30 October 2011

Berber Tea in the Atlas Mountains, Morocco

Former palace and current Museum of Marrakesh

When Hurricane Irene hit the east coast of the US in August, the winds and rain kept my dad from being able to meet us at the family summer house and, as a result, I didn't get to see him at all during the (amazing summer road) trip. He stayed at work and we had to take our hurricane walks and drink our hurricane cocktails without him. A sad state of affairs. Still, it meant that he had unused vacation days and a daughter to visit and that translated into a very happy state of affairs: a trip to Morocco last week with him, my mom and D!

Shop in the souk in Marrakesh

We spent two overwhelming days in Marrakesh taking in the new and different cultural codes, marveling at the stunning traditional architecture, getting lost in the souk, and learning to bargain for our purchases. Then, we left the city and spent three peaceful days in the Atlas Mountains doing a lot of nothing to the sound of braying donkeys and the calls to prayer from a mosque in one of the nearby Berber villages. I won't go into all my impressions of Morocco, which are varied and complex (coming from a Western culture, I found it difficult to reconcile with the visible inequality of men and women, and the vestiges of colonialism), but there were also some absolutely wonderful moments. The mountains are stunning, the highest peaks already covered with snow, and the Moroccan people we met were very welcoming.

Early morning in the Atlas Mountains

Our favorite part was a hike we took with a Berber guide, Mohamed, who took us to the local saffron fields, herb gardens and then, kindly, invited us over to his house. What was supposed to be a simple three-hour tour, turned into a five-hour plunge into the village culture and a lesson on how to make Berber tea!

Mohamed explained that in the Berber culture they do not name their animals. These ones are called "Mohamed's cow" and "Mohamed's chickens" because they belong to him.

Unlike the traditional mint tea drunk all over Morocco, the Berber tea is filled with all kinds of fresh herbs, both a sign of hospitality and a medicinal drink, good for pretty much whatever ails you. I can't really give you the recipe (I don't think there's a fixed one, it seems to depend on what's on hand and personal taste), but here's what the tea ceremony was like:

Ingredients for Berber tea

Mohamed started by boiling the water on a small gas flame that he brought right into the room where we were sitting, and rinsing the teapot to heat it up. Then he added the tea (Mohamed called it "green tea", but the small dark beads didn't look like the Asian green tea we get here).

Mohamed rinsing the tea

He poured about a cup of water over the tea leaves, swished it around and poured the very light-colored liquid out into a glass. He repeated this process and the second time the liquid was dark and cloudy. He kept the first glass to pour back into the tea later and threw out the contents of the second glass.

The tea back on the flame to boil

Then he added seven different kinds of herbs to the teapot - wild mint, thyme, lemongrass, geranium, sage, verbena (which he added especially for my dad who said he loved it), and a hint of absinthe wormwood - and three or four huge clumps of sugar. He filled the teapot with boiling water and then put the teapot directly on the flame to bring it back to a boil.

Once it boiled, he served the tea, pouring the first three glasses back into the pot to make sure it was well-mixed, and then serving around in a circle starting to the right. He served the tea with Berber bread and homemade olive oil to dip it in, a wonderful taste of Berber hospitality!

A door in Mohamed's village - known for its blacksmiths


Anonymous said...

Wow! Sounds like an incredible experience!

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

A great trip! I'd love to visit that part of Morocco.



Katharine said...

And the Berber women of Mohammed's village make that bread two to three times a day, most of them carrying it to a public oven where they pay to have it baked for them! Talk about culture shock - very primitive. No croissants from the boulangerie for this crowd.

Katharine said...

This is a beautiful post, Hopie. You capture the beauty and detail in your glimpse of life and travel in Morocco. I am so glad you took pictures of each step of the Berber tea making and recorded it. It seemed so simple as Mohammed was showing and explaining it but really it is complex, beginning with harvesting the herbs from the herb garden in the village whose specialty is just that: herbs. Thank you for taking the time to post the photos and descriptions. -Your fellow adventurer