Tea is an important part of social gatherings all throughout the Middle East. Each region has slightly different rituals around tea and how it is prepared. Recently Yosh O. organized an outing to Bab Al Yemen, a Yemeni restaurant in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. These outings are always fun and educational, so my family and I jumped at the chance to go. I've never had food from Yemen before, I knew there would be a new tea ritual to experience.
A google search on Yemeni tea shows that it is usually served sweet. Ingredients usually include sugar, cardamon, clove, and occasionally mint. Bab Al Yemen offers "Shai Tea", and "Shai Tea with Milk" on the menu. I ordered the milk tea, and within minutes the server poured us each steaming glasses of black tea that smelled of mint and spice. She put a little creamer with unsweetened evaporated milk on the table for us to use. The restaurant definitely uses mint in their version of Shai tea, since it was the predominant aroma and flavor. Sweet, minty, with a gentle taste of tea and spice (most likely cardamon and clove). For some reason my palate is sensitive to mint (and also cilantro), so it is mostly what I tasted.
The tea is extremely sweet, definitely sweeter than I'd prefer. I added some evaporated milk to see how it altered the flavor. If you prefer a gently sweet tea, definitely add it. It lessened the sweetness, giving a taste and texture similar to bubble tea. My daughter loved this sweet tea drink, and it was fun to share the experience with her. We were a large party dining at this restaurant, and it was fun to chat, eat, and sip sweet flavorful tea.
From my quick research it appears that even throughout Yemen the style of preparing tea can vary by area. Brooklyn has many different Arabic restaurants, and I hope to visit more of them to see how the preparation differs. I found this blog which lists other styles of tea found throughout the Arabian peninsula, and even lists a recipe.
As I mentioned I am not very familiar with Arabic culture and tea preparation, and this was a perfect initial experience .The food at Bab Al Yemen is excellent, it is some of the best Middle Eastern food I've ever had. This unassuming restaurant is definitely a destination. Don't forget to try the Shai Tea while you're there.