©Stella Kalaw

Everywhere we traveled in Mali and Senegal, the locals invited us for tea or attaya- a concentrated infusion of Chinese gunpowder green tea leaves and sugar. We gathered around a portable charcoal burning stove situated in front of the person concocting the drink. The boiling brew was contained in a petite blue enamel kettle that rested on top of the hot coals . Right beside the stove was a tray with two shot glasses. The tea is poured back and forth between the glasses to create the froth on the beverage. The process was an art form. In fact, we had witnessed a village chief from Dogon pour from at least a foot high from the glass, looking straight at us without spilling. The heavy textured tea was overwhelmingly sweet. As it lingered in my mouth, the bitter flavor from the tea leaves left a quaint after taste.

There were three stages to this ritual and this was apparently the weakest brew. The locals drank them like water while I could only manage to take a few small sips at a time. Nonetheless, we did it in the spirit of camaraderie and to experience a slice of the West African way of life.