I love everything about coffee; the ritual, the scent that fills the air as the oils release while the beans grind. The aroma that wafts up the stairs, as it brews on the stove top. The way the steam tickles my nose, as I bring the cup to my lips.
It happens every few months, though. I wake up, and no longer feel an affinity for my usual temptress.
For weeks, I’d been craving Moroccan mint tea. Mint usually a hardy herb, can’t survive this past winter unless taken indoors. Mine is a shriveled pot of twigs on the front stoop. I’m not particularly worried because I know it will come back. Past years have taught me that while winter batters it into submission, spring has a way of reviving it. That mint plant is quite special, too. It’s a holdover from my old apartment, and my old garden, the one I shared with Michael. Each leaf I pluck connects me to my past. It may be dormant now, but it will soon awaken to a new season.
The last two and a half years have felt a lot like the cycles of that mint. Grief is a never ending marathon, the emotional hurdles a bit further apart as time passes. The height of the hurdles, however, seems to get higher. The energy required to jump them, feeling almost insurmountable. Almost, but not completely.
I’ve spent the last seven days immersed in working on my next book, a memoir. The first 15,000 words were delivered to my editor in the wee hours of the night, as Sunday faded into Monday. Perhaps that is why I lost my taste for coffee. Maybe my body knew it needed something energizing without the dehydrating effects? My head has been one throbbing mess, and last week came with a bout of nausea from that special lady time of the month (too much information?). A few friends suggested mint to soothe my stomach.
So, that little whisper of a craving for that tea could no longer be ignored. I found myself at Cafe Mogador last week after my therapy appointment. I saddled up to a seat at the bar for a quick breakfast of poached eggs in a spicy tomato sauce. As I watched the bartender prepare my pot of Moroccan mint tea, I noticed they use dried mint, not fresh. I decided this was a much better approach until my own plant wakes up from its slumber.
There is something so soothing, and comforting about this tea. It makes me feel centered, balanced, and calm. The latter being a bit of a struggle these days. Just about a year ago, I made a trip to Morocco, an insanely short trip, at that. Who travels on two planes for 18 hours to stay someplace for only 60 hours? I went to visit C; he was working as a food and beverage director at one of the hotels. We needed to sort some things out. That trip is something I will never forget, and to be honest, I’m not sure I’ll get back there any time soon, if ever.
Morocco was a very intense experience for me. Agadir is not cosmopolitan, as I imagine other better-known parts are, like Fez or Casablanca. It’s spent the last ten years trying to rebuild itself, having constructed an extravagant boardwalk along the Atlantic. Luxury apartments, hotels and high end shopping thrive from the French tourists who can vacation like kings for a pauper’s price. The moment you leave the safe confines of the waterfront area, though, you get a real look at life in Agadir. It’s more than a bit rough and tumble. It was also quite obvious I was a stranger in a strange-to-me place. Regardless of my pants, long sleeve shirt, scarf and boots, my eyes and porcelain face gave away my American identity. The stares were more of intrigue than threat.
A friend, Majid, drove us to the mountains just outside Agadir, and it was there that I felt a little more at ease, oddly. Storms had washed away the bridge at the last part of the drive, so we had to walk about 30 minutes to get to the path leading inside Paradise Valley, as it is known. I imagined Michael looking down, thinking “this is where our children become orphans”. The grace and ease for which I’m known in the kitchen doesn’t always translate to the rest of my environments. I’ve been known to fall while simply standing. Navigating the narrow, rocky edges of a mountainside, simultaneously being terrified of heights, was a challenge.
Majid’s cousin has staked out a little area in Paradise Valley for a business, of sorts. He has a cave, literally, with a double cot inside, and you can rent it to stay overnight. He also offers passersby the chance to refuel with a homemade meal. To say it was humble downplays the affect his meal had on me. I don’t imagine I’ll ever taste a vegetable tagine that makes me feel that comforted again. The thick, warm pita bread, baked over burning palm in a clay oven a few hundred feet away, and an endless cup of mint tea, that had been so lovingly prepared over an open fire. That meal grounded me. It didn’t matter that I didn’t understand the Arabic and French being spoken that day. Cooking is a universal language.
Moroccan Mint Tea
I go back and forth between preparing this tea two ways. The ingredients stay the same, just the method changes. You can follow the directions as I have them here, or you can cook it on the stove, which makes for a stronger brew. I also add a little more water (2 cups in total) when I cook it this way, simply because my flame-proof copper tea pot, with the built in strainer is larger than my silver tea pot in the photo above. If you don’t have a teapot, you can also just make it in a regular, small pot, and pour the tea through a stainer to serve it.
I tend to drink a lot of this tea. While I love the traditional version sweetened with sugar, a creamy, churned honey works just as well, and is a healthier alternative. Just substitute 1 tablespoon (20 grams) of honey for the sugar. I imagine agave would work well, too.
Regarding the mint, I’ll switch back to fresh once it blooms again. A generous fistful is usually a good amount, but you can of course adjust it to your liking. If you’re in NYC, and looking for a good dried mint connection, Dual Specialty on First Avenue in the East Village sells sacks of it for a few bucks. You can get the green tea there, too.
1 tablespoon (6 grams) gunpowder green tea (tiny dried balls of rolled leaves)
1 tablespoon (18 grams) granulated natural cane sugar
1 teaspoon (1 gram) dried spearmint leaves
Add the tea, sugar, and mint to a tea pot. Pour in 1 1/2 cups (350 ml) boiling water, and stir. Let the mixture steep for five minutes before serving.