Coffee and Tea in Algerian Culture

The story of El Qahoua Ouel Atay, one of the most famous Algerian Chaabi songs, revolves around a conversation between coffee and tea. This conversation is a part of Algerian culture, taking place in homes, coffee shops, and even in the minds of individuals when deciding which drink to have. While both drinks are integral to Algerian culture, they came into Algerian society in different ways and have different roles.

The History of Coffee and Tea in Algeria

Coffee was first mentioned in the 17th century by Father Pierre Dan in his book, History of the Barbary and its Corsairs. The citizens of Algiers were already drinking coffee in the 16th century due to Ottoman influence on the city. At first, there were no designated places for coffee drinkers, but later, coffee shops started emerging in a specific Andalusian style with beautiful Zellij tilework and detailed arches. European historians called them “Moorish coffee shops”, or Café Maure. These coffee shops were only seen in the main coastal cities with centralized administrative governance at that time.

Tea came first to Morocco through British trading ships and was initially only available to the royal families of Morocco. As it became more popular amongst the masses, it made its way to Algeria. Tea found its base in southern Algeria while coffee found its base in Algeria’s coastal cities. This created a dichotomy between north and south regarding coffee and tea, yet that doesn’t mean that coastal regions don’t drink tea or that southern regions don’t have coffee.

The Debate Between Tea and Coffee

With colonization reaching the south and more contact with the north, the debate between tea and coffee deepened as both drinks became widely available throughout the country. Places like Aflou are famous for their specialized coffee, and distinct coffee flavors exist in pockets throughout Algeria. Tea has also been a part of Algerian culture for centuries, with a tradition of preparation and consumption emerging. In the south, it is the man’s duty to prepare tea, which can take around an hour or more. In certain places, two cups is the minimum amount you should have, while in others, three cups is the minimum, with the tea getting gradually sweeter from the first cup to the last.

The Culture of Coffee and Tea

Coffee is the morning drink for most Algerians, with many enjoying it in local cafes. These cafes are occupied all day, with people not just there for the coffee but for the entire ambiance. The social composition of each place is different; rural areas and southern parts of Algeria are more traditionalist and conservative, and so social gatherings take place inside as opposed to outside. In coastal cities, coffee culture exists both inside the house and outside of it, while tea is seen as an intimate drink, one to have during a Ramadan night after Tarawih prayers.

In conclusion, culture is a complex subject to analyze, and it is that complexity that defies generalizations. Culture is never dichotomous but rather a beautiful network of history and traditions weaved together to create a vibrant cloth. This is how coffee and tea are in Algeria. The story depends on the place, time, family, and individuals themselves, each of these things determining the judge’s ruling called upon in the Chaabi song. It turns out that, in Algeria, the choice between coffee and tea is quite a profound one to make.

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