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.

Gunpowder green tea in The Gambia

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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