Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Attaya: Senegalese Tea Ritual | Recipe to Try it Yourself



Attaya is a Wolof word for the process that is tea preparation and presentation in Senegal. It's a very important part of daily, social life and it can be served at any moment. Attaya is served everywhere - in homes, at the work place, out on sidewalks - and is the customary beverage offered to guests. It's also enjoyed in The Gambia, Mali and Niger.

The tea ritual takes a long time - usually between one to three hours. Everyone gathers around, and while the tea is being prepared and enjoyed over the course of three rounds, everyone chats and catches up. 



Photo Credit: Rob Baird (CC)

The tea itself is thick, sweet and strong. Gunpowder green tea is customarily used, and it's steeped and drunk in three stages: the first is a strong bitter tea with little sugar, the second sweeter and with mint, and the third thick and very sweet. The three stages are known as "les trois normaux", with the symbolism different depending on who you talk to. I've read that the tea is like friendship: the longer friends are together, the sweeter their friendship grows. I've also read that the first stage is bitter like death, the second gentle like life, and the third sweet like love. Conversely, I've also read that the first is bitter like life, the second sweet like love and the third gentle like the breath of death. Maybe it all depends on how you look at life. 

Attaya is always served with a foam topping in tiny tea glasses, known as kas. The foam is achieved from pouring the tea from one cup to another slowly, in a long stream from as high as possible. This is repeated until there is a nice foam, similar to this. When drinking, the custom is to slurp - loudly - which helps to avoid burning the tongue.

Attaya tea ritual. Top Left: tea boiling in a barada, teapot, over a coal fire; Top Right: tea being poured into large cup; Bottom Left: tea being poured back and forth to create foam; Bottom Right: foamy tea poured into kas, special tea glasses.
Photos Credited to: Chrystina Gastelum (CC) - original photos adapted into collage

How to try this at home

I was rather surprised when I read there was a ritual tea custom in Senegal (or anywhere in West Africa) and was immediately excited to try it at home. I had a momentary urge to try to source out those tiny tea glasses,  but sense (and budget) prevailed. Rather than a barada and kas, we steeped the tea in a sauce pan and used our regular tea cups - though servings were just as small, and seemed a pittance in a regular size tea cup, it was more than enough. If you're going to try this, keep in mind it's best enjoyed after a meal, and can cause an upset stomach if taken on an empty stomach. 


Gunpowder green tea is a Chinese tea that's named that way because the curled up tea leaves look like old fashioned gun powder.

Ingredients:
  • 4 tbsp Chinese Gunpowder green tea (in a tea bag or equivalent)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 small bunch of mint leaves
The first stage:

Put the tea leaves and one cup of water in your pot over medium heat and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and pour a bit into one of your cups. Begin pouring the tea back and forth between two cups until you have foam. Keeping the foam in the cup, pour the tea back into the pot. Add 1/4 cup sugar and bring to a simmer. While the tea is reheating, divide the foam into each of the four cups. Once the tea is simmering, pour the tea into two cups. Pour back and forth again until there is more foam, divide between all four cups, and serve. 
This tea will taste bitter.

The second stage:

Add one cup of water and two mint sprigs to your pot and the used tea leaves. Bring to a boil, add 1/4 cup of sugar, and bring to a boil again. Remove from the heat and pour a bit into one of your cups. Begin pouring the tea back and forth between two cups until you have foam. Keeping the foam in the cup, pour the tea back into the pot and bring to a boil. While the tea is reheating, divide the foam into each of the four cups. Once the tea is simmering, pour the tea into two cups. Pour back and forth again until there is more foam, divide between all four cups, and serve. 
This tea will taste sweet and slightly minty.

The third stage: 

Add one cup of water and the rest of the mint sprigs to your pot (still keeping the tea and mint from previous stages). Bring to a boil, add 1/4 cup of sugar, and bring to a boil again. Remove from the heat and pour a bit into one of your cups. Begin pouring the tea back and forth between two cups until you have foam. Keeping the foam in the cup, pour the tea back into the pot and bring to a boil. While the tea is reheating, divide the foam into each of the four cups. Once the tea is simmering, pour the tea into two cups. Pour back and forth again until there is more foam, divide between all four cups, and serve. 
This tea will taste very sweet and rather syrupy. 



Here, the girls are each trying their hands at pouring the tea back and forth. They started low and slowly worked their way up to a greater height. As you can see, there was some spillage along the way :) It's important to be careful of course, since the water had just been boiling. It took us - each of us when we tried - so long to get a decent amount of foam that the tea was far from too hot when we were drinking it. The photo below was also the most foam we got - we clearly need more practice! But to be honest, though we enjoyed trying it out and had fun trying to get the foam, we didn't enjoy the taste enough to have it again.


Find more posts exploring culture, geography and history with kids at



Find more popular West African drinks with recipes you can make at home: Bissap & Ginger Beer (non-alcoholic)
  • If you're interested in tea ceremonies, find our post on how to have your own Chinese tea ceremony here
  • There's also a popular drink in China made with tea, called Bubble Tea, and you can find our recipe here.





Title image:photo credit to CC Flickr User "Delayed Gratification". Photo adapted with words overlay

5 comments:

  1. Interesting. Do the Senegalese use Chinese gunpowder tea as well or do they have their own kind? Frothy tea does not float my boat at all. My children like to make a tea latte which they shake the milk up for a looong time to achieve the froth. It just puts me off drinking it! Tea is not meant to be frothy!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Chinese gunpowder tea is specifically used - I haven't found the reason behind that though. Why that tea exactly? (And frankly here it's rather expensive!)

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  2. I was with you for tea ceremony and then you said thick and sweet and I went, "Yuck." I like my tea straight and unadulterated.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's definitely different that what I've been accustomed to for tea as well!

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