Attaya – Chinese Green Tea, Habit, Ritual, Artform, Dentists nightmare, etc.


We drink a lot of attaya here. So, what is attaya? It’s a chinese green tea drank in small amounts with lots of sugar. You drink it for the tea as much as for time spent brewing and chatting. Its a great thing to do while spending time with people. It’s also an event that happens everywhere so you can always find a group of people brewing and go sit with them. My host-father brews attaya each night while we sit outside. He also adds mint to it so it has a nice taste. There are people who can really brew a nice attaya but it takes some time to get the skills, pours and timing correct.

Attaya has 3 rounds or brews: 1st, 2nd and 3rd. The first is the strongest, and fresh water and sugar are added to get to the 2nd and finally the 3rd: the sweetest and weakest. The first is also the darkest in color. The attaya is drank out of the same two glasses and it’s passed around, usually to the elders first. Often times you can ask a small child to ‘send’ or ‘pass’ attaya somewhere so you can remain sitting. This is a trick we call ‘smallboying’- having someone do a favor for you. For example, someone may joke, “are you trying to smallboy me?” It’s actually really handy when you need bread, soap from a shop or any other small random task.

Ok, I’ll show some pictures now.

Here’s most of the equipment you need. A plate, 2 small glasses, charcoal pot, fan and a teapot. A large teapot with water in it also helps.

Here’s a different set up – see the plate, teapot (called a ‘barada’), charcoal pot and glasses.

And here’s my setup – its pretty new – I don’t have that many brews on it yet – maybe 10. You can see the small teapot you cook the attaya with and the bigger plastic tea pot you hold the extra water in. It was a proud day when I bought my own attaya set. I think for everything you can get it for less than $10. My family really laughs and likes it when I brew because I’m participating in the culture. They say “Mohammad…….you are brewing attaya!”

Here we have the barada on the coals and are fanning it to get them hot. This was where I first drank attaya – in my training village in Kiang Kaiaf.

This is my younger brother Abdullah at Gassama Kunda – my training site and home for the first 2 months in Gambia. Yes, you guessed right – he’s listening to Dubstep in those headphones. I thought this was a good sharing of our cultures with each other – he teaches me about attaya and I teach him about Dubstep. Both are really sweet.

Usually attaya is drank with 2-4 people but you can also have big groups drinking attaya. They even have bigger teapots to accomodate more people. This is in Farafenni with my permanent host family. Here are some PCV friends – Musa and Mariama – and family members spending time together.

I’m being taught how to brew here.

This is my host brother and sister in Farafenni – Baba and Fatou. Baba is the one who was teaching me how to brew attaya this day.

When brewing, it’s really important to get some good foam in the glasses. If you look at the photo at the top you will see a great glass of attaya with a lot of foam. You do this by pouring the attaya back and forth between the two glasses. This is the tricky part as the glasses get really hot, there’s not much liquid, you may spill, there’s usually people watching you and if the attaya is the wrong temperature the foam doesn’t form as nice. To watch someone “foam up” some attaya is mesmerizing – it’s a little trance you get into watching the repeated motion and foam building. My friend Modou Kassama pours the best attaya; he’s my latest teacher. So, when you have the foam ready, you wash the glasses, and then fill them half full for people to drink. The glasses here are not 1/2 full because we sat with a lot of people so we want to share and let everyone drink.

Attaya gives you a lot of energy and makes it difficult to sleep. You get so much energy you can easily climb high up in trees. Here Jeff and I climb high up to avoid the pesky beehive below us. You can avoid bees if you go up.

Thanks for reading. Let me know if you have any questions or comments. -stephen

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