From the early days of the British tea trade, Africa has been a key player. Their traditions with tea are, therefore, deep rooted yet rather unique. And certainly worth a bit of exploration.

Africa is a large continent with a variety of peoples and cultures. Tea is known from Egypt and Morocco in the north, to Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda in the east, all the way to the southern tip.

In the 1600s, Tangier and Morocco in the northern part of Africa were under the control of the Portuguese. They were deeded to King Charles II of Britain when he met and married Catherine de Braganza as part of her dowry. (Such a thing seems unthinkable to me today, to turn over control of a whole country and its people as part of a marriage contract, but that was then.) Both Charles and Catherine were confirmed tea drinkers, making tea drinking popular in Britain when they returned there and Charles assumed the throne. It actually took a few decades for tea drinking to become popular in Morocco, despite it being under British control. The growth in trade with Europe brought tea there.

British colonies in what is now Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda not only began growing tea but adopted British tea customs, some of which linger even in these post-colonial days. Tea grown in Africa helped make it more plentiful and thus affordable, therefore making tea drinking more popular. Just as the British use the term “tea” to mean the beverage and a meal where that beverage is part of it, so in these parts of eastern Africa the term “chai” can mean both the beverage and a meal (usually, the morning meal).

Both black and green teas are popular in various areas on the continent. Some places enjoy their tea with milk and others plain with mint or other flavorings added.

Another item that comes from Africa and that often gets labeled “tea” is Rooibos (the Dutch word for red bush, a member of the acai family). It’s popularity stems in part from the frenzy that has been stirred up about caffeine, justified or not. Rooibos tends not to have caffeine in any significant amount and has a bunch of health benefits attributed to it.

More details on tea traditions in specific areas of Africa to come. Like I said, it’s a big continent!

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