March 15, 2011 4 Comments
So I’m back and settling into real life has been a lot harder than I thought it would be. I mean, after you’ve stayed in the same hotel as the Moroccan men’s soccer team (oy…!) and sat in the Sahara watching the sun set, it’s kind of hard to focus on the day to day of everyday life. But, I’ve missed being here and I’m hoping there are still a few of you out there….
Anyhoo. Luckily this trip was full of food finds (tagines anyone?) and I have a decadent dessert in store for you as soon as I can find some gum Arabic (if you happen to have a hook up to that, let me know). What I loved most about the trip is that there was a story behind just about everything we saw or did (or ate) and it made me realize how very young the U.S. is. That’s not to say that each family doesn’t have its own history and its own tales, but on the whole, it’s pretty hard to have a stellar story behind your morning venti-no foam-double shot-vanilla-soy-latte, you know? Most of our days are spent moving forward with just a passing glance to the past, whereas I felt in Morocco that the past was essential to shaping the future. It felt as though that without a strong acknowledgment of what had come before, there’d be little reason (or way) to move ahead. If one generation wasn’t passing on a story or a tradition to another, what would be left? And how could you learn from the triumphs and failures? Of course, the world is changing faster than it ever has before and the Morocco I learned about in February is completely different from the Morocco today, politics-wise. We all know that this has the ability to change society in drastic ways, for better or worse. But for now, it is a country and culture very much tied to traditions, and I’m beyond words grateful to have gotten to experience it.
We arrived in Casablanca and headed straight to Rabat, the capital. On the way, we stopped at what was basically a truck stop for tea. Now, I did not grow up taking road trips, but I’ve stopped at a few Midwestern oases and these are not the types of places that you expect to get anything with a sell-by date that begins with 20__, let alone tea made with fresh sprigs of mint. But we did! I don’t know if it was the novelty of it or the cold or the lack of sleep, but that glass of tea was one of the best things I’ve ever tasted in life. It was super sweet and so hot that I stayed warm long after we were back on the road. Later that night, we went to dinner in Rabat, and our meal ended (as did all of our other meals) with mint tea. This time rather than being at a truck stop, we were in a stunning restaurant with 20 foot ceilings and low sofas covered in red and gold. And rather than a server coming to pour us tea, a man came out carrying a tray of 10 glasses and poured tea from at least 4 feet above them (I dare you to try that next time you have guests!).
It wasn’t until a few days later when we went to a village in the Mid Atlas mountains that we got the full tea ceremony story. We visited a village where the women were doing their laundry in a stream while the kids hung out at the internet cafe. There was the official town guide who welcomed tours into his cave dwelling that he proudly announced had housed all of his many children and some of their families and it was only recently that they’d put in the upstairs (although the satellite dish had come years earlier). We were told that inviting people to tea is a way of not only showing hospitality, but of showing how much you care for the person. So if you’re invited to tea and it’s already made, it means that the host doesn’t really want you to stay that long (which really means they aren’t that excited about you). On the other hand, if the entire tea process is done while you’re there–and if done right, it can take awhile–then they are happy to have you and want you to stay. I have no idea, but I imagine that there’s no rushing off from a tea invite, either.
Needless to say, our host started the tea process after we were all seated and he had told us a few stories about his village. His wife didn’t even put water in the pot until we had been there a bit. After it boiled, he told us the process step by step: first you wash out the pot with boiling water. Black tea is then added to the pot, hot water is poured over it to wash it off and then that water is cast aside. The mint and sugar (about 6 tablespoons for a pot) are added to the tea and more hot water is poured in. You let that steep for a bit while the glasses are set up. Finally, each cup is poured to the same level in the glass (so as not to offend anyone). Can you think of anything you’ve done with that much care lately?
I admit that somewhere during the two weeks I started to take the mint tea at the end of the meal for granted and to be perfectly honest, I would have paid a hefty price for an espresso at one point. And then, as fast as it had happened that I got to go on this trip, it was over and I was standing in the duty free at the airport in Casablanca spending my last Dirhams. Of course, after such an amazing trip, I feel changed for the better and have grand ideas about how I’ll spend my time and live my life in a more conscious, slower way. My hope is that I’ll have people over and start my tea process after they’ve settled in and we’ve chatted and caught up and have nothing but time and stories ahead of us. But, I bought as many boxes of packaged mint tea as I could fit into my carry-on, just in case….
- 1 tablespoon loose black or green tea
- 1 large handful fresh int leaves, washed
- 1/2 liter (about 2 cups) boiling water
- 1/4 cup sugar (about 6 tablespoons per pot)
Boil at least a liter of water. Rinse a small tea pot with about 1/4 cup of the water. Add the tea leaves and another 1/4 cup boiling water. Swirl the pot to wash and rinse the leaves, and pour out the water.
Add the mint leaves and the sugar, and fill the pot with 1/2 liter (about 2 cups) boiling water. Leave the tea to steep for five minutes or longer, or set the tea pot over medium-low heat and bring the tea to a simmer. Remove from the heat, and allow to steep several minutes more.
Gently stir the tea, pour into small tea glasses and serve.