Tea is the national drink of Egypt; it holds a special position that even coffee can’t rival. It’s called “shai”; the tea is almost exclusively imported from Kenya and Sri Lanka. The Egyptian government considers tea a strategic crop and runs large tea plantations in Kenya. Green tea is a recent arrival to Egypt (only in the late 1990s did green tea become affordable) and is not as popular. Egyptian tea comes in 2 varieties: Koshary and Saiidi.
- Koshary, popular in Lower (Northern) Egypt, is prepared using the traditional method of steeping black tea in boiled water and letting it set for a few minutes. It’s almost always sweetened with cane sugar and is often flavored with fresh mint leaves. Milk may or may not be added. Koshary tea is usually light, with less than a half teaspoonful per cup considered to be near the high end.
- Saiidi tea is common in Upper (Southern) Egypt. It’s prepared by boiling black tea with water for 5 mins over a strong flame. Saiidi tea is extremely heavy, with 2 teaspoonfuls per cup being the norm. It’s sweetened with copious amounts of cane sugar - a necessity as the formula and method yield a very bitter tea.
Besides true tea, herbal teas (or tisanes) are often served at Egyptian teahouses, with ingredients ranging from mint to cinnamon and ginger to salep; many of these are ascribed medicinal qualities or health benefits in Egyptian folk medicine. Karkade, a tisane of hibiscus flowers, is a particularly popular beverage and is traditionally considered beneficial for the heart.