Tea (شاى, [ʃæːj]), is the national drink in Egypt, followed only distantly by Egyptian or Turkish coffee. Egyptian tea is uniformly black and sweet and is generally served in a glass, sometimes with milk. Tea packed and sold in Egypt is almost exclusively imported from Kenya and Sri Lanka. The Egyptian government considers tea a strategic crop and runs large tea plantations in Kenya. Egyptian tea comes in two varieties, Koshary and Saiidi.
Koshary tea (شاى كشرى, [ʃæːj ˈkoʃæɾi]), popular in Lower (Northern) Egypt, is prepared using the traditional method of steeping black tea in boiled water and letting it sit for a few minutes. It is almost always sweetened with cane sugar and often flavoured with fresh mint leaves. Adding milk is also common. Koshary tea is usually light in colour and flavour, with less than a half teaspoonful of tea per cup considered to be near the high end.
Saiidi tea (شاى صعيدى, [ʃæːj seˈʕiːdi]) is common in Upper (Southern) Egypt. It is prepared by boiling black tea with water for as long as five minutes over a strong flame. Saiidi tea is extremely strong and dark (“heavy” in Egyptian parlance), with two teaspoonfuls of tea per cup being the norm. It is sweetened with copious amounts of cane sugar (a necessity since the formula and method yield a very bitter tea). Saiidi tea is often black even in liquid form.
Tea is a vital part of daily life and folk etiquette in Egypt. It typically accompanies breakfast in most households, and drinking tea after lunch is a common practice. Visiting another person’s household, regardless of socioeconomic level or the purpose of the visit, entails a compulsory cup of tea; similar hospitality might be required for a business visit to the private office of someone wealthy enough to maintain one, depending on the nature of the business. A common nickname for tea in Egypt is “duty” (pronounced in Arabic as “wa-jeb” or “wa-geb”), as serving tea to a visitor is considered a duty, while anything beyond is a nicety.
Green tea is a recent arrival to Egypt (only in the late 1990s did green tea become affordable) and is not particularly popular. This contrasts with certain parts of the Maghreb and Sahara, where gunpowder tea has traditionally been used to make Touareg tea and the tea for the Moroccan tea ceremony.
Besides true tea, tisanes (herbal teas) are also often served at Egyptian teahouses. Karkadeh (/ˈkɑrkədeɪ/; Egyptian Arabic: [kæɾkæˈdeː], كركديه), a tea of dried hibiscus sepals, is particularly popular, as it is in other parts of North Africa. It is generally served extremely sweet and cold but may also be served hot. This drink is said to have been a preferred drink of the pharaohs. In Egypt and Sudan, wedding celebrations are traditionally toasted with a glass of hibiscus tea. On a typical street in downtown Cairo, one can find many vendors and open-air cafés selling the drink. In Egypt, karkadeh is used as a means to lower blood pressure when consumed in high amounts. Tisanes of mint, cinnamon, dried ginger, and anise are also common, as is sahlab. Most of these tisanes are considered to have medicinal properties as well; particularly common is a tisane of hot lemonade in which mint leaves have been steeped and sweetened with honey and used to combat mild sore throat.
Coffee is considered a part of the traditional welcome in Egypt. It is usually prepared in a small coffee pot, which is called dalla (دلة) or kanakah [ˈkænækæ] (كنكه) in Egypt. It is served in a small cup made for coffee called (فنجان, Egyptian Arabic: [fenˈɡæːn]; Sa’idi: fenjān).
In Egypt, sugar cane juice is called aseer asab and is an incredibly popular drink served by almost all fruit juice vendors, who can be found abundantly in most cities.
Licorice teas and carob juice drinks are traditionally drunk during the Islamic month of Ramadan, as is qamar ad-din, a thick drink made by reconstituting sheets of dried apricot with water. The sheets themselves are often consumed as candy.
A sour, chilled drink made from tamarind is popular during the summer called Tamr Hindi. It literally means “Indian Dates”, which is a local term for tamarind.