'The famous, very sweet, mint tea is a symbol of hospitality: it is served [with pastries] as soon as guests arrive at a house and at all times of the day'.
– Claudia Roden on beverages, Arabesque - A Taste of Morocco, Turkey & Lebanon
Curiously – and I might add, to my dismay – since being unwell earlier this year, my body cannot tolerate more than one weensy macchiato in the morning. So, while my work colleagues grind fresh coffee beans for the morning, I have turned my attentions to drinking mint tea in the Moroccan style. 'Would you like some tea?,' I ask. To wit the reply: 'No thanks, that's too healthy.' True, it is said that mint aids digestion and improves the appetite, so it is indeed good for you. Well done me!
Spearmint is considered the best for Moroccan mint tea, whereas peppermint is used in herbal teas. So, what's the difference? My Peter can pick the difference between the two simply by the scent of the leaves. Renowned herb and spice seller, Ian 'Herbie' Hemphill, confirms in his book Herbaceous, that peppermint (Mentha piperita) 'has a high menthol content and produces the true oil of peppermint ... [which has a] rather overpowering antiseptic character.' Whereas, 'spearmint (Mentha spicata) stands out from the crowd in the culinary department,' says Herbie, and 'it is spearmint, either fresh or dried, that gives flavour to mint sauce and mint jelly... [and is] 'an absolutely indispensable ingredient throughout the Middle East... [and] Morocco where mint is known as naa naa... and spearmint is used to make mint tea... the nation's most popular beverage.'
In fact, there are hundreds of varieties of mint, with leaves ranging from round to long and pointed in shape, plain green or variegated in colour, with flowers that vary from white to cream, and pink through to purple and lilac. Mint tends to crossbreed or 'hybridise' quite easily, and research tells me that the many varieties are perhaps hybrids of only two dozen species. In my kitchen garden I grow the delicately flavoured Thai mint (Mentha Thai); and the crinkly leafed common variety of spearmint, which is often sold simply as 'Mint'; together with Vietnamese mint, which Herbie says is not mint, rather a Polygonum (P. odoratum). I'm keen to try Applemint this season, as I love the thought of mint with an intoxicating apple aroma and flavour. Perhaps you grow or have cooked with Applemint? Do please tell.
Spearmint is considered the best for 'mint tea', peppermint is used in herbal teas...
On making mint tea...
Quantities will vary, dependent on the size of your teapot. Mine holds around 650 mls.
21/2 cups boiling water
handful of spearmint leaves, washed and patted dry
1-2 tablespoons raw sugar or honey, to taste
1-2 teaspoon tea leaves (your choice: I like 'Russian Caravan', but you might like green tea, such as Gunpowder)
First, heat your teapot by rinsing it with boiling water. Place the spearmint leaves, sugar and tea leaves into the teapot, then top up with boiling water and allow to infuse for several minutes before serving, strained. I find this tea is also quite delicious and refreshing when served cool or chilled.