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Tea Time: Middle East


Tea Time: Middle East

Tea and coffee are pretty big in the Middle East and are enjoyed by everyone, everywhere and anytime! Here we will focus on tea. Coffee in the Middle East pretty much comes in two varieties: Turkish coffee and Arabic coffee (aka Saudi coffee) but we will cover that in a separate post soon.  Every region (or nation)  have their own flavor or ritual of making tea from refreshing mint green tea in Morocco to slightly dark tea in Iran. Arabs wake up with Turkish or Arabic coffee and then followed with tea when eating breakfast.  Tea consumption continues through out the day and late night. When visiting someone's home, it's customary to offer guests tea (and coffee or both) with some type of Middle Eastern sweet or dessert.  In most of the Middle East, tea is consumed throughout the day as a social activity, during work and in business functions and afternoon breaks, with tea bars and kiosks filling a similar social function to alcohol drinking establishments in Europe and North America. In Amman, Jordan tea and coffee kiosks or stops are even available along highways.

Arabs drink tea in a variety of methods and flavors. Fresh mint is the most popular herb and it's used extensively in North Africa and the Levant. Other flavors include cardamom, sage (meramiah), cinnamon, anise, lemon or just sadah (plain black tea). North African nations such as Morocco and Algeria mostly drink green tea while majority of the Middle East drink black tea. Teas from the Gulf nations are made similar to Indian tea chai masala. The tea is spiced with cardamom and cloves is served milky and sweet.

Here is a sampling of tea recipes around the Middle East and North Africa

Palestinian Sage (Meramieh) Tea

Palestinians drink sage tea and mint tea. Here is a basic recipe for a sage tea: Bring 6 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove the pan from the heat, add the tea and sage leaves, and cover the pan. Wrap a kitchen towel around the pan and set it aside for 10 minutes to allow the tea to steep. Then strain the liquid into a teapot and serve hot, with a bowl of sugar on the side.

What is Maramia (Sage)?
Maramia (Sage)  is a healthy, naturally grown herb originating from the Mediterranean  that is used for cooking, medicine, and  smudging. The epithet officinales, of its scientific name Salvia officinales, refers  to its healing properties and medicinal uses, as the officina was the storeroom in monasteries during the Medieval Era where medicines and herbs were stored. Maramia has been used since before ancient times for a variety of things from snakebites to increasing fertility and warding off evil.

Jordanian (Badouin) Tea

For best results, always use lose leaf tea. 
  1. Pour the water into the tea kettle and add the sugar. (This is a key step! Letting the sugar boil with the water and tea leaves makes all the difference)
  2. Add the loose tea leaves on top of the water. The leaves will remain floating on top. Do not stir.
  3. Place the kettle over fire and allow the tea to boil and brew to a beautiful dark amber color.
  4. If brewing over a camp fire, lift the cover off the tea kettle for a few minutes as it boils to obtain a delicious Smokey flavor.  A must try!
  5. For additional flavors, add a spring of fresh mint or thyme into your glass and pour the tea over it. Do not boil the herbs with tea as some may become bitter with boiling.
  6. Settle into a comfy spot and enjoy with good company!
  7. You can never have enough tea. Refill any empty glass promptly.

Yemeni Tea (Chai Adani)

Yemeni tea is similar to Indian tea (Chai Masala).  This recipe is for milk tea, a very sweet black tea spiced with cardamom and cloves added to condensed milk. Let the milk boil lightly on the stove for a few minutes to develop the flavor.

16 oz. water (2 cups)
4 oz. condensed milk
6 tsp. sugar (NOTE: Yemeni tea is very sweet, you may lessen the sugar to taste)
3-4 cardamom pods
2 whole cloves
2 teabags

Preparation Method:
Add water, milk, sugar, cardamom, and cloves to saucepan and bring to a boil on medium heat. Boil on medium heat for about 5 minutes, being careful not to burn milk. Add tea and continue boiling for another 5 minutes, allowing the tea to flavor the milk. Serve with thamool or cookies. Serves 2

Moroccan Mint Green Tea

Morocco consumes green tea with mint rather than black tea. It has become part of the culture and is used widely at almost every meal. The Moroccan people even make tea performance a special culture in the flower country. Moroccan tea is commonly served with rich tea cookies, fresh green mint leaves, local "finger shape" brown sugar, and colorful tea glasses and pots. Drinking Moroccan tea is not only a luxury of tongue, but also the eyes.

