We take time for tea: A New Take on an Old West African Tradition

In 2003 while on sabbatical leave from Otterbein College (now Otterbein University), I participated in a faculty development seminar in Dakar, Senegal. While on my first visit to West Africa, as a tea drinker, as opposed to one who drinks coffee, I encountered the culture of preparing and serving tea called attaya, an elaborate process whereby Senegalese-style mint tea is served in three separate stages, called “the three concoctions”:

Eat Your World, a guide to regional food and drinks around the globe, describes the ritual:

Attaya: The word itself really describes the act of making the tea, a three-cup ritual during which the attaya maker boils the tea; pours a serving into a tiny glass; pours it back and forth into another glass, creating foam and mixing the sugar; and passes the glass around. This is done three times, with each glass becoming progressively sweeter and mintier. For the tea drinkers, there’s plenty of time to sit around and socialize after a meal, which is the primary goal of attaya.

attaya tea

Here is a young child preparing tea attaya near Dakar, Senegal.

Recently I thought of this ritual when I decided to spend some time with a dear friend, a talented fellow-believer who has been a chef by profession, who is also a fellow prostate cancer victor (I prefer the term as opposed to “survivor”). He introduced me to kombucha tea, an ancient tea that has proven to be beneficial in a number of physical conditions; my friend also taught me how to make the tea on my own.  Since I wanted to spend more time with him, I decided that we would get together once a week for “tea.” As I was on my way to his house, I recalled the ritual of serving tea attaya in Senegal, and I determined that I would introduce a variation of having tea attaya style by changing the kind of tea that would be served along with a change in the conversation during “tea time.” I express my thoughts in the following poem which is literally “hot off the press:”

“We take time for tea”: A New Take on an Old West African Tradition

 That I may make the voice of thanksgiving heard

       and may tell of all Your wondrous works.

                         Psalm 26:7

Seasoned soldiers, two elder brothers get together.

On this phase of our lifelong journey we take time for tea,

Using this practice to encourage one another.

Tea, not prepared attaya for my brother and me

But with a soulful Western touch, not green tea with mint

But kombucha, compounded after the art of the apothecary.

We transform this ancient tradition to this extent:

We don’t talk politics but may throw that in the mix,

Not what President Obama did or did not do.

We won’t complain about the “gummit” that folks can’t fix.

We look at life through new eyes and see another view.

To some folks our conversation may seem a bit odd.

We don’t dwell on sports and reality shows:

All that we say is in context of the Word of God.

Our love for God and one another steadily grows.

Thinking about lots of things, we consider our ways.

From the teapot of God’s favor, we pour and re-pour,

Telling of God’s goodness in these last and evil days.

We sip and savor the sweetness, then we tell some more.

Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness,

and for his wonderful works to the children of men!   

The accompanying video shows a Senegalese man preparing tea attaya/

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