Magic, madness or medicinal miracle? Debby Donnelly-Addison checks out some pretty unique teas making some pretty powerful claims in Marrakech.
I was watching an old Jamie Oliver show a few months ago, a show from a simpler time, before he set out to save us all from turkey twizzlers and two for one pizzas. He was wandering through a souk in Marrakech when a stall holder tried to sell him teas and spices that would do everything from cure a migraine, to make your wife want to do more housework. A tea that entices others to sort your house out, maybe do a bit of ironing or creosote the fence? Yep, I’m having a bit of that.
I’ve always had an interest in herbal medicine. Not that I would rely on it completely, but I think that anything that is effective, even via the placebo effect, should be given some consideration. So when I received the work booking for Marrakech last October, I knew I wouldn’t be able to resist hunting down Jamie’s tea salesman and giving this a go for myself, for you, and for science (ok, not for “science” per se, but let me feel special for five minutes here).
Don’t chai this at home, kids.
It so happened that finding one specific retailer in souks is no mean feat. A labyrinth of alleyways and narrow roads, this wasn’t going to be as easy as I had initially anticipated. The riad I was staying in had provided me with a mobile that looked like a burner phone from the movies and made me feel like an international criminal/drug dealer. I pulled it out of my bag to call the riad guardian for directions, when a man pushing a cart stopped alongside me and told me to follow him “somewhere really good”. Now I know what you’re thinking. I’ve seen the crime documentaries too, this is usually the point where I’m sitting on the sofa, shoving mozzeralla sticks in my mouth whilst shouting “don’t do it you stupid woman” at the television. Nonetheless, I found myself following this guy. I would stop every now and again, weighing up whether I was off to lose some organs, only to be met with the assurance “you’ll really want to see this”. So I carried on following him, hopeful that I’m not heading to my doom, but also grateful that I’m wearing a nice dress, you know, in case they show a photo of my corpse on the Netflix documentary of my untimely demise.
Much to my utter relief and elation, the mystery cart man led me to the front door of Ksour Bio, a store that sold, you guessed it, magic/medicinal tea. I hadn’t told him that this was what I was looking for, I had blindly followed him through the souks like a lemming about to leap off a cliff, so this was a pretty nice surprise. I was greeted by Abdul, a genuinely friendly man who wore a Liverpool FC kit with a white coat over the top to assert his position as a man of medicine. I told him why I was there and he was thrilled. Really, really thrilled. He was so passionate about what he sold and what it could do, I actually felt a little guilty for not taking this more seriously. He told me that his biggest seller was “Royal tea”, a blend that’s very popular with students and anyone that needs a strong focus. After scooping the mixture of scented flowers and heady herbs into a bag, he then began darting around the room, picking jars of powders and petals from the shelves to put together three more custom blends for me to take home. One shelf featured a row of jars of coloured powders with the word “MAGIC” in bold on the front. “They add colour to the tea”, Abdul explained. “So they’re food dye?” I asked. “No, they’re magic”, he frowned. I suddenly found it hard to take this seriously again.
Abdul tried his best to sell me Viagra as I left, assuring me that he doesn’t need it himself and has never tried it, but that it’s very good. I politely declined and was met with a smile and a piece of paper with his phone number on, in case I “ever wanted to go for a cup of tea”. A nice offer, but after 2 headspinning hours in the tea store, I wanted to get back and get to work on my highly scientific experiment.
How it works:
Once I landed back in the UK and had gotten the tea through customs, something I had been a bit worried about given it’s rather conspicuous appearance, I decided to try each tea for a month. I had enough for one or two cups a day, and would not be telling anyone what I was up to. Other than regular breakfast tea, I only drink water, so switching what I was drinking wouldn’t be too much of a hardship. Four teas over four months, one of them has to work, right?
First up: Energy tea (ginger, Moroccan ginseng, star anise)
I had to try this one first because I had been travelling extensively and was pretty worn out. The scent was amazing: autumnal herbs invoking memories of crisp morning walks and golden sunsets. The flavour? Liquorice that had been left out in the loft. Over summer. During a heatwave. I knew I wasn’t going to enjoy this.