Serves 2, makes 3 cups

1 tea bag (black tea) or 1 tablespoon loose black tea
3 whole mint sprigs
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sugar
3 cups steaming hot water

Preparation Method:
Add the sugar to a tea pot or serving pitcher; add the mint sprigs and tea, and pour hot water over mixture. Stir a few times to dissolve the sugar and close the tea pot lid (or cover up pitcher). Let steep for 5 minutes. Serve hot

Omani Tea

 Boil a pan of water, whilst it’s coming to the boil add five or six big handfuls of sugar.

  1. Add 6-8 ‘Mumtaz’ tea bags, you can tear them open for better flavor if you like. Then add two small cans of evaporated milk and bring it back to the boil. For something extra flavorsome, add two Zaatar (Thyme) tea bags, some finely grated ginger and a pinch of cardamom at the same time as the milk.
  2. Take it off the heat and dunk the tea bags repeatedly and let it rest for a few minutes.
  3. Finally bring back to the boil and serve in small shot glasses. If there’s none to hand an adapted milk can works wonderfully.

 Iraqi Tea

The most popular brands of tea used in Iraq are Assam black tea, Ceylon Black tea, and other brands. They are dark and strong when brewed. Sometimes we add a stick of cinnamon to the teapot or a few pods of whole cardamom to falvor the tea. 

There is other variety of teas that we serve in Iraq, and they are dried lime tea, and chamomile tea. Hibiscus tea is more popular in the South. These teas are used for medicinal purposes.

We usually consume tea throughout the day, and you can find tea stalls and vendors everywhere. We drink tea with milk in the morning for breakfast. Other times of the day, we drink it black.
You need a teapot, and a kettle with boiling water
2 teaspoons loose black tea or (Lipton loose tea)
2 cups boiling water
Granulated sugar, or sugar cubes
Put tea in the teapot and pour the hot water. Place the cover on top of the teapot. Cover the teapot with a towel to keep the teapot warm and steep for 10 minutes. We traditionally put the teapot on top of the kettle to steep.
To serve it, we put 1 teaspoon or more of sugar in the Istrian, or tea cup. Pour tea to half full, and add boiling water to top of the cup. Stir the tea cup and drink. Be careful, the Istrian can be very hot. We do not strain the tea as we pour it. Tea leaves settle to the bottom of the Istrian.
Sometimes we serve sugar cubes on the side.
Note: we add boiling water to the tea when we pour tea in a cup to dilute it. Tea can be very strong, and gets bitter as it sits longer on top of the kettle.

Syrian Anise Tea 

Anise Tea sprinkled with walnuts

2 teaspoons anise seeds
50 g of sugar
1 liter of soft water or still water
7 tsp black tea (Assam)
3 tablespoons walnuts

Preparation Method:
Add anise seeds with sugar and ½ liters of water boil. Can be drawn on a low heat in a covered 10 min. Fill the black tea in a tea bag and hang in a teapot. Boil the remaining water, let cool 1 minute, then pour over the tea leaves. The tea can be drawn 4-5 min. Chop the walnuts. Remove the tea bags from the pot and pour spiced tea through a strainer. Distribute the tea glasses and serve sprinkled with chopped nuts.

Saudi Tea

The majority of Saudis enjoy their tea.  Most like it after they have eaten their evening meal.  While some may have green tea, the majority will enjoy dark tea brewed with tea leaves and not tea bags.  Saudi tea can be fixed a variety of different ways but I will describe the way I prepare it and helped win the heart of my Saudi mother-in-law.
Preparation Method:
First I would boil 2.5 cups of water in a kettle but itself without any tea added.  In a separate tea kettle I would put 2 small pinches (usually 2 tablespoon each) of tea into the bottom of the tea kettle.  I would also add 1.5 tablespoons of sugar.  One the water had come to a rolling boil I’d transfer the boiling water into the tea kettle with the tea leaves.  I’d put this tea kettle back on the burner and again bring the water (now with tea leaves) to another rolling boil.  As the water boils the tea leaves will rise to the top.  I’d usually let it boil this way for one to two minutes.  Then I get a spoon to collect and the tea leaves from the boiling water.  This ensures that the tea will not get any stronger than what you have just freshly brewed.  After collecting the tea leaves from the water, I’d then remove the tea kettle from the stove and serve immediately in the skinny glass tea glasses typically used here in the Kingdom to serve tea.


