Tea Time: The Role of Tea in Arab Culture

Gary Greer 1/1/2020
Arab Culture

We talk a lot about Arabic coffee in articles here on kaleela.com. However, we certainly mustn’t overlook the important role that tea plays in Arab culture. شاي عربي / shay arabiyy (Arabic tea) has been the Arab’s beverage of choice for centuries. People serve it constantly, to guests in the home, to business partners at meetings, and at social events.

Tea in Arab Society

Whether served with breakfast, after lunch, or with dinner, tea is a very important drink in Arabic-speaking countries. Indeed, in modern Arab culture, it symbolizes Arab hospitality and business etiquette. It even surpasses coffee, so much so, that it is rude to refuse tea when offered.

Varieties of Arabic Tea

The type of tea you’ll find in the Arab world varies as much as the variety of cultures and Arabic dialects you’ll find throughout the region. Here are some examples: 

Sage tea (مريمية‎ / maramia)

Sage tea is usually served after a meal to aid in digestion, get rid of heartburn and stop flatulence. It is sometimes mixed with black tea, but brewed on its own has a very distinct flavor and it contains no caffeine.

Chamomile tea (بابونج‎ / bābūnaj)

This tea is made by brewing dried chamomile flowers. The calming health benefits of drinking this tea include reducing stress and anxiety, alleviating pain and discomfort, as well as overcoming insomnia and improving sleep.

Anise tea (يانسون‎ / yānsūn)

This licorice-tasting tea has been use for hundreds of years for treating coughs and flu symptoms. It also helps improve digestion, alleviate cramps and reduce nausea.

Thyme tea (زعتر‎ / zaʿtar)

Thyme tea helps improve memory and cleanses the stomach. It also helps reduce aging through it rich supply of antioxidants.

Cardamom tea (هال‎ / hāl)

Perhaps the most popular tea in the Arab world is Cardamom tea. Cardamom aids digestion and increase saliva flow. For this reason, you sip it before meals rather than after to help prepare your digestive enzymes for eating those deliciously big Arab meals.

Maghrebi mint tea (Modern Standard Arabic: الشاي‎ / aš-šāy; Moroccan Arabic: التاي  / at-tāy)

This traditional green tea also known as Moroccan mint tea is made with spearmint leaves and sugar and popular throughout the Maghreb region,  the northwest African countries which include Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Mauritania. Introduced to the region by English traders, this tea has become increasingly famous throughout Africa, France, and other neighboring countries. Its fresh mint not only gives you an energetic feeling, but it also helps cleanse your palate and freshen your breath after meals.

Mint tea (شاي بالنعناع‎ / šāy bi-l-naʿnāʿ)

Not to be confused with Maghrebi mint tea which is made with spearmint, this tea is made with regular mint and can help you get over everything from seasonal colds, flus, and allergies to stomach ulcers thanks to the anti-inflammatory agent found in mint.

Black tea (شاي أحمر‎ / šāy ʾaḥmar, lit. “red tea”)

This is the most common tea you’ll find in any Arab kitchen cupboard.

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