By Andy Dincher (27567)

Moroccan mint tea, is, without doubt, the country's national beverage and a key part of the real Moroccan culture. Goods are sold, deals are made, alliances formed and guests welcomed - all over a cup of the nation's favourite brew.

Made from a combination of Chinese green gunpowder tea, handfuls of fresh mint (sold on the street in every neighbourhood) and a liberal amount of sugar, the tea, or atai, as it's known, is a refreshing break, and the mint has both appetite-calming and digestive qualities.

The gunpowder tea from which it's made is sold in five grades – five being the highest and one the lowest. A true connoisseur can taste the difference, although, to a Western palate, the mint and the sugar are the flavours that pounce on our taste-buds.

Tea is drunk at all times of the day, from early in the morning to an after-supper digestif, and is often served with Moroccan cakes. It is made in a metal teapot that is heated on the stovetop, until it reaches a near boil. Then, it is left to stand for a short time, and may (or may not) be transferred into a serving pot, depending on where you are drinking it, and the preferences of your host. It is then brought out with an appropriate number of small glasses - these too may contain a sprig of fresh mint.

It is customary for the tea to be poured from pot to glass in a high arc (trying this at home can be dangerous) at heights that defy gravity. This is said to improve the flavour. This 'first pour' is then returned to the pot, and may be re-poured as many as five or six times, until the sugar is adequately dissolved, the flavours suitably intertwined and it's deemed ready to drink.

Asking a real Moroccan to provide you with a version with less sugar can often be tricky, (unless, like me, you have the benefit of diabetic relatives who also make a no-sugar version). In cafes and Moroccan resorts, in addition to the sugar on the side, there may already be some in the drink, so be sure to taste before adding more, as it's ridiculously sweet for Western palates.

In winter, tea is also sometimes made with absinthe and verbena, but overall, it will be Moroccan mint tea that will be served. Black tea is known by its brand name, Lipton. As an alternative – feel free to ask for coffee. Black coffee is known as khawa and milky coffee as café crème. Some Moroccan homes also offer a delicately spiced coffee, flavoured with a combination of cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and/or black pepper, which is truly delicious, but sadly, you're unlikely to find this on the menu at regular cafes, Moroccan resorts and restaurants.

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