, then pour the water into a tea glass (do not swirl). Notice the amber-colored liquid in the cup; it’s much lovelier than the murky discarded liquid from Step 5. DO NOT discard this cup. It’s lovingly titled the “spirit” or “soul” of the tea, since it contains full flavor from the water’s initial contact with the leaves. It will be added back to the berrad later.
Step 7: Fill the berrad about two-thirds full with boiling water from the ceramic teapot. Leave the lid open and place the berrad on a burner over medium-low to medium heat. If you’re like me and your gas-powered stove options are exclusively “some fire” or “more fire,” try turning the knob down so only a small flame glows. Pour the reserve “spirit” back into the pot.
Step 8: You will begin to see bubbles form on the surface of the tea. When the bubbles form, add a handful of fresh naânâ, then gently push down on the leaves to submerge them.
Step 9: Add the sugar. In Morocco, two varieties of sugar are common: The first is called a “sugar cone,” which weighs 2 kilograms. These cones are often the choice of tea traditionalists, and large fragments are chiseled from the cone as needed. The second option is the “sugar brick.” I suggest making your first berrad of atay with only three bricks, or 7 tablespoons of granulated sugar.
Step 10: If the water level hasn’t risen to within an inch of the brim, top off the pot with more boiling water from the ceramic pot. Leave room for more boiling.
Step 11: Leave the tea on the fire until it comes to a nearly violent boil. You’ll first notice that the mint leaves rise to the top, but eventually the tea leaves will break the surface, too. Observe to see if they’ve absorbed water and have started to bloom.
Step 12: Remove the berrad from the stove. Use a cloth or napkin to pick it up, because it will be scalding. DO NOT STIR.
Step 13: Pour the tea into one glass, then pour the tea back into the pot. Repeat this a few times to mix the tea thoroughly.
Step 14: Lift the berrad at least an arm’s length above your desired glass. Berrads have long spouts which assist the pourer in perfecting his or her aim; they also have built-in strainers. However, if your teapot doesn’t have this feature, a simple strainer held over the glass will work sufficiently. Pouring from a distance creates the iconic foamy head (kskrsha) that is famously Moroccan, and this pouring style is known as ragwa.
Step 15: Enjoy your tea with nuts, cookies, cakes, meals or by itself. The possibilities are endless.