Egyptian Tea

Egyptian tea comes in two varieties: Koshary and Saiidi. Koshary tea, popular in Lower (Northern) Egypt, is prepared using the traditional method of steeping black tea in boiled water and letting it set for a few minutes. It is almost always sweetened with cane sugar and is often flavored with fresh mint leaves. Adding milk is also common. Koshary tea is usually light, with less than a half teaspoonful per cup considered to be near the high end.

Egyptian Saiidi Tea

Saiidi tea is common in Upper (Southern) Egypt. It is prepared by simmering black tea with water for as long 20 minutes over a medium flame (or boil tea for 5 minutes) Saiidi tea is extremely heavy, with 2 teaspoonfuls per cup being the norm. It is sweetened with copious amounts of cane sugar (a necessity since the formula and method yield a very bitter tea). Saiidi tea is often black even in liquid form.

Tunisian Tea

1 tablespoon loose-leaf gunpowder green tea
3 cups plus 3 tablespoons cool water
1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar
1 large handful of fresh mint, rinsed and picked over
4 tablespoons pine nuts, dry roasted (optional)

Preparation Method:
  1. In a stove-top teapot, add the tea leaves and cover with the 3 tablespoons of water. Bring to a quick boil and immediately pour off the water, being carefully that no tea leaves escape. (This gets rid of the some of the bitterness, and allows the tea to seep longer with mint.)
  2. Add the sugar to the wet grounds and cover with the remaining 3 cups of water. Over medium heat, with the lid open or off, bring to a boil.
  3. Pour half of the liquid into a bowl or Pyrex measuring cup; reserve. Stuff the mint into the teapot, pressing it against the bottom of the pot with a spoon to gently and slightly crush the leaves. Return the reserved liquid to the teapot.
  4. Simmer over low heat for a few minutes to let the mint infuse. Pour a glassful into a clear drinking glass and then back into the pot, from as high as possible without spilling to aerate the tea and blend the flavors. Repeat this two or three more times, as the color of tea changes from clear to a cloudy caramel.
  5. Begin tasting for sweetness and flavor. Add more sugar if desired, or let it simmer another few minutes to make it stronger. Continue to pour glassfuls in and out of the pot until satisfied with both the sweetness and strength of the tea.

Kuwaiti Tea

1 1/2 cups water
2 whole cardamom pods, broken
1 pinch saffron powder
2 tea bags
1 teaspoon white sugar (optional)
Market Pantry Granulated Sugar - 4lbs
Add all ingredients to list

Preparation Method:
Combine the water, saffron, and cardamom in a saucepan over medium heat. Cover, and bring to a boil. Add tea bags, and let the tea steep for a minute, or longer if you like stronger tea. Strain into a cup, and sweeten with sugar if desired.

Number of Servings: 1

And of course one should remember that the tea glass is to be filled to the brim showing guests how welcome they are!

Sudanese Cinnamon Tea

SERVES 4 , 4 cups

4 cups boiling water
4 tea English tea bags or 4 teaspoon of loose English tea
4 cinnamon sticks (approx. 1/2-inch)
4 lumps of sugar, plus extra

Preparation Method:
Place 4 cups of boiling water in a tea pot with the tea & allow to brew for a few minutes then stir.
Place 1 cinnamon stick & 1 sugar lump in a tea cup & pour the tea slowly over them.
Serve with an additional bowl of sugar lumps for guests to add if they like. (You may also add a cinnamon stick to the tea pot whilst the tea is brewing for a stronger cinnamon flavor).

Cardamom and Cinnamon Tea

Preparation Method:
Put 2 Tablespoons of black tea leaves into a tea pot that you have just heated by rinsing it with boiling water. Add 6 cardamom pods and a 2-inch piece of stick cinnamon. Now pour in 5 cups of water that you have just brought to a rolling boil (put in 6 cups of you like your tea on the weaker side). Cover the tea pot and let the tea steep for 4 minutes. Stir the tea.

You may serve this tea with milk and sugar, honey and lemon, or just plain.

Serves 4-6. 

