If you have ever been to The Gambia, or indeed any of the surrounding West African countries, you will no doubt have seen the local men gathered together around a small teapot.
This well-loved past time involves a lot of chattering while drinking scolding hot and incredibly strong Chinese green tea known locally as attaya. The most popular brand is Temple of Heaven, Special Gunpowder (produced by the Shanghai Tea Import & Export Corporation).
There is a skill to make good attaya; it is quite a ritual. To make it frothy it is poured out of the pot and back in again from a great height, numerous times. Each small portion of dried leafs and sugar produces three pots of tea; the first being the strongest and the third the weakest and sweetest. The whole process takes a considerable amount of time.
Whether simply a group of friends passing the time, chatting under a mango tree or an important occasion such as a wedding or naming ceremony involving the whole community, attaya is always drunk.
When I visit The Gambia I am often offered a glass of green tea and I always say yes when it feels rude not to, however, I believe it is an acquired taste that, as yet, I have failed to acquire.
I originally assumed this love of tea was a remnant of Gambia’s colonial past. We English are known for our love of tea (although not so much green tea). I am an exception to this preferring a cup of coffee any time. However, I believe green tea is drunk in many places including North Africa; in Morocco the tea ritual is an important part of any social occasion and of course, the Japanese tea ceremony is well-known.
Have you come across such rituals on your travels (or even where you live)? I’d love to hear about it if you have. Do you like it?
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Hi Kat, I’m a student artist and have visited Gambia in 1998 invited by the former President Yayah Jammeh (long story). My theme for my artists book this year is Tea and my cultural reference is The Gambia. I took hundreds of photographs when I was there but didn’t manage to photograph the tea rituals on the beach. I would like to use you photograph if possible but realise it may be subject to copyright. Would you give me permission to use it? Feel free to email me. I’m on FB and IG as elainenivenart.
Hi Elaine, How interesting! I drop you an email.
I have certainly acquired a taste for it and drink this at every chance I get. Coincidentally I have a Gambian neighbour here in the UK so on my return from Gambia a few weeks ago I put some in my suitcase for him. My neighbour was delighted and we plan on brewing some up once the weather here warms up. He even has the little teapot so happy days and here’s to a good brew!!!
Excellent. Although you may have to wait a while for some nice weather. Enjoy your brew. 🙂
I think tea is popular in most countries that were colonised. But not sure how Chinese tea got popular in Gambia, I would have thought that it would be Indian styled tea. Great tea is not popular in India at all and the tea that Britain drinks are mainly Indian/Ceylon tea.
That’s what I thought too Shalu but I’ve never seen anyone drink any other tea there!
I love a nice cuppa, but it’s got to have milk in for me. You asked about other rituals – I loved Bia Hoi in Hanoi – fresh beer sold on the street and again favoured by groups of local men!
I’m quite partial to green tea – as long as it’s not too strong. Lovely shot. Think I might have to go and put the kettle on now!
Thanks Suzanne. I’ll have a coffee if you’re offering 🙂
I started drinking green tea a few years ago and now much prefer to black tea with milk that I used to drink. This particular green tea though sounds a little strong 🙂
Green tea is very good for you I’m told. I really should try and wean myself off coffee and on to green tea.
I love me a good cuppa! Have never been to Gambia but will look out for this tea should I ever make it there, it seems delish!
The Gambia is a wonderful little country that I’ve been to many times. So if you do ever head in that direction, please feel free to pick my brains for advice and remember when trying green tea, the skill of the person making it is as important as the quality of the tea.
Fascinating how they have indiginised Chinese tea! Lovely shot as well Kat 🙂
Thanks Madhu! 🙂