Tea Culture and Tea Traditions of Africa


Tea Drinking Culture in Africa
Tea History of Africa
Africa was introduced to tea by China, similar to most countries in the world. It is recorded in written history that as far back as the 14th century, Moroccan and Somali scholars discussed Chinese tea customs. Although it is unclear whether they actually drank the beverage, it is mentioned that African leaders were offered tea as a prestige gift when the Chinese diplomats met with them. While that story ends there, next phase tea initiation of Africa begins in the early 17th century when the Portuguese and Dutch traders traveled across the continent with their cargo. Their tea traditions and tea culture, herbs and spices influenced the Africans.
By the late 19th century the British were very much attached to tea and in order to control the dependency on China, they encouraged tea growth in the African colonies. They tested out tea cultivation in the African regions with sufficient altitude, rainfall and ideal soil conditions. The first estate was established in Malawi in 1880. Kenya, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Uganda and South Africa followed. Even though during the post-colonial times tea production in African countries was slightly depressed, they became successful eventually. Kenya is now the fourth largest tea exporting country in the world, posing a considerable threat to countries such as India, Sri Lanka and China.
Types of Tea consumed in Africa
Africa is home to a variety of teas, due to the differences in climate and soil. African tea is quite unique, and strong not to mention delicious. From herbal teas to black, green, white, oolong and fermented teas, Africa is a proud producer of sought out teas. Some teas worth mentioning are Kenyan black tea, Ethiopian tea, Rwandan tea, Kenyan purple tea, red and green Rooibos, and honey bush tea.
Kenyan black tea is the main choice from the African teas. Most of this is prepared in the CTC (crush-tearcurl) basis. Kenyans prepare their tea by adding milk and sugar. Kenyan purple tea is actually a result of a research done by the tea research institution of Kenya. It's simply a black tea, however contains large amounts of anthocyanin, which is the pigment that gives color to fruits and vegetables, hence “purple” tea.
Rwanda produces green, black and white tea; Ethiopia is well known for their spiced tea. Rooibos is an herbal “tea” produced in South Africa which is not Camellia sinensis but an herb of the Fabaceae family. Honey Bush is its cousin, having the same family and order.
Most North African countries enjoy mint tea. Some have become creative, and added other ingredients such as pine nuts to their tea.
Tea Customs of Africa
Africa is well known for creating potions and medicines using plants. Some of these concoctions are treated medicinal whilst some others are religiously honoured. Therefore was not a spectacle for them.
In Africa, tea is part of their daily life. It is deeply rooted in their customs and traditions. Most African countries consume tea with their main meals, and in between meals. They serve tea as a sign of hospitality.
Kenyans almost always take their tea, with milk and sugar. Rare times it is drunk black, it’s called “strunggi”. Tangawizi is also a much loved variation where the tea is brewed with ginger. Malawi, where the first tea was grown, enjoys a different hued tea to the dark brown in other areas. It is a very vibrant reddish color hue.
In South Africa they grow and enjoy the herbal tea “Rooibos”. It is not Camelia sinensis, but another herb which is used to make a refreshing beverage similar to tea. In the North African countries they prefer green tea. It is brewed for more than 15 minutes, and consumed with sugar and spearmint. Sometimes they add pine nuts as well. Senegal is known to have a very formal tea ceremony named “Attaya”.
Africans enjoy their tea with accompaniments such as Mandazi (a type of doughnut also known as Puffpuff or Bofrot) and buttermilk rusks, a cookie similar to biscotti which they dip in their tea to make it soften.
Tea ceremonies in Africa
Tea is a welcome gesture anywhere in Africa. They do not start a conversation or conduct business without the offer of a tea first. Preparation of tea is traditionally done by men. It would be either the head of the family, i.e. the father, or the grown-up son. Similar to the Middle Eastern countries tea is usually served scalding hot. They also have the ritual of pouring tea from a great height to make it frothy and tastier.
The tea ceremony in West African countries is known as “Attaya”. It is part of the tea culture in countries such as Mauritania, Gambia and Senegal. Each ceremony has three rounds. It is said that the first round of tea has to be bitter, as it is a notion of the beginning of life which represents the agony and suffering of growing up. As opposed to that, the subsequent round is sweet and minty. This is supposed to signify happy occurrences in the midlife such as love and marriage. The third and the final round is a tea which is quite weak to symbolize the old age. This ceremony is limited strictly to adult males, and no matter how many participants are there, just three glasses will be used to perform it.
Even in the great Sahara desert, green tea can be found in the tents where Attaya is performed with great reverence.
Teaware of Africa
West Africans like their tea very sweet. During “Attaya”, tea is brewed in a kettle similar to the Middle Eastern version of it, made with metal, silver or sometimes copper. It is placed on top of the stove for a long time for the tea to be brewed properly. Once brewed, it is poured in to a glass, which is then poured back in to the kettle. This is done with the objective of “mixing” the tea to get the best colour and taste. If the ceremony is held outside, the kettle is placed on coal for more than 45 minutes for tea to be brewed well.
These glasses are similar to the tulip-shaped glasses used commonly in the Middle East. However, some may not have the “waist” as in those glasses but are quite intricately decorated. The set of glasses and the kettle are placed on a silver tray following the traditions of their neighbours. Glasses are made of glass, not porcelain. Most African countries don’t use mugs to drink tea.
In Morocco, mint tea is usually made in a silver pot and served in transparent glasses. It is a pleasant sight to see the light colour of the tea, with mint leaves floating on the top. The view is second only to the refreshing, deliciousness of the tea itself.