This ‘Stories From The Silk Road’ entry is a feature on Fez: a Moroccan city full of caravanserai and everybody’s favourite mint tea!
To truly understand the commercial and cultural history of Fez—the spiritual capital of Morocco—one only needs to look into the story behind Moroccan Mint tea.
Funduqs & the city of Fez
Already in this series, we have seen the spread of tea through East Asia and Europe. But what about Africa? While only the third-largest city in Morocco, Fez’ significance as a major pitstop on the Silk Road’s tea network is undeniable. This ‘Athens of Africa’ was the beacon that ushered in cultural and commercial relations between this continent and the rest of the world.
Between the twelfth and nineteenth centuries, everyone from the African Berbers and Sudanese to the European French and English found common ground through trade within the endless array of funduqs in Fez.
Pictured above: The entrance to Funduq Al-Najjarin in Fez, Morocco.
The North African equivalent of a caravanserai, there were around 467 funduqs in Fez alone when Morroco was at its commercial pique during the twelfth-century Almohad Empire. Approximately 270 of them still exist today.
While each funduq was for a specific purpose in Fez—for example, Funduq al-Najjarin was for carpenters while Funduq al-Shamma was for candlemakers—they all had one ritual in common. No matter the merchant visiting, one would always be greeted with a glass of mint tea!
The origins of Moroccan Mint tea
“Tea has become an article of universal consumption. Even in remote provinces, amongst Bebers and Bedouins, the finest green tea is to be found.”
– James Richardson, Travels In Morocco (1859)
Gunpowder green tea came to Fez in the eighteenth century through the Silk Road. And sure enough, its popularity soon spread through all of North Africa thanks to the local funduqs. However, it was the Berbers (Indigenous people of North Africa) that were first to flavour the tea with native Nana spearmint and sugar.
Moroccan mint tea goes by many different names, which is a reflection of how cultures through this fascinating country. For example, the Spanish call it “Moorish tea. This is because the Moors is an old Anglo-Saxon term for Muslims living within the Iberian peninsula during the nineteenth century.
Alternatively, locals call it “Maghrebi” mint tea after the Arabic word for Northwest Africa (Maghreb). To avoid confusion, The Tea Centre refers to this blend simply as Moroccan Mint tea!
We know from the diaries of British explorers that Moroccan Mint tea has been drunk ubiquitously since the 1840s. However, it’s likely to have been a staple in Moroccan pantries since much earlier than that. Moreover, as with any traditional tea, fun rituals quickly began to form around the beverage!
Moroccan Mint tea drinking traditions
Unlike The Tea Centre’s brewing guide recommendations, Moroccan locals will make mint tea using boiling hot water. While we usually wouldn’t recommend this method for green teas as it can make the brew bitter, Moroccans mitigate this through adding refreshing spearmint and lots of sugar.
Mint tea is also synonymous with hospitality in Morocco! As a result, visitors to any kind of Moroccan hotel, cafe, restaurant or family home will be greeted with mint tea. In homes, it’s also traditional for the male head of the house to serve the tea.
Furthermore, mint tea in Morocco almost never comes in a mug! It is traditional to serve the tea in small delicate glasses, of which there are always multiple servings. Should you visit Morocco, you will also notice that the person serving pours the tea from far above the glass.
This is done for a few reasons. The height allows the tea to cool and oxygenate as it travels to the cup. Moreover, the friction from pouring at a great height with water further aerates the mint in the glass. Overall, this makes for a more fragrant and enjoyable beverage!
Introducing Postcard From Morocco
Postcard From Morocco includes The Tea Centre’s version of this refreshing green tea fusion. Using the infuser and spoon found in this gift box, one can brew our rolled mint tea that releases a heavenly fragrance as the leaves unfurl.
Give a loved one the gift of Moroccan hospitality and a tea steeped in history when purchasing. Postcard From Morocco or our ultimate twelve-tea sampler, The ‘Silk Road’ wooden tea box.