Egyptian Tea Culture
Tea in Egypt typically comes in one of two varieties. The first is Saiidi, which is most popular in Upper Egypt (geographically speaking, the southern part of Egypt). This tea is usually made by the boiling of water over a large flame for long periods of time (sometimes five minutes or more), and then steeping the water with two or more teaspoons of loose tea. This makes the brew very strong and near pitch black in color. The tea is then commonly sweetened with copious amounts of cane sugar. The large amounts of sugar is a response to the extreme bitterness of the tea created through the process of its preparation. Needless to say, Saiidi tea is a very strong, very sweet tea. I like a good kick in my brew.
So if Saiidi tea is popular in the south, there must be a kind of tea that is popular in the north right? Koshary is that tea. Popular in Lower Egypt (geographically the north), this tea is in many ways an opposite of Saiidi tea. This tea is prepared in a more traditional fashion, steeping black tea in boiled water and then allowing the brew to sit for a few minutes. Koshary Tea, contrary to the Saiidi tea is steeped with often less than one half of a teaspoon of loose leaf. Those of you who have steeped your own loose leaf tea before know that this yields a very light tea. The tea is then commonly sweetened and benefits from the addition of fresh mint leaves. Milk is also commonly added to this light, minty brew.
As far as my personal tastes are concerned, I would probably prefer the Saiidi tea for my mornings and afternoon caffeine kicks. That being said, for midday calmness and relaxation I would most deffinatly go with the Koshary. It sounds like much more of a peaceful brew by the way it’s prepared, and who doesn’t like a little mint? In fact after finding out about Koshary and how it’s prepared, I realized that I had been enjoying it for months at a local middle eastern restaurant and hookah bar in my college town. There it is simply called «mint tea». I wonder if I could impress the native employers by using the tea’s native Egyptian name.
These two teas represent the majority of Egypt’s tea consumption. Most people in Egypt in many ways require tea in order to operate in their daily lives. It is absolutely vital to their way of life. Tea has made vast impressions in the daily culture of Egyptians. When friends, family, and even strangers come to visit your home, it is the expected standard to be served tea by the host. Not doing so is considered a sign that the host does not want the guest there, like giving someone the icy cold shoulder.
In many ways I am jealous of the Egyptian tea culture. While Egypt is by far not the only country where tea holds such a great value in the society, I wish America shared some of the values that Egyptians put on tea. For instance, I admire the classiness that having tea in ornate clear class cups creates.
This is just one of many examples of how tea has shaped a society in our world. If you have not drank much tea or read much about it, I hope you’re beginning to get an appreciation for what this drink brings to so many people worldwide.
Why does Northern Egypt put mint in their tea and the south typically does not?
Northern Africa, particularly along the Mediterranean coast, is home to one of the oldest trading routes in history. The ancient ancient Greeks, the Carthaginians, the Romans all used it in ancient times. It was the path which bore the spread of Islam in the middle ages. They crossed from Arabia to modern Morocco and from there mounted their successful invasion of Spain, which wasn’t broken entirely until 1492; centuries later.
In more modern times, this trade route would be used by the Ottoman Empire and the Spanish who had procession of western northern Africa in the 18th century. It would be the age of imperialism that tea would be introduced to the region. Tea’s popularity would be solidified with the British occupation of Egypt in the later part of The Long Century (19th century. It is sometimes called The Long Century because its’ important events began with the French Revolution in 1789 and ended with the Treaty of Versailles in Nov. 1918)
Anyway, what I am trying to point out is that Northern Africa has always been a place where trade occurred, and where there is trade, there is an exchanging of ideas and CULTURE. In our case that would mean the use of mint in tea.
Because southern Egypt is not a part of this trade highway, they were not as directly affected by the idea of mint tea as the north was. In fact, Mint Tea is commonplace along the entirety of North Africa, from Morocco to Arabia.
Image above found at: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/