Tea Culture and Tea Traditions of Libya


Tea Drinking Culture in Libya
Tea History of Libya
The silk route from China terminated its land bound journey at the Mediterranean Sea. This was Egyptian land, and next to it was Libya. It is not difficult to assume that Libya was influenced by the tea culture in the Middle Eastern countries such as Egypt and Iraq.
In the desert where the temperatures are scalding, it's a must that you stop and have a break now and then. This was done by having a tea. The Berbers, a native group in Northwest Africa, have made Libya their home. Even though they only amount to 5% of the total population, their tea traditions were handed down from generation to generation from a long time back.
As Libya used to be a colony of Italy for close to three decades their culture is greatly impacted and inspired by them. Their cuisine draws from Mediterranean and Arabic cultures in addition to Italian. After a customary Libyan meal of four main ingredients - grains, palm dates, olives and milk - they usually had a cup of green tea. Libyans were acquainted with tea since the 19th century. During that time tea was so expensive because of the cost of transportation from the production sites. Only the pasha, his family and his guests were able to meet the expense of it.
Types of Tea consumed in Libya
Tea in Libya is truly special. As most African countries do, they also heat the kettle on top of coal in an open fire outside in the desert. It is usually served dark and rich, with nuts on the surface of the hot tea. The natives, Berbers are quite fond of tea and have a special way of making it.
Along the beaches of the Mediterranean Sea, Libyans enjoy a tea in the open. It is usually black tea that they consume, but it is sometimes known as red tea as well. They use loose tea leaves, either green or black. The specialty of Libyan tea is the form. Called “reghwa”, it looks like a cappuccino froth. It measures up to about 1 to 2 inches on the top of the tea in the cup. Reghwa is created by pouring the tea from cup to cup, while keeping them far apart. It takes a skilled tea maker to achieve success in it.
Apart from the black or red tea, Libyans also like the mint tea, which is the choice of tea in Morocco. The ceremony of tea is not to be hurried. It is same as hanging out and having a good time with friends and family.
Tea Customs of Libya
Libyans love their tea and coffee. Families usually gather around for a tea in the afternoon at their homes. To keep the tradition alive Libyans make a very thick and strong tea which looks and tastes like a syrup. It is poured from cup to cup or from mug to another mug until a tall foam is created on top of it.
Libyans usually take their tea very strong and it is prepared using their customary stainless utensils. The tea is then served in a small glass cup. It is offered in three rounds and the final one will include almonds or peanuts added to it. Even basil or mint can be added as a flavor, but it is not common. Due to the requirement of having the foam on the tea, the process of tea making takes a long time.
Although authentic reports lack details about how or where the foam on top of the tea was created, it is a generally held belief among Libyans that its origins were in the desert society. Seemingly they worked hard to have a thick foam on the tea in order to avoid sand or dirt from getting into the tea glass. The dirt was assumed to be stuck on the top of the foam, enabling one to drink a clean beverage.
Magrood - made three days prior to a wedding – is a sweet with dates. Kaak bil Tummar is another delicious date-filled cookie Libyans enjoy with tea. Diblah is a traditional pastry which is so flakey it melts in your mouth. It is fried, coated in honey and sprinkled with sesame.
Tea ceremonies in Libya
The traditional "Shahi al- Alla" is a Libyan tea ceremony which has occurred frequently in the recent past. The Alla consists of a set of tea utensils made in stainless steel or another kind of metal, usually very colorful and decorated outside. During the past years this set has become a must in any Libyan household.
Tea is a symbol of generosity and a way to warmly welcome guests to your home. Taking time to make the perfect tea with foam depicts how serious you are about hospitality. Pouring tea from mug to mug or cup to cup needs a special set of skills and Libyans consider it very important that you know how to do it properly.
The Berber people used a kettle on top of coal, outside their dwellings to conduct the tea ceremony. They use black tea, a considerable amount of it, and brew it until it becomes very strong and thick. It simmers for about 20 minutes. The pouring from cup to cup and begins after that and you have to do it for about 20 to 30 times until the perfect form is created. An experienced tea maker will even create a distance as much as over their head to a cup in one's hand. Adding peanuts or almonds is also another custom the Libyans have. The tea is then served with the ring shaped cookie known as “kaak malih”.
Teaware of Libya
The tea set Alla is central to Libya. It consists of containers of three sizes. The biggest one is for sugar, middle sized one is used for tea and the smallest container will be used for incense.
Parts of this tea set are made of metal or stainless steel. The set includes tea trays made of the same material as well. Usually an offer of tea is accompanied with a lot of sweet meats.
These accessories form an essential part of the preparation of the bride as well. Usually mothers of brides choose a lot of materials that are needed for the house and the Allah set is one of them.
The tea ceremony usually takes place at a grandparent's house or during other religious ceremonies such as Eid. But some families have it every Friday as well. Not only the silver tea set, Shahi al- Alla includes tea pots, one for water and another for tea, a special metal cup they call Lig-gama, sugar container and tray. Everyone will gather around this set and have a good time catching up.
A special cup is used to make the “reghwa” or the foam. Tea, once poured from the pot to the mug, will be poured back and forth, again and again until this foam is formed.