Bedouin Mint Tea in the White Desert

Cairo last Tuesday was so smoggy that buildings on the other side of the Nile were blurry by 9 a.m. On Wednesday night the White Desert, nearly 250 miles southwest of the capital, was nothing but cool sand, flowing black sky dotted with stars, and silence.

A popular trip out of Cairo is overnight tours of the white and black deserts, and we definitely needed more nature in our vacation. It was only one night tent-less under the open sky with two guides from nearby Bahariya, but it turned out to be one of the more thrilling parts of 10 days in Egypt. The very best part was not hiking or sandboarding, but wandering around the white desert rocks and chatting and laughing in the night around the palm-fed fire.

We ate very well both days of our trip, and dinner cooked over the coals started and ended with endless tiny cups of Bedouin-style mint tea.

What you need:
–Cute-as-pie teapot, if desired
–Small cups (very sweet, so don’t go for a Starbucks flagon)
–Loose black tea
–Fresh mint
–White or cane sugar

Our guides heated the water in the fire, then added a small handful of tea leaves. The second step was a fistful of fresh mint, stalks and all. After another 3 to 5 minutes of brewing, a handful or two of sugar was dumped into the pot. The end result is something like a fresh spearmint snowball, heated and without the syrup after taste. The desert coffeeshop aura also broke the ice, giving us the opportunity to learn more about our guides and how much they learn from other international tourists.

Let’s just say I relearned to not judge a book by its cover. It also became even more clear that the Egyptian tourism industry is suffering terribly post-revoluation, so I highly recommend you get yourself out into the desert for a cup of tea, and help them out.

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