Maghrebi Mint Tea: A Traditional Drink and Social Ritual in North Africa

Maghrebi mint tea, also known as Moroccan mint tea or Algerian mint tea, is a traditional North African drink made with gunpowder green tea, spearmint leaves, and sugar. This tea is popular throughout the Greater Maghreb region, which includes countries like Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Mauritania. It’s also consumed in parts of the Sahel, France, Spain, the Arab world, and the Middle East.

Mint tea plays a central role in social life in the Maghreb, and is particularly popular among the Tuareg people in Algeria, Libya, Niger, and Mali. It’s often prepared ceremonially by the head male in the family and offered to guests as a sign of hospitality. Typically, at least three glasses of tea are served, and it’s consumed throughout the day as a social activity.

The native spearmint naʿnāʿ is traditionally used in Maghrebi mint tea, as it possesses a clear, pungent, and mild aroma. Other hybrids and cultivars of spearmint, including yerba buena, may be used as substitutes. In Morocco, mint tea may also be flavored with herbs, flowers, or orange blossom water, and in the cold season, warming herbs like pennyroyal mint and wormwood are added. Mint has been used as an infusion, decoction, and herbal medicine throughout the Mediterranean since ancient times, and was even used in Algeria to prevent and cure cholera in the 19th century.


The British introduced gunpowder tea to North Africa in the 18th and 19th centuries via Morocco and Algeria, as reported by food historian Helen Saberi. The drinking of green tea with mint began in Morocco and spread to Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and nomadic tribes such as Berbers and Tuareg in the Sahara. Tea and sugar arrived in the port of Essaouira from Europe, where Jewish merchants managed their passing through the interior of Morocco in the 19th century. The tea was drunk widely and all day long, as recorded by James Richardson during his travels in the 1840s.

Tea consumption was associated with power and prestige in Morocco, and Ahmed Bin Mubarek became the first “master of tea” in the Makhzen. Tea imports quadrupled in the twenty years after the Anglo-Moroccan Treaty of 1856, but remained an urban practice. Partaking in the tea ceremony became a symbol of status and savoir faire among urban populations and a way to emulate the urban class for rural farmers. Tea consumption increased among wider segments of the population during the famines of the 1880s when it became an emergency calorie substitute, appetite suppressant, and mode of performing acculturation for rural populations flooding the cities in search of opportunities.

The scarcity of coffee was another factor in the spread of atay consumption in Morocco. Algerian cities had been introduced to coffee culture under the influence of the Ottomans, while Moroccan cities would only be introduced to coffee later. Oral traditions in the Algerian city of Tlemcen distinguish between “Fassi tea drinkers and Tlemceni coffee drinkers.”

In the late 19th century, Sufi orders led by figures such as Muhammad Bin Abdul-Kabir Al-Kattani told their adherents not to drink tea, attempting to boycott sugar and tea imported by Europeans.

By the early 20th century, mint tea had become well established in Morocco.


The tea is made using green tea, fresh mint leaves, sugar, and boiling water, with varying proportions of each ingredient and brewing time depending on preference. In the Maghreb, boiling water is used instead of cooler water to avoid bitterness. The leaves are not removed from the pot and remain in the tea as it is consumed, which changes the flavor with each glass.

To serve, the tea is poured into glasses from a height to swirl the loose tea leaves to the bottom and aerate the tea for better flavor. In the winter, when mint is scarce, leaves of tree wormwood or lemon verbena are sometimes used to give the tea a different flavor. Other herbs like oregano, sage, and thyme may also be added.

One simple method involves steeping two teaspoons of tea leaves in half a liter of boiling water for at least 15 minutes, then filtering the mixture into a stainless steel pot and adding sugar. Fresh mint leaves can be added directly to the pot or cup. A more complex method involves infusing the tea briefly, pouring off the initial liquid, cleaning the tea with boiling water, and then adding mint and sugar before boiling and steeping for three to five minutes.

The tea is traditionally served three times, with each glass having a unique flavor based on the length of time the tea has been steeping. The first glass is described as gentle as life, the second as strong as love, and the third as bitter as death, according to a famous Maghrebi proverb.

In Culture

Nass El Ghiwane’s beloved track “Es-Siniya” (الصينية) employs a tea tray as a symbolic representation to delve into the challenges associated with moving from rural areas to metropolitan cities like Casablanca.

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