Proper Way to Making Arabic Tea!

Offering tea is an integral part of Arab hospitality, and people in the Arab world drink tea throughout the day. The majority of Arabs drink black tea and tea whether. North African nations mostly drink green tea.

6 cups water
4 teaspoons black tea or tea bags
1 bunch fresh mint leaves
4 cardamom pods
6 sage (meramiah) leaves (optional)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder (optional)
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves (optional)
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg (optional)

Preparation Method:
Bring the water to the boil in a pot and add the tea leaves or bags.
Simmer for two to three minutes until the color diffuses, then remove the pot from the stove.
Rinse the mint leaves under running water, shake them dry, then tear them apart by hand.
Crush the cardamom pods gently in a pestle and mortar.
Pour the tea into a serving pot, add the mint and cardamom pods, cover and allow to steep for five minutes.
Serve the tea by pouring it through a strainer into small, delicate heatproof glasses and add sugar to taste.


  • Arab tea served in the Middle East tends to be taken sweet, with an almost syrupy consistency.

Spicy Brew

Boost the infusion with a more assertive spice mix, usually at the expense of the mint leaves, as the fragrant subtlety is lost once the spices take over.
  • Meramieh tea substitutes fresh sage leaves, native to the Mediterranean, for mint to give a soothing tea. This tea is traditional in Lebanon.
  • Cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg are also appropriate options, releasing aromatic oils into the tea as it steeps.

Milky Tea

The influence of Indian chai on the Arabian peninsula makes itself known with Karak tea, served with condensed milk.
  • Boil up the spices first, typically cardamom, nutmeg and cinnamon, then add the black tea and allow to brew.
  • Stir in a dash of condensed milk, enough to give the tea some creaminess, but not too much to dilute the dark tan color.

Qatari Karak Tea

Karak is the Middle Eastern version of a drink that originates from India—masala chai (which means tea with mixed spices). You may be familiar with chai tea latte, a sweeter, frothier version which is made in western coffee houses, using steamed milk.

There are many versions of this tea it seems, but whether you call it chai tea latte, masala chai, chai, chai tea, chai Karak or simply Karak, it is essentially the same thing: a warm drink made with black tea, milk, sugar and spices.

Wherever you are in the world, the basic ingredients remain the same, but the spices, type of milk and type of sweetener change. Some use sugar to sweeten it, others use honey; some prefer cow's milk, others condensed milk. As for the spices, there are endless possibilities.

The spice mix varies from region to region and can be adjusted to suit your own taste. Even families have their own special recipe and way of preparing it. On the Indian subcontinent, recipes tend to include ginger and cardamom, as well as cinnamon, star anise, fennel seeds, peppercorn, nutmeg or cloves.

Qatar Karak    

In Qatar, strong black tea, sugar, a dominant cardamom flavor and condensed milk appears to be the combination of choice. It is not as spicy as the Indian masala chai, and the condensed milk makes it creamier and sweeter. 

Strong Arabic MinTea

4 ½ cups water
¼ cup sugar*
3 black tea bags**
5-6 fresh mint leaves

Preparation Method:
Pour water and sugar into a teapot or saucepan to boil on the stove. Heat on high until water is boiling and sugar has dissolved. While water is boiling, add the tea bags and mint leaves and boil rapidly for 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and remove the tea bags and mint.*** The tea is now ready to serve! Enjoy!!

*1/4 cup of sugar achieves the sweetness at which my Saudi friends serve this tea. It’s quite sweet though, so you’ll have to adjust the sugar to your taste!
**I made this tea using Lipton tea bags. My Arabic friends use black tea bags from their local Arabic grocery store. The tea was delicious with the Lipton too, though

Turkish Tea 

To make the Turkish black tea like the Turks do you will need two kettles of different sizes: a big and a small one. The big kettle must be made of metal and the small one can be made of metal or ceramic.

Preparation Method:

First fill with water the big kettle and place it at the stove. Then put the small kettle above the big kettle. At the small kettle put black tea (the measure of black tea is a dessert spoon for each person). Light the stove. While the water is boiling in the big kettle the second small kettle will also be warmed. Please notice that the small kettle contains only black tea and it does not contain water.

