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A Guide to Tea in Mali

how to drink malian tea
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Popular throughout the Sahel, this tea is a concentrated, sweetened brew that is served in tiny glasses (think shot glass sized). The tea kettle itself is tiny, and it seems everything has been miniaturized due to the tea’s strength. Here we will explain a few pointers for getting the most of the Malian tea experience (it’s a lot more than a simple beverage).

  • Malian tea is served in 3 bursts. Water is added after each serving, along with heaps of sugar. The first serving is said to be like death as it is strong and a bit bitter. The second serving is called life – getting sweeter! Finally, the third glass is love and the love comes from an absurd amount of white refined sugar.
  • Drinking tea in Mali is a process. It takes an hour or more – the tea kettle is normally heated with charcoal and there are 3 separate servings. Don’t commit to drinking tea if you are in a rush. This is a time to relax and socialize.
  • The tea is served straight from the kettle and it’s typically quite hot. The key to drinking the tea is to take sips that are one part air and one part tea. Kind of, you know, slurp it.

If you want to make the tea yourself, you can follow these simple steps:

1. Heat charcoal until the embers are glowing red.

2. Put a box of tea leaves in the tea kettle (a box costs 100 CFA in Mali, which is about 20 cents) and enough water to cover them.

3. Put the kettle on the charcoal until the water starts to boil.

4. Once the water is boiling, add 3 shot glasses worth of water to the pot and put it back on the charcoal (you can add more water if you want to dilute the strength of the tea).

5. While the tea is on its way to boiling again, pour sugar into one of the glasses. Almost all the way to the brim.

6. Add this glass of sugar to the tea kettle.

7. At this point, you are going to pour the tea into of the glasses. Your pour action is important. Start at a height close to the glass and gradually work your way up. Once you’re finished, dump the tea back into the pot. Do this another ten times (at least).

8. Taste your tea.

9. If it tastes alright, go ahead and start serving the tea in the glasses. Again, pour from a low to a high height, the idea being to create as much foamy head as possible.

10. Enjoy!

You will find this style of tea throughout the Sahel. As I said, it is as much a drink as it is a social and cultural experience. I’ll leave you with this old school hip hop tribute to tea from Senegal, where it is known as attaya:

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