This morning, at a business breakfast, I had the good fortune to get chatting to an Iraqi man named Saad, who told me all about the tradition of taking tea in his homeland. He told me that the Iraqi word for this tradition is Aasrya, which translates to ‘mini afternoon’. Being a tea lady of course, the chat intrigued me, and got me thinking about tea traditions around the world.
I lived in Japan and was so fortunate to experience the wonderful tradition of the tea ceremony, which I will write about in a later post. Back to the morning meeting and I properly bombarded poor Saad with millions of questions, and then took to google for a little more background research.
The national drink in Iraq is black tea, and boy do they make it black and strong. The most common tea to drink is ceylon, and it is brewed very slowly, which intensifies the tea flavour to almost a concentrated syrup.
Leaves and cold water are added to a pan. Quite a lot of tea leaves are added, maybe two spoons per person. This is then heated over a very slow heat. When it is just coming to the boil take it off. This can take up to half an hour, Saad told me. Don’t let it boil over as this will result in a bitter tea.
When it is ready, you will have a concentrated tea in the pot as a result of the slow stewing. Iraqis tend to take their tea quite strong. Hot water can be added to dilute. Some claim that the resulting tea concentrate is so strong it will have you on a caffeine buzz similar to that of espresso.
This strong black tea is most commonly drunk without milk. Sugar seems to be commonly taken with the tea, mainly to counter the intensity of the tea taste. The sugar is put into the glass cup first, and the tea poured on top. Sometimes a few cardamom pods are added to the brewing tea, for a kick.
A savoury snack is generally served. This snack is made up of foods that will cool down the body in the hot Iraqi sun. For example cucumber, mint and yogurt are served in little bowls and take with a piece of bread. Cakes, it seems, have only become a part of Aasrya in the past 25 years.
Saad told me about this tea tradition from his own experience of having it at home, but of course Iraqi tea rooms are a popular hang out, mainly for men, who gather to chat and enjoy games like backgammon. It would be wonderful if a culture of tearooms were to spread here in Ireland. Somewhere to meet and chat, while enjoying the wonderful tradition of taking tea.