I first sipped iced mint tea in mid July 2008 in an open-air cafe’ in Tripoli in what is now called Martyrs’ Square. As we edge toward another mid July, I’ve started brewing up some of my own in Malta. Mint tea is one of the most unpretentious yet incredible soft summer drinks; my first sip of it a welcome moment I’ll never forget.
Whether you leave it as a drink or make it into granita, as I did here, it’s the perfect antidote to hot summer days and nights. Peach helps gives the mint tea its golden colour. The nearest you’ll get to this from a shop are cans of iced peach teas, but this is far healthier. I just can’t take the overdose of sugar in those canned varieties.
Despite an airconditioned, chauffeured car taking me around on business that long weekend in Libya five summers ago, the heat was cloyingly oppressive. By late afternoon, parched and weary, my guide suggested we pit-stop for a long glass of mint tea. The memory of just how refreshing and welcome that iced mint tea was has stuck with me since. The squeeze of lemon, the mint jostling with ice cubes on the surface with each deeply cold sip was an incredible sensation to parched lips. To think that I wasn’t a lover of green teas back then.
We’d just spent the afternoon touring Sabratha, the Phoenician, Byzantine and Roman city not far west of Tripoli. An incredible place in its own right, though generally overshadowed by the vast remains of Leptis Magna a longer drive east. Open ruins on a barren landscape swept by hot, sea winds had left us dreaming of coolness. The open-air cafe’ in the city centre, sheltered partly by towering palms, was relief beyond belief even though traffic snarled along its edges.
Mint teas are common throughout North African and eastern Mediterranean countries. My mint, as I noted a couple of posts back, is not faring too well but apparently mint should grow well in our climate. I’ve re-potted it and shifted it to my shadier courtyard – like North African dwellings, old Maltese houses are built with courtyards designed to allow in air but not too much sun. Plants tend to thrive in them and create a shady oasis and micro climate to cool the house. With the prospect of more mint growing, I snipped off four giant sprigs to brew up with a green tea. As the colour was a bit sludgy, I raided the fridge to use up a tonne of peaches I’d bought from the market and which were ripening fast. Adding peach puree to the strained tea as it cools adds not only colour but natural sweetness. So go easy on the sugar – you can stir more in as desired later.
I’m keeping a large jug of mint tea in the fridge all summer long. And from time to time, I’ll freeze a portion for granita – it seems more palatable to kids this way, and is a simple dessert for summer dining.
Jacob has two Libyan friends in his class, so for now, that’s our only contact with the country. I’d love to return to discover more of their fascinating country, one day…
All images © Liz Ayling 2013
Mint Tea & Peach Granita
Serves four iced tea drinks, or a good 6 portions of granita. Use any loose leaf green tea, even those with added lemon or other ingredients like ginger. Mint tea is made usually with gunpowder varieties but as those are an acquired flavour, you can opt for any green tea you like.
1 litre of water
1 tbsp of green tea, loose leaf
50g granulated sugar (or a bit more; adjust to your taste)
4 generous sprigs of fresh mint, plus one sprig to serve
4 large peaches, ripe but firm, halved, skinned, stones removed
zest of a lemon, plus juice and lemon wedges to serve
1. Place the water and tea in a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Turn heat down and simmer for five minutes.
2. Add the sugar and a tbsp lemon juice and simmer for a further minute. Remove from heat, and leave to infuse while cooling.
3. While the tea is simmering, place prepared peaches in a food processor along with the lemon zest and whiz until pureed.
4. When tea is lukewarm, strain and discard the tea and mint leaves.
5. Add the peach puree’ to the tea, stir and test for sweetness. Add a bit more sugar if desired, ensuring it dissolves.
6. Pour the peach tea into a shallow, freezer-proof dish (around 4cm deep) and transfer carefully to the freezer. Alternatively, just chill in the fridge and serve as iced tea with ice cubes and garnished as below.
7. Freeze for around 4 hours before using. Scrape off small chunks of fluffy ice and serve in stem glasses garnished with mint sprigs and lemon wedges.
Tip: I find a lemon zester excellent for scratching the ice into granita.