Two kinds of tea – in multiple regional varieties – are prevalent across Africa. In the North ‘Berber tea’ or ‘Tuareg whiskey’ is served almost everywhere. In the former British colonies, chai is ever-present.
In Morocco, tourism is visibly an important part of the economy. So being offered tea when you enter a shop feels more like a part of their sales tactics than hospitality. But I loved the ceremony that the Tuareg follow. The traditional black/mint tea mix is brewed three times. The first brew is strong and bitter; it’s called Death. The second brew is a lot lighter; it’s called Life. The third brew is sweet; it’s called Love. Politeness has it that you drink throughout the whole ceremony. Kids only drink the last brew. Guests are served first. Pouring the tea is an art. In Sudan, when the sun sets, ladies set up tea places along the roads. In Egypt, the tea is usually served with a lot of sugar; “Very sweet or sweet?” is the standard question. Regardless how sweet, the tea is a welcome remedy against the heat.
Chai is a black tea with spices, sugar and usually milk; though in some areas there is the distinction between chai and English tea, the latter being chai with milk. It cools you down where it’s hot and warms you on chilly mountain mornings. I was always wondering how my fellow passengers on the many buses I took in Africa could order – and consume – any hot drink during a ten-minute stop in a restaurant. Until one day I witnessed an incredibly easy technique that would have never occurred to me: I had noticed before that a cup of chai was often served with a saucer but not thought any further about it. However, it turns out that the saucer is, in fact, a cooling device: Pour some tea onto the saucer, sip, pour some more, sip… Remarkably easy!
Finally, bissap is not technically a tea but an infusion. I never liked hibiscus tea at home as brewed with boiling water it’s rather bitter. Across Africa, however, I’ve come to love it. Mix dried hibiscus (flower) with cold water and sugar (to taste), leave sitting (in the fridge if you have) for a few hours and – voila! – you’ve got yourself a sweet and refreshing brightly red colored alternative to lemonade.