After the water boiled, you should put this water on the small kettle where there you have the black tea. (The measure of the water is relative to the number of persons who will drink the tea. For example, if just two people wants to drink tea you should add a little bit of water, if there are more people you must put more water).

Now you must wait 15 minutes more or less, this is necessary so that the tea can cook. You will see that after 15 minutes the tea stays in the bottom of the kettle, this means that the tea can be served.

In Turkey black tea is generally not drink in mugs but in special glass cups as a Turkish tradition.

There are two types of tea to be served: the strong tea "Koyu cay " and the light tea "acik cay". When serving the strong black tea you must fill two thirds of the mug with tea of the second kettle and add the boiling water to fill the rest of the mug. As the tea is strong the color of this tea is dark brown. When serving the light black tea you must fill one third of the mug with tea of the second kettle and add the boiling water to fill rest of the mug. As the tea is light the color is light brown. Add sugar, as you like.

Persian Tea (Iran) 

Preparation Method:
  1. Fill the kettle with fresh cold water and bring to a boil. As soon as the water comes to a boil, warm up your teapot by rinsing it with some hot water from the kettle.
  2. Place 2 tablespoons of tea into the teapot. Don't use any tea holders inside the teapot. If you buy your tea in bulks from outdoor vendors, you may want to also give your tea a gentle rinse with water to get rid of the possible dirt and dust.
  3. Pour water into the pot over the loose tea leaves. Fill it nearly to the rim and put the lid back on.
  4. Place the pot on the kettle in a secure position. It should fit well on the kettle. Allow it to brew for at least 10-15 minutes on medium to low heat.
  5. Rinse inside the cups with hot water.
  6. Gently pour tea into glass cups to prevent it from making a lot of bubbles. Depending on how strong or light you might like your tea, adjust it using the boiled water in the kettle. It is a good practice when serving a large group of guests to have a tray with both light and dark tea.
 To add some extra flavor you may add the following ingredients to the teapot:

1 tablespoon of rosewater (golab)
2-3 green cardamom (hel) pod opened
2 small sticks of cinnamon (darchin) 

You may serve chai with sugar cubes, dates, raisins or other sweets. However, for those serious tea drinkers, adding sugar, milk or anything else would take away from the taste.

There's also the etiquette of serving the eldest and the ladies first as you are making rounds. Make sure there are no spillage on the tray either. That's the lesson I learned early on in my life when I was only ten years old. One day, my mother handed me a tray with several full cups and told me to take it outside and offer them to the guests sitting in the garden. Before I could get any further some tea spilled due to my shaky hands. She wiped the tray, filled up the cups and told me: "Look, you should be able to dance ballet and carry a  tea tray at the same time without spilling a drop." The memory of that day is still fresh in my mind!

I like my tea dark and a little bit on the bitter side with no sugar, milk or lemon. How do you like your tea?

Afghani Tea

Tea in Afghanistan can be categorized into black tea, green tea and milk tea similar to chai masala.

Chai Sabze (Green Tea)

20 oz. water
4 cardamom seeds
1 tsp. green tea
sugar or honey to taste

Preparation Method:
Steep 3 minutes, strain off the tea leaves and put tea into a teapot with the cardamom seeds. Sweeten with honey or sugar or drink plain. (Can use chewy chocolate or toffee candy as a substitute sweetener. Just chew candy a little and hold between your teeth to add sweet taste to your plain tea!)

Chai Sya (Black Tea)

In Afghanistan tea is served with sweet and salty snacks. Guests are seated on pillows surrounding a tablecloth spread directly over a carpet on the floor.

20 oz. water
4 green cardamom seeds
2 tsp. black tea
sugar or honey to taste

Preparation Method:
Puncture the cardamom seeds and put into a pot or tea kettle with the water. Simmer 20 minute. Remove from the heat and add the tea. Steep 5 minutes, strain off the tea leaves and put tea into a tea pot with the cardamom seeds. Serve with sugar or honey. Approx. 2 cups.

Shir Chai (Milk Tea)

2 oz. water
1 T. black tea
6 oz. milk
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom seeds
sugar or honey to taste

Preparation Method:
Put the water and tea in a saucepan and boil up together, simmering for 5 minutes. Add the cardamom and milk, bring to a boil again and simmer for 1-2 minutes. Stir in the sugar or honey and let stand for 15 minutes. Bring to a simmering boil, strain and serve immediately.