The Tuaregs of the North African Sahara have a proverb that says “you need three things to make tea: time, embers and friends”. Tea is an important beverage throughout the Maghreb, and Tunisia is no exception. But Tunisians go about it differently.
The origins of tea are rooted in China. According to the most famous legend, it was the emperor Shen Nong who discovered tea in 2737 BC. While he was boiling water under a tree, leaves fell into his water, creating the first infusion of tea. In the 17th century, tea reached Europe via trading companies such as the British East India Company. Although initially a luxury product, tea gradually became accessible to a wider public, particularly in Great Britain, where tea-time became a custom.
Tea was introduced to the Maghreb during the 18th century, a period marked by an intensification of trade between Europe, Asia and North Africa. For Tunisia, as for its North African neighbors, the introduction of tea coincided with the period of the Ottoman Empire, although the Empire’s direct influence on this introduction is open to debate. What is certain is that trade via port cities in the Mediterranean played a crucial role in bringing tea and other goods to North Africa. But if you’ve ever had the chance to try all the different varieties of mint tea in North Africa, you’ll notice that Tunisians like to add pine nuts.
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Mint tea, with a twist
The base of this nectar is a Gunpowder green tea, selected for its quality and ability to blend with the freshness of the mint. But the real signature of this Tunisian speciality lies in the addition of pine nuts, which add an inimitable texture and flavor. First the tea is prepared, then the pine nuts are added individually to each cup. They may float or sink, depending on the sweetness of the tea due to the added sugar. But Tunisians sometimes replace the pine nuts with two other options: almonds or roasted peanuts, a more affordable alternative.
Time, ember and friends
In Tunisia, offering mint tea with pine nuts is a gesture of welcome and friendship. It is a very important part of welcoming guests and therefore of Tunisian social life. It’s about sharing a moment, taking a break to enjoy each other’s company.