In the Sahraoui provinces, tea-making is a special ritual with specific times during which it is prepared. Although tea is not an end in itself, no council may be held and no special night of tarrying may be conceived without tea and tea-making. Indeed, news is exchanged and life affairs are discussed around a tea tray.
Sahraoui people have preserved the time-honored etiquette and rituals pertaining to tea making. Among the traditions which are keenly observed is what they refer to as the three “J’s” of tea-making: Jamā`ah (the group or the community), meaning that tea is enjoyed best in the company of a group of people and the more people there are the better.
The second “J” is Jarr (prolonging), meaning that the longer the tea-making process is the better, as this gives the group ample time to deal with various issues sedately and deliberately. The third “J” is Jamr (smoldering embers), meaning that tea is best prepared on a fire which is built using coal.
Tea is one of the foremost commodities that should always be available in any given home, for it must be offered to a guest. For this reason, Sahraoui men have always striven to secure tea, even if this means importing it from far-away lands. Men are sometimes compelled to spend an exorbitant price to get tea: it was not uncommon for people to trade a she-camel, a camel, or several heads of sheep against one bag of tea or a 2kg pack of sugar!
The tea-maker, who is called Al-Qayyām, is selected from among the community members, on the basis of specific criteria, including: eloquence; excellence in poetry reading; high-mindedness; handsomeness; as well as good lineage. The assignment of tea-making to one of the members of the group is considered as an honor conferred and not as a burden to be shouldered.
Sahraoui people enjoy watching the Qayyām making tea for them so that they may voice their observations and make their comments on the mistakes which the tea-maker is likely to make, including: the mishandling of tea utensils; the presentation of tea cups which have not properly boiled; the failure to thoroughly clean the tea tray; exaggeration in movement or talk.
Among the health benefits to be had from the drinking of tea, mention should be made of easier digestion. Sahraoui people are sure to drink tea after a fatty meat-based meal. Broadly speaking, tea in the Sahara is not only a traditional drink, but one telling example of Sahraoui generosity and a sign of good hospitality. Indeed, Sahraoui people would invite people to drink tea, more than they would ask them to come to share a meal with them
The Qayyām who excels in making good quality cups of tea is referred to as Fulān Tayyāy (He is verily a real tea-maker). During a tea-making and drinking ceremony, especially if the council is made of young people, empty cups of tea are thrown in the direction of the Qayyām in recognition of his unsurpassed skills in making excellent tea-cups.
When tea is of an outstanding quality, Sahraoui people would make this comment: “Hada Atay Yagla` Adwakh” (this tea is headache killer!), especially with reference to tea cups which are prepared and served in mid-afternoon time. Such tea is known as Adhameess –cups of tea which Sahraoui people would not miss for anything in the world, except perhaps in compelling conditions.
It may happen that upon finishing a very long tea-drinking session, some belated guests would show up. The attendance would then exclaim: N`allou Atay (Shall we prepare tea again?), in honor of their guests and out of consideration of their desire to enjoy some tea.