Like many places in the Arab world, tea and coffee are Jordan’s social lubricants of choice, and while their tea has many variants it is nearly always served strong and black in small glass tumblers, sweetened with sugar and with some kind of herb or spice for flavoring. This recipe comes from our guide, Salim, at the Dana Reserve in south-central Jordan. He was a quiet, thoughtful man who had quit the military life to pursue a career as an artist and guide. His family had lived in the area for many generations and he knew every inch of the expansive reserve – he cherished his special part of the world and was eager to share it and his knowledge of it with others from around the world.
Half way through our hike, Salim took us to his ‘coffee shop’ – a protected shelf in a mountain, overlooking a deep valley, and instructed us on the art of Jordanian tea.
Firstly the water has to be warmed over an open fire as the wood smoke adds important flavor to the tea. I’m not sure if the wood type is important but in this area there were pistachio trees; tiny, squat oak trees; and juniper trees.
The kettle he used to boil the water held about a litre and was put directly on the fire.
Once the water had begun to heat, Salim added a palmful of cinnamon bark and white sugar. Jordanians like very sweet tea, and while the sugar is an important ingredient, I don’t have that much of a sweet tooth. As a compromise, Salim added about 4 tablespoons to the kettle.
Once the water came to a boil two teabags were added. The tea he used was called Alghazaleen Tea but Salim also said Lipton Yellow Label was acceptable.
The kettle stayed on the fire for a little longer until it came to a solid boil and was then set aside to steep for a few more minutes.
Salim served it in small glass tumblers and we drank it as soon as we could, the hotter the better.
Traditionally, when it comes to tea I am strictly a milk and no sugar man, but there was something magic in the marriage of these flavors; the bitter tannic tea, the rich earthy tang of the cinnamon and the sweetness of the sugar. It was unexpectedly harmonious and worked perfectly.
I have drunk countless cups of tea in my life but this was one of the most memorable. The planets aligned with the stunning scenery, the great company and this delicious, freshly brewed elixir.