Tea is by far the most popular hot beverage in Egypt today. The Egyptians’ love for tea pans class, age and gender. From the banks of the river Nile to the shores of the Red Sea and from modern Cairo to ancient Alexandria, tea is drunk everyday -be it summer or winter, be it at homes are at cafes - over long conversations or leisurely games of backgammon.
Tea came to the ancient land of the Pharaohs only around the 16th century with the growing influence and domination of the British. Egypt’s close proximity to the traditional tea growing countries of China and later, Kenya, India and Sri Lanka, and a strict prohibition on the use of alcohol as an Islamic nation, meant tea quickly emerged as the beverage of choice for Egyptians. Also, the fact that tea was much cheaper than coffee and more easily available, only hastened to add to its popularity across all classes.
Koshary Shai and Saidii Shai
Egypt is famous for its strong, black and sweet tea. Most people use only Black Tea from Kenya, India or Sri Lanka. Tea is usually had without milk and a lot of sugar. Traditionally, only loose leaf tea was used, but nowadays, tea bags have also become quite popular due to their convenience. Depending on which part of Egypt you are, the Shai (Egyptian for tea) you will be served will be either Koshsary or Saidii.
Koshary Shai is generally the preferred tea in the northern part of Egypt. It is a lighter tea, that is prepared by the steeping tea leaves in hot water. Sugar is always added in copious amounts. Sometimes, mint leaves are added to make the tea refreshing. Milk is never added.
Saidii Shai is common in the southern part of Egypt. Unlike the Koshary Shai that is steeped, Saidii Shai is boiled/cooked in hot water for a long time. The tea is extremely bitter and strong. Egyptians add a lot of sugar to Saidii Shai to balance the bitterness of this intense tea. Milk is never added to tea in Egypt, even in the bitter Saidii Shai.
Shai Bil Nana
Tea with mint leaves is also called Shai Bil Nana. Whether it is Koshary Shai or Saidii Shai, the preparation of Shai Bil Nana is the same:
Add 2-3 teaspoons of sugar to the glass
Add fresh mint leaves in the glass
Pour tea into the glass (whether steeped in case of Koshary Shai or boiled in case of Saidii Shai)
Give one last stir to dissolve the sugar
Shai Bil Nana is ready to be enjoyed
Tea does not necessarily need an accompaniment in Egypt. However, when guests are served tea at home, it is usually served with traditional Egyptian cookies like Kahk (specially made during the festival of Eid-al-Fitr), Nasahder biscuits, Basbousa, and Baklava.
In Egypt, tea is never served in porcelain or bone china cups. Tea is always served in transparent glasses – a tradition that continues unchanged. Unlike the delicate and curvy Ince-bellis of Turkey or Estekans of Iran, the tea glasses in Egypt are bigger and hold much more quantity of tea. These are also decorated with traditional designs, but care is always taken to ensure design does not hide the tea.
In Egypt, tea means much more than fashion or trend. Despite emerging trends of green tea and lattes and herbal teas, tea is Egypt continues to remain the old-fashioned real Black Tea brewed in the traditional way.
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