Abdul had assured me that this tea would not only provide me with a much needed boost, it would also surround me with inspiring energy, making those around me want to work harder and do more too. For the first week, nothing much happened. I didn’t seem to be “inspiring” anyone. In fact, by 2pm on set one afternoon, I found one of the photographers asleep in the prop room and I too considered taking a nap on top of a chest freezer. This was not working out as I had hoped, and I still had three weeks of attic-dust tea to endure.
However, half way into week two, I found myself feeling a little more lively. Rather than waving my arm over my head to hit my Fitbit target (whilst watching tv and eating chicken wings with my free hand), I found I genuinely wanted to move more. By week three, my restlessness was such that I was taking myself off on a walk or run at 11pm at night just to wind down. I live in a close knit community and knew that my twilight escapades would no doubt cause suspicion, but I’m a scientist now, and I’m not going to allow gossip to get in the way of this crucial experiment. I carried on with the tea and the late night energy explosions until the end of week four, by which point I was convinced I was definitely ready to enter a marathon and was getting two hours less sleep each night. The lack of sleep wasn’t bothering me too much though because I felt invincible. What a month.
The verdict: This tea definitely gave me more energy, but made me, in the words of one of my friends, “100% more annoying”. Whilst the energy boost from guzzling ginseng all day was kinda fun, it did halter my concentration and I found myself getting agitated more easily. I love ginger, but this tasted nothing like that and I didn’t enjoy it at all. Great for a boost when you need it, but I think if I carried on drinking this stuff I’d be able to taste colours and see sounds by now.
Next in line: Sleep and Serenity (turmeric, camomile, lemon grass, hibiscus)
I had initially planned on testing this one last, but after a month of ginseng induced insomnia, changes had to be made. Just like it’s predecessor, this smells heavenly, but unlike last month’s offering, it tasted really nice. Given the nature of the tea, I decided to have one cup around 6pm and the other around bedtime. Abdul had claimed that this tea would draw nothing but peaceful souls towards me, ensuring serene days and restful nights. My internal monologue for the previous month had featured nothing but swearing and screaming, so I was looking forward to giving it a go.
This tea took a little longer to kick in, but that could be because I had spent the last few weeks fuelled by Abdul’s energy concoction. However, when it hit, it hit hard. Instead of my sleep returning to the solid 8 hours per night it had been pre-experiment, I was sleeping 9-10 hours some nights. I wasn’t feeling particularly serene either, if anything, my tolerance for incompetence was decreasing rapidly. I hoped this would at least be eased by the abundance of warm and peaceful souls I had been promised would be attracted to me, but judging by the behaviour of several motorists on the M6 that month, that wasn’t working either. I felt tired and groggy and fed up.
About three weeks in, I noticed one distinct advantage to this: Although I wasn’t feeling better, I was starting to look better. My hair fell into place with little effort, my skin was clear, I was putting outfits together with ease every day. Then I spoke to my friend Sue: “you look exactly the same, you’re just tired and smashed all the time so your standards have lowered”. Taking a look through the photos on my phone, she was right. I had just stopped caring as much because all I could think about was napping. Thankfully, there were only four days left meaning there wasn’t enough time for me to go full slob on this and develop a penchant for “just nipping to the shops in my pyjamas”.
The verdict: I’m on the fence with this one. Sure, I may have slept a LOT more than I had done previously, but I don’t know whether that was down to the tea or because I was suffering with withdrawal symptoms from last month’s power blend. I cut down to one cup a day during the last week of this month, but I was still sleeping excessively and didn’t feel like doing anything really. Tasted pretty good, though.
Third up: Royal tea (ginger, hibiscus flower, lemon grass, rose, star anise, cinnamon, turmeric)
Abdul’s best seller, I was really looking forward to this. With a light, lemony scent and delicate flavour, this was my favourite of the four and the only blend that I would happily drink regularly instead of regular breakfast tea. Promising concentration, good sleep, and helping draw creative individuals towards you, this brew sounded right up my street.
