In order not to make the same mistakes Americans or northern Europeans make, eating meals with a cappuccino in Italy or ordering it as a dessert, don’t mess around with coffee or tea, and not even with freshly squeezed fruit juices. We are not in Chine, or in Japan, or even in India.
In mare nostrum (the Mediterranean) people drink water during meals and, in some cases, wine and other non-alcoholic beverages. Coffee and tea both exist here, although with different roles that are also related to decidedly personal habits, above all when speaking of breakfast.
Let’s start with the Italian word for tea, or tè, or thé as they say in France. The origins of this term are uncertain, although it may derive from Chinese. In any case, it any language is sounds like thaï or Arabic chaï, the pronunciation of which varies according to the zone.
The plant comes from the Orient and is not cultivated in the Mediterranean where the so-called ‘black tea’ is consumed mostly roasted on the northern coast or eastern regions; while in northern Africa, tea is mostly and traditionally green, because it arrived from China over the course of centuries. In the northern Mediterranean instead, it historically arrived from Persia and Turkey, where only the ‘black’ version is used.
One curiosity concerns mint tea: there was a time when, for diplomatic reason, traffic with China with interrupted in the northern African desert, so local the population began drinking herbal teas of mint, which is typical of that area. When the dialogue reopened with the Orient, the habit of the odour of mint suggested that the experiment with the combination. Hence the invention of mint tea. Today, the further south we travel in the desert, the more sugar is added.
In Tunisia the peculiarity is to drink it sometimes with pine nuts or almonds, and it is always drunk only from mid-morning onward, while it is not used in this formula for breakfast, unlike in Morocco.
Egypt does not have a strong tea culture and its national beverage offered on social occasions is karkadè, a thirst-quenching brew made from the fleshy calyx of the hibiscus sabdariffa flower, with an intense red colour and sharp flavour. Cultivated in some African countries like Senegal and Ethiopia, there is also green tea that was once commonly found in Italy, known as “Italian tea”, for obvious historic reasons .
The leading competitor of tea in the Mediterranean is certainly coffee, known to everyone above all for Italian espresso, which is spreading more and more, reaching even the southern coast where is happily coexists with Turkish coffee, which is aromatized with rose water and orange, while in Tunisia it is taken very sweet.
In general, on the shores of the ‘white sea in the middle’ fruit juices and freshly squeezed citrus juices reign supreme in Tunisia, marking the passage of the seasons: oranges in the winter, strawberries in the spring, lemons in the summer, and pomegranates in the autumn. Moreover, the latter is also a sacred plant for Islām, as the grains contained in the fruit represent the 99 names of God. In general, the pomegranate is a symbol of good luck and a sign of abundance and fertility.
Another beverage worthy of mention is almond milk, which is very common in Sicily, and the so-called orzata, a name used to indicate various refreshing, non-alcoholic made with vegetable, cereals, seeds, and dried fruits. The term certainly describes its origins: in Roman times it was produced with barley, but then this cereal was replaced with other ingredients.
Ilaria Guidantoni, journalist, writer, consultant for institutional relations, is originally from Florence but now lives between Rome, Milan, Tunisia, and Tuscany. She holds a degree in Theoretical Philosophy from the Catholic University in Milan and a Masters Degree in Bioethics from the Policlinico Gemelli in Rome. An expert in Arabic and Mediterranean culture, she is interested in the dialogue between the two shores, from current events and history to food and its relation to corporeity in portraying a society (Sommelier A.I.S). In 2015 she published Marsiglia Algeri, viaggio al chiaro di luna (Albeggi Edizioni); Corrispondenze mediterranee, viaggio nel sale e nel vento (Oltre Edizioni).
She is the Editor-in-Chief of the cultural online newspaper Saltinaria.it