P.A. from the 805 sends me pictures of a unique handled glass mug which she found at a garage sale for $2, which she tells me comes from Seattle. It is 4 ½” tall and 3” in diameter, so it is not very large. P.A. is confused what the row of little teeth about ¾” from the top lid is for.
Well, P.A., it took me a while, but I figured this puzzle out – this is an “Eastern” glass, either Turkish or perhaps Moroccan, and is used for tea when served in the Arabic style. This special and potent type of tea starts with a form of green Chinese tea called “Gunpowder,” in which each leaf is rolled into a small round pellet. This technique dates to the Tang Dynasty (618-907) in which withered tea leaves are steamed, rolled and dried. These tightly rolled, shiny pellets need to steep to open up, releasing flavor and aroma. To do this, you need an infuser or strainer, which will let the loose tea steep in hot water. But you don’t want to drink the tea leaves themselves. So P.A., those “teeth” held a conical glass or perhaps even metal mesh strainer, which was held in place by those teeth.
Those teeth have room above them also for a cover or lid, because whilst infusing, the tea should remain hot. One teaspoon of loose leaf gunpowder tea is used for every 5oz of water heated to 176°F and needs to steep at least a few minutes, so that the leaves can unwind into a long leaf shape; after steeping you remove the strainer, and begin to create Arabic style tea.
If you have traveled to Arabic lands, such as Morocco, you will be thinking your tea was not smoky Chinese tea, but a minty, sugary concoction. The tradition of mint and Gunpowder as a ceremonial tea of the Maghreb dates to the Crimean War of the 1850’s when a British tea merchant was forced to unload his Gunpowder tea in Morocco.
Here’s how it’s done: put your Gunpowder in the glass strainer with boiling water, steep, take the tea leaves out with the infuser/strainer, add tons of sugar (5-teaspoons for each teaspoon of tea leaves is typical) and add fresh mint leaves. Or if you really want a huge head rush, make this mixture in a teapot, then reheat it once more to concentrate the potency, and pour it into P.A.’s glass with the strainer in tact to catch the tea waste; take the strainer out, and get ready to hit the roof.
It's a custom to offer your guest three cups of this tea, and rude to refuse, because the quality and taste of the “hit” changes with the infusion. The famous Maghrebi proverb goes: “The First glass is as gentle as life; the Second is as strong as love, the Third glass is as bitter as death.”
The area called the Maghreb, once called the Barbary Coast, is west of Egypt in Northwest Africa, and includes the mountains, coast and plains of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. This fascinating area was once part of the Muslim Empire of Islamic Iberia, 700-1400, under the leadership of Muslim Spanish/Portuguese rulers. “Maghrebis” were known as “Moors” a term which also included Muslim inhabitants of Iberia. Their distant ancestors are the ancient indigenous Berbers of Northwest Africa, peoples living in Africa well before early recorded history dating to 3000 BCE. Interestingly, the Maghrebis descend from people who are Caucasoid Arabs with Sub-Saharan black African ancestry, respected for their striking beauty, and, since the 19th century for their amazing tea.
I see that this glass tea mug, dating form the early 20th century, has a modern version, offered as clear glass, with glass infuser, cut with openings delicately, removable, clear so that you can watch the tea unfurl, made of a glass made with no lead, perfect for “sun” tea for example. Bodum makes a double wall glass with strainer of mesh which fits into the glass and has a silicone lid, but has no handle because the double wall acts as insulation. P.A.’s glass mug has a generous handle, which indicates a hot beverage belongs inside. You can find all kinds of modern-day versions on Alibaba, indicating China drinks tea in the Arabian way.
P.A. your mug is not worth more than $35, but if you can find a suitable size strainer, please try Maghreb tea and write me again to see if the glass “works!”
Certified appraiser for estates, inheritances and trusts.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart's column appears every week in the Salon & Style section of the Santa Barbara News Press. Email her your questions and high-resolution photos at ElizabethAppraisals @ gmail.com
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