Community is an important part of many African cultures, and it is no different for the people of Senegal. While tea was not invented in Africa, it is a strong part of Senegalese culture just like it is in many other parts of the world. But in Senegal, the tea ceremony can take up to 3 hours. It gets the community together and brings friendships closer. It is called the Ataya tea ceremony.
Ataya tea is made with Chinese green tea, mint, and sugar and there’s a lot more to it than simply boiling water and pouring it over some tea leaves. There are 3 stages of the ceremony. It starts off bitter and ends very sweet.
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Stage One: Lewel
In this stage, the green tea is brewed in a kettle over hot coals. The tea is then poured into small glasses. Then it is poured from glass to glass to create a layer of foam on top. The thicker the foam, the better the tea. This first cup has a strong, bitter taste, which symbolizes the bitter difficulties of growing up.
Stage Two: Naarel
More water is added to the pot along with some mint and sugar. Once again, the tea is then poured into small glasses, then it is poured from glass to glass to create a layer of foam on top. This cup has a sweeter taste, and in some instances, represents the joy of stable family life.
Stage Three: Nettle
More sugar and mint are added to the teapot for a third round. The combination of green tea, mint, and sugar is delicious, and each stage offers its own unique balance of flavors. This is the sweetest stage! Some people believe nettle symbolizes the leisure and wisdom of old age. Another interpretation of the ataya tea ceremony is that the stages represent friendship and how relationships become sweeter over time.
Today, over 80% of adult Senegalese people drink ataya on a regular basis. Despite the high concentration of sugar in the tea, studies have shown that it actually aids in preventing dental diseases due to the high concentration of fluoride in green tea. But the benefits of ataya go far beyond the dental. The true value of this ceremony is the unapologetic focus it gives to spend unhurried time with friends, family, and coworkers on a daily basis. Ataya can take place at any time of day. And while to western eyes it may seem to hinder productivity, the boost of energy and enhanced brain power provided by the tea and sugar allows Senegalese people to continue with the rest of their day with renewed vigor.
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