Tea is a beloved beverage worldwide, with various cultural traditions surrounding its consumption. While coffee is the most commonly consumed hot drink, tea holds a special place in the hearts of many societies, including China, Egypt, Turkey, Britain, Morocco, and the United Kingdom. In Libya, tea holds a particularly important place in the culture, known as Shahi A’ala or “high tea.”
The Tradition of Shahi A’ala
Shahi A’ala is a tea made in a specific way with traditional settings and tools, often prepared when family members gather in a grandparent’s house or during Eid celebrations. Some families carry on this tradition every Friday since it is a holiday. The sentimental value of the tea is directly connected to memories of childhood and happiness. It is a time to gather with family and friends, and it is a symbol of Libyan identity and culture practices.
Serving Shahi A’ala
Shahi A’ala is served alongside traditional desserts and homemade bread. Libyan cuisine boasts a wide variety of delicious desserts, such as Magroud, Ghraiba, cookies, savory and sour biscuits, and more. Mothers and sisters get creative with the desserts they serve, adding a personal touch to the tradition.
The Preparation Process
To prepare Shahi A’ala, one needs specific settings, including a tablecloth, a small round table, a tray, special teacups, a pot for tea and water, a sponge for cleaning, sugar jars (سكريات), and a metal cup (or as Libyans call it “Lig-gama اللقامة”). Making the tea itself is easy; one fills the teapot with water and brings it to a boil before adding tea leaves. The magic happens in the process of pouring it multiple times until it creates that lovely and bubbly foam on top. The woman who prepares the tea makes sure to fill as many cups as possible to serve everyone, kids and adults alike.
The Beauty of the Tradition
Shahi A’ala represents family, happiness, memories, laughter, and good times. It is a tradition that people grow up with and that stays with them forever. While it is not an easy tradition to maintain, it is one that is cherished and loved. Learning how to make it and passing it on to future generations is a goal for many Libyans who want to preserve this beautiful tradition.