Posted by: The MuffinTin Post | January 17, 2010

Arabic Sweet Tea

What I really want from the Middle East, besides a master’s degree, is a samovar.* I’ve been commenting on these beautiful contraptions everywhere I go, and, in fact, they are found everywhere because the sweet, sweet liquid that comes out of them is quite possibly the most addictive substance I’ve had since I’ve been here. (Possible exceptions: Turkish coffee, halva, and warm rugelach).

Even my friend, a tea connoisseur, admits that plain old black tea is transformed into divine nectar when it emerges, warm and sugary, from a samovar. Here’s my take on Arabic sweet tea, samovar preferred, but certainly not necessary.

The recipe calls for rose leaves (not petals). We tried this herb back in Nazareth, and after raving about it for – oh – 38 seconds or so, our exceptionally hospitable hosts packed up a big plastic tub of the leaves for us to use back in Jerusalem. Several other herbs can easily be used in place of rose leaves, which may be difficult to find in the US or Europe.

Arabic Sweet Tea


-boiling water

-1 plain old black tea bag per mug

-2 heaping tbsp. sugar (brown is preferable) per 1 cup of water

-2 rose leaves or one of these other options: 2 sage leaves, 4 cardamom pods, several mint leaves, several rose petals, or 2 za’atar leaves


Boil the water. Once the water is boiling, pour it directly into the mugs over the tea bags. Add the sugar and the herbs. Stir until the sugar has dissolves, and remove the tea bag after the number of minutes recommended on the tea box or bag have passed. The leaves can remain in the mugs. The tea should be very sweet, dessert-like, even. If you want to be most traditional, serve the tea in small glasses along with dates or pita.

*What? You’d like my mailing address? Samovar mail? Why certainly, you kind friend, you!


  1. As you well know, I am already a tea addict. English for me, if you please, with milk and honey. However, I think i might be persuaded to try it this way if you bring the rose leaves home in a few weeks. I will be on the lookout for a samovar…..

  2. I’ve never drunk tea from a samovar before but I’ve always liked the way they looked. So mystical…

    I bet the rose leaves are the ones that make all the difference in this tea. It sounds so tempting!


  3. I’m with you on the Samovar. I want!!!!!!!!!!!

    There are SO many things that I would love to bring home from here (include the arabic coffee maker thingy), Armenian ceramics, and the samovar!! BUT … the thought of lugging them through Europe stops me. TRAGEDY.

  4. You should know that in any shuk you can buy all kinds of Arab “teas’. They are delicious, and do lend themselves to sweetening. (I always thought “tea” was made with tea leaves, the leaves of Camellia sinensis, the same genus as your garden Camellia; but I was wrong: it refers to any infusion. In fact, now that I think of it, if you soak manure in water you get manure tea, a handy fertilizer.)
    And yes, tea in the American southern states is drunk very sweet–though it is always iced. Now why would tea be drunk sweet in the American South and in the mid-east and India, but not in China. It is true that most Chinese teas we get are smoked black teas, or green teas, and even I can see that they would not be good sweetened. On the other hand I have bought Chinese black tea, unsmoked, even Lichee Black Tea, and they seem to be good sweetened. Someone must have a theory for all this. I don’t.

    • Hi Mike,
      I’ve tried a lots of teas in the shuk, but, as much as I hate to admit this on the blog, I really prefer black tea over everything else!

      As for a theory on sweetened teas: I grew up in the Southern US, and I certainly had my share of sweetened iced teas. Having the experience of living in hot climates both in Israel and in the US, I definitely think that the sugar in sweet tea is particularly necessary and refreshing during hot weather. This could explain why some teas–when drunk in hot climates–are always served with sugar. Of course there are exceptions (like the hot regions of China that serve unsweetened tea), and I have no explanation, except to say that some teas simply taste better when sweetened (and vice versa).

      Who knows…

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