How to brew the best attaya?

My Magazine 2022/01
8 min
Attaya can be simply called tea. But in The Gambia, it is so much more than that. Every step of the process can be made into science, and there are so many hidden levels of brewing this hot drink, one cannot even imagine. Seemingly very casual drink has strong social meaning, especially in the male society.

Brewing attaya is not just an activity that people do, but it’s part of a daily social life that connects people of different ethnic groups, families, backgrounds and nationalities. When people sit down chatting and discussing family and other issues, they usually brew attaya to keep them busy.  Some people in The Gambia themselves admit they are addicted to it. People brew attaya everywhere; in the streets, workplaces, homes, etc.

The first step needed in brewing attaya is putting the materials together and lighting the fire in the charcoal burner or, much faster, gas stove. To brew attaya, one would need a teapot, locally called brara, two small glass cups, a plate or a tray to hold the cups while making foam, water, sugar, special additives like jasmine tea, fresh mint, even cloves to add to the tea and the attaya packet itself.

The first thing to do is to put some water in the teapot and then place it on top of the fire. Gambians prefer to use a charcoal burner because the process is slower, giving a nicer smell to it. After adding a whole packet of attaya, allow it to boil for a few minutes. Measure a glass full of sugar, add it to the attaya, and mix it well by pouring the attaya into the glass and back to the teapot. From there, you can start making the foams, which are very important because they can tell how good the attaya is from afar and help decorate the attaya.

Foams are made by pouring the attaya into one of the glass cups and then pouring the attaya from one cup to another at the height of half a meter and vice versa. After foams are done, you put attaya back on the fire to heat it. You will wash the glass cup to remove the stickiness of the sugary teas spilt from making the foams, and from there, the attaya is ready to be served.

The older and important people are always offered the first cup since this is a sign of respect. The first round served is called lewal, and it’s the strongest one. Usually, it is followed by the second round brewed from the same pack of attaya and half a dose of sugar. The third round is the weakest, and not everybody brews it. The attaya gradually losses its colour and strongness with each successive serving.

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