More Than a Taste of the Middle East at the MERC

Photo by America Lopez Martin

Ziqiang Zhao
Staff Writer

Tea plays an important role in many cultures because it has both a fascinating and refreshing function. Moreover, tea has special medicinal properties and is generally recognized as a healthy beverage. Although tea originated in Asian countries, it has now gained popularity all over the world.

The Middle Eastern Resource Center hosted an event — A Taste of the Middle East — on Wednesday, Jan. 24 at the Student Resource Building to introduce people to teas of the Middle East. The hosts were eager to spread knowledge of Middle Eastern countries AND provided traditional food, beverages and, most importantly, different kinds of tea from four countries: Egypt, Morocco, Iran, and Turkey.

Before trying the teas, I had a taste of a famous local dessert called baklava, a rich pastry layered with nuts, sugar, and honey. Another featured snack was flatbread with zahaar, an aromatic herb, which filled the room with a toasty spice scent. Visitors savored tea while chatting with each other with smiles. Attendees got mugs which they could decorate and keep. Speaking to the diversity in the crowd, each mug was unique and personal.

I was pleased to have the chance to come to the event because it was more than a taste of the Middle East, it was a taste of culture. I understood how tea plays a significant role for Middle Eastern people in their daily life. Tea appears frequently at home and at the workplace, but it’s also popular for formal occasions such as international conferences and seminars.

During the event, I interviewed Amjad Elh, an Education Abroad Program (EAP) student majoring in Middle Eastern studies. He made the Moroccan tea that people tasted. I was amazed that he made the flavorful tea by combining Chinese green tea and mint. However, making the tea is not as easy as one thinks. 

Since green tea should be the base of Moroccan tea, you first need to boil the water with green tea, according to Elh. After the green tea was done, Elh added fresh mint. Fresh mint distinguished the Moroccan tea that Elh made from the bagged tea anyone can buy from markets, which uses dried mint. The scent of fresh mint stood out as the aroma of nature emerged in the tea. In stark contrast to the tea I’ve bought from the store, the smell of Moroccan tea was more intense. Dried mint is easy to preserve, and there also might be preservatives in tea bags, which diminishes the taste.

Turkish tea was also an attaction because of its special brewing method, using a two-layer kettle called a çaydanlık. The two layers function separately — the upper part concentrates tea, and the lower part boils water. You can adjust the strength of the tea if you combine water and concentrated tea together. The creative invention impressed me even more than the tea.

The harmonious environment fascinated me and led me to appreciate the discoveries of other regions. Because of dimensional and colorful cultures, UCSB students could enjoy delicious Middle Eastern treats and drinks with others from all over the world.