February 05, 2009

drinking tea with the moors

Tea was introduced in Mauritania in the XIX century by the tribes of the Ouled Bou Sba, who also introduced the first riffles.

It is green tea that comes all the way from China and that's drunk from morning to night. In the early days only men drunk it as it was expensive and hard to find. Nowadays no one goes without.
You'll have it for breakfast and will be the last thing you drink before going to sleep. Any occasion is an occasion to make tea.
Its served in three turns in very small glasses. If you're only offered a glass take it as you're not welcome. If you came to visit after the third glass you'll wait for the tea maker to clean its tray and gear and then you leave.
If serving the three glasses seems to go on for hours it means that you're really welcome and conversation is flowing. On the other hand if the three glasses are served in a record time, better leave.
You boil the water, (check what they use from the drawings; gas bottle, charcoal, wood, electric heater, favourite a charcoal fire) add the tea, brew, bring it up to boil, take it, add sugar, mix and taste by pouring it to the glasses and back to the tea pot, back to the fire, take it out add fresh mint or special herbs, let brew and serve. That's the first glass.
At the saharawi refugee camps they used to make a special one where water was substituted by camels milk or milk and special herbs added. Its supposed to help you with the cold, it was delicious.
The glasses have a kind of cappuccino froth that's achieved by pouring tea from a glass held at a height into a glass on the tray, these movement has to be done for a while in order to achieve a nice looking froth. You keep changing glass, let's say you have three glasses and you pour from one to another to another and so on. Each time you place the empty glass on the tray there is a small glass touching metal noise, this noise will repeat itself at regular intervals and when I stay with a family in a village, that's my wake up call.
For the second glass you'll just pour fresh water into what's left and when it boils you add sugar and before you leave it to brew you add the fresh mint.

For the third glass you add less sugar and its the softer glass, tea is not as strong
If you get into the habit of drinking this small glasses that are quite addictive (once you've overcome your first reactions of aversion because they can be really sweet) you'll suffer like the locals of bad headaches if you don't drink tea in the morning or during the day.

And worse you can stay really letargic untill the second serving of tea that happens usually around 11 am.
So you have the first three glasses for breakfast, second one at around 11 am, third one after lunch, a fourth one around 5 pm, another round before or after dinner, those are the set ones. Then if there are visitors you'll have to bring the tea set and start from zero.

Do I drink all those teas? I would have my heart banging if I consumed so much, people here are used to them a bit like us with strong coffee, remember how your first expresso got you on a high?
I love them sometimes I just go to my neighbours to drink it but if staying in a village I'll avoid drinking a round after 5pm.


  1. Isabel, these paintings and your story are completely wonderful - I think this post could be a book on it's own. I just love it!

  2. you gave me a good idea. I might do that! to sell them here in Mauritania not easy to survive from my paintings ! Thanks

  3. wow!! These are really nice. You have a deft handling of watercolor. Nothing is over worked or hesitant. Everything is clear and accurate. What a superior record your sketches are of these quiet moments than a photograph.

  4. oh! beautiful, beautiful scketches!!
    Isabel, son preciosísimos!
    Pero vives allí?

  5. Hello!
    Como te había dicho representas un mundo de tradiciones con maravillosos colores.
    Un saludo

  6. thank you all for your comments

  7. ¿No es extraño que el té venga desde China?

  8. Fascinating post! The paintings are lovely and your description of the process and the rituals is so absorbing.


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