Tea Culture and Tea Traditions of Middle East


Tea Drinking Culture in the Middle East
Tea History of Middle East
In the 1800s, most of the Middle East came under the Ottoman Empire. This led to a revolutionary shift in many areas such as business, culture, law and lifestyle. What commenced there is considered as the start of the mid-modern era. Recently discovered records from an ancient court system reveal a certain Abu Taqiyya’s business dealings and the part played by tea, as well as other spices so long ago in the Middle Eastern society.
Middle East is considered as the third-earliest country to adopt this wonderful beverage, literally, as their “cup of tea”, after China and India. Although having their roots in various cultures, one thing that binds most, if not all, is the religion. Most of the middle Easterners are Islamic. Islam prohibits alcohol and other mind-altering drinks, hence tea gained an upper hand having been approved by their own religious beliefs.
Types of Tea consumed in Middle East
There are many different variants of tea consumed in the Middle East. Arabs prefer the traditional black tea any time of day, however there are modifications done, to make it more flavoursome, and tasty. From a long time back, tea was not only consumed just as a beverage but also as a medicine. Today the numerous teas drunk in households, shops and road-side cafés are working to alleviate thirst and act as herbal potions.
Spices and herbs such as chamomile, anise, thyme, cinnamon, cardamom, and mint are added to the customary black tea, which is also termed “aḥmar” meaning “red” tea. Dried lime and hibiscus are also common infusions.
Out of these, chamomile is known to reduce stress, and improve sleep; thyme is known to enhance memory; cardamom tea is drunk prior to meals so the enzymes helping digestion are at their optimum. Maghrebi mint tea is a green tea generally drunk in Morocco and neighbouring regions. There is also another ‘general’ mint tea which is used as a medicine for colds, allergies and sore throats.
Sage tea is another popular version of tea served subsequent to a meal, to help with digestion. The “masala” tea found in India exists in the Middle East as “Karak” tea. It is a tea mixed with spices. However prepared, tea was, is, and will remain the most popular drink in the Middle East.
Tea Customs of Middle East
As it is encompasses many countries, every time is a tea time in the Middle East. There are so many customs in the area, including the family-and-friends tea time, where everyone gathers in the garden sipping tea.
One tradition which has come to surface, after having been lost for some time is Sabbabeen il Shai, or the one that of the “traditional seller of tea”. A boy or a man will walk around wearing a saddle pant, red cylindrical hat with a tassel hanging and a top-wear of leather straps which holds a copper tray with partitions for tea cups. Their tea pot is carried on their back. It is a beautiful sight to see how they pour tea from a considerable height to make the tea more aerated and frothy for it to be of better taste.
Shai Al Hatab or tea that is prepared over scorching firewood is another custom in the Middle East. Although most households and shops use stoves and samovars, the Shai Al Hatab is considered to be of a fine flavour when made this way. It comes out very red, and bitter and is drunk with a lot of sugar to make it ultrasweet. This tradition is said to be most popular among the Bedouin communities, as well as the farm and peasant villages.
Baslogh, a traditional pastry is a popular tea accompaniment in the Middle East. Other tea snacks include knaffy also called kanafa, baglawa better known as baklava, a semolina-and-almond-cake hareeseh, and the biscuit filled with dates or nuts, maamoul.
Tea ceremonies in Middle East
Tea making itself is a custom, and the Arabs use it to socialize their young. They expect the little boys to know how and when to pour, to make a tea that is just right. It is part of stepping-in to adulthood; it could often be observed the father or an uncle of a family inviting the young boy to pour the hot water from the pot, on to the tea leaves while others sit around them. It is almost a test to see how careful, thoughtful and crafty he will be to fulfill the task.
Although known as world class hagglers, Arabs more often than not, offer a tea to customers if they linger for a while, or especially if interest is shown in buying something. It is a ritual to have tea in all the celebrations, ceremonies and simple house parties. It is common to see bridal showers and “mehendi” parties being organised with “tea party” theme.
Middle Easterners are accustomed to a tea time, following in the footsteps of customary tea time worldwide, which is in the evening. However, in tea shops and homes alike, tea is taken at breakfast, and after both main meals, lunch and dinner. Most of the time, tea is accompanied with various colourful sweetmeats local to the area, made with flour, milk, sugar, and sometimes, incorporating dates.
Teaware of Middle East
The characteristic tiny tea glass is used in the Middle East. Tea is poured from various sorts of kettles, made of copper, brass or steel and adorned with silvery or gold crafts. Many of these tea pots are preserved as antiques now.
The beautiful tulip shaped glasses are accompanied by intricately carved saucers. The dallah, or the longstemmed kettle is usually associated with coffee, however it is used for tea as well.
The “ghahveh khaneh”, literally translated to coffee shop, is the place where tea is served 24*7. These shops mostly use the samovars, descending from Russia. Kettles are used domestically. The saucer is used to keep the sugar cubes when it is served in the shops.
Tea sets comprise of tulip glasses, with or without handles, matching saucers and tiny gold colour spoons. A larger set can include a tea pot as well. They are all decorated, sometimes with a floral design. Gold is a common colour in the designs. The very rich use teaware elaborately worked in in actual gold.
Using two-kettles in the place of a samovar is a common practice. It is used to make tea in the Middle East commonly. Although prepared and served in many ways, tea in Middle East is a thread which spins the very fabric of the Arabic social life.