Within a week of substituting last month’s “dreamy sleepy nighty snoozey snooze” blend for this, my sleep was back to normal and my energy levels felt, well, pretty great. I don’t know whether it was the fact that everything was nicely balanced again or because this tea is indeed magic, but my head felt clear and I was putting out some pretty good work. I was on one particularly awful trip abroad during week two of this blend, but the unfortunate events that unfolded didn’t phase me as much as they normally would have. I was able to take stress in my stride and remain creative throughout the chaos. I felt like myself on a good day, every day. Did it attract other creatives towards me? Well, no, unless you count my dogs figuring out how to get onto the kitchen worktop to get the bowl of chicken I had left out. That said, my dogs aren’t the brightest of canines, so this could be another win for the tea.
By the time I got to the end of week three, I started to feel myself return to my pre-experiment self. I don’t know if I was building up a tolerance to it, or whether I was just running out of ideas, but I just wasn’t getting as excited about my work. The creative juices were drying up and I started to feel a little restless again. By the time the four weeks were up, I felt like my old self, but well rested and less agitated than before.
The verdict: I don’t know whether this tea only has a short term effect or if life had just been getting me down by the end of it, but I’ve saved half a bag for my next big work project because I do believe it helped me on some level. The feedback from my friends was that I seemed the same in myself, but my “Instagram looked amazing” and I was putting out some of my best work. I also got some wonderful feedback from my clients and made some very powerful work contacts during this month, so I was clearly operating on a higher level than normal. Whether the tea had anything to do with it, I don’t know, but I certainly wouldn’t be adverse to trying this one again in future.
And finally: Love tea (nutmeg casing, royal jelly, mimosa)
Ok, now for the big kahuna: A tea that promises happiness, wellness, and makes those in your presence either fall in love with you or at least be kinder and more understanding towards you. If you make big claims then I want big results, and you can bet your bottom dollar that I’m going to seriously push my luck testing this out.
Visually, this is not the most appealing looking tea. The nutmeg casing isn’t too bad to look at when dry, but add some hot water and you’ve got what looks like slugs floating around your cuppa. It smells and tastes like sweet pot pourri, but I was willing to make that sacrifice to test the bold claims Abdul made about this particular concoction. I had one cup at breakfast and one at lunchtime to ensure that everyone I met throughout my working day could bask in the wonderful glow this tea would surely produce. I had a feeling this would be a fun month.
I know what you’re all thinking, did I have men falling at my feet? No. But did I have at least a few propositions? Also no. Was I disappointed? Absolutely not. You see, the unexpected perk of testing something that makes such an elaborate claim is that you open up to possibilities, you view people in a different way. You find yourself listening to them more intently and thinking about what they have to say. I found myself having deeper, more positive conversations with my friends and colleagues. I connected with people more rather than rushing off to get back to what I was doing or making an excuse to leave. It was nice.
I had pretty much grasped by week three that I wasn’t going to be getting any unwanted/unsolicited proposals (thank goodness), so I decided to see if people would be kinder to me if I pushed my luck a little. I started by sending pitches to people I would never expect a “yes” from and got nothing but green lights. I asked my friend Chris if he could get me a taser from work (extreme, I know, but, SCIENCE). He laughed and said “I’ll see what I can do”, which was blatantly a joke but a far cry from the lecture I was expecting from a responsible adult who takes his job a lot more seriously than I do. I found that whenever I asked for anything, people said yes. Either I wasn’t asking enough in the past, or this is some pretty powerful tea I’m guzzling. The only downside during this month was I started having some pretty vivid, messed up dreams. Nothing too awful, but enough for me to wake up rattled or angry at people for things they had done in my dream despite having no control over what goes on in my head. I wasn’t sure whether this was due to the tea or life in general, but the crazed dreams pretty much stopped a day or two after my experiment ended.
The verdict: I’ll be honest, I don’t think this tea did anything to me physically, magically, or mentally (with the exception of the dreams), but the anticipation and expectation of what would or could happen meant I lived and felt differently. I felt able to speak up for what I wanted, and more receptive to people saying yes. I do feel my friendships benefitted from this, although I could achieve this just by changing my attitude and taking myself out of work-mode a little more often. Sadly, in this case, I don’t free the tea contributed to this month’s changes, although I’ll come back and edit this if a gift wrapped taser turns up on my birthday next month.
Ok, I’ll admit, there’s definitely something to this medicinal tea lark. I know I didn’t take it too seriously at first, but I can’t deny that I experienced some major changes to my sleep patterns and energy levels during this period of highly scientific study. Did I experience any mythical, magical