It’s 4:30pm and the hot desert sun is finally starting to sink lower into the sky, casting long shadows and golden light across the cooperative community garden in the village of Walo. The temperature still hovers around 100 degrees F.  Women chat and laugh with one another as they clear weeds and leaves from their garden beds before filling watering cans at the basins and watering their thirsty crops.

While they work, a volunteer from the cooperative prepares “attaya,” a strong, sweet, minty tea, out in the garden. Attaya is a vital and vibrant part of daily Senegalese culture. You’ll find it being made and served almost anywhere you go, any time of day.

Attaya is made from Chinese gunpowder green tea, mint, and sugar, brewed in three stages in a kettle over hot coals.  The tea is brewed strong and bitter, and then poured into tiny glasses called kas. It is then poured back and forth from glass to kettle and back again, to create a thick foam on top. The higher up you pour from and the thicker the foam, the better.

Attaya: Senegalese Tea Culture

Women enjoy a glass of attaya in the Walo community garden while they water their plants.

Friends share this first glass of tea, called lewel. After adding more sugar and mint, or nana, to the teapot, the process begins again for a second (naarel) round of tea. The third (nettel) round is the sweetest of all.  There are several interpretations of the ritual’s symbolism, but many people say that the three concoctions are representative of the stages of life. The first stage is bitter, representing the difficulties of growing and early life; the second stage is sweeter, representing mid-life, love, and family, and the third stage is the sweetest to symbolize the sweetness  of old age. Other interpretations suggest that the three concoctions of attaya also represent the growing and sweetening of friendship over time.

Back in Walo, as the women tend to their crops, the volunteer making the attaya brings his tray out to them, pouring them each a glass. Drinking the attaya, they can take a break from their work, enjoy the sweet treat, and get a little boost of energy from the sugar and tea!

You could walk into any garden site across CREATE!’s partner communities, and see the same ritual taking place, a beautiful symbol of the rich cultural traditions that make Senegal such an incredible place.