“The first is strong…like death.
The second is sweet…like life.
The third is sugar…like love.”
Tea is a fundamental component of the Tuareg way of life. The tea they drink is Chinese Green Tea. Apparently through extensive trial and error, this has been determined to be the best tea. And among the Tuareg, it’s a universally held opinion. We had seen these small glasses of tea for sale all over Mali. Vendors would sell it by the glass either from small stalls or on foot. We had one bus driver who frequently purchased a glass during our innumerable stops. We wondered what it was, but because the glass was a shared glass and the liquid within looked turbid, we declined…that is, until we were in Timbuktu.
Our hostess at the Sahara Passion where we staying made us aware that tea would come to us regularly and in a series of three glasses. I guessed then that tea was something important in this place.
The tea is served hot, even though the weather is stiflingly hot already. Despite this, it’s somehow refreshing. The glass it is served in is reminiscent of a slightly oversized shot glass. Each of the three glasses of tea is different, but all have many ingredients in varying amounts. The first cup of tea is somewhat bitter, and yes, strong. The second is my favorite. It’s plenty sweet and a little bit minty. The third is crazy sweet and crazy minty. It is made in very small pots on very small charcoal braziers.
For the Tuareg, there is a tea ceremony of sorts in the brewing, mixing, and serving of it. Aziz, a young Tuareg man who was our guide and became our friend, shared a story about the first time he was allowed to go on a salt caravan.
“You have to be eighteen to go. And everyone has to have a job. My job was to make the tea.”
Tea is that important…important enough to be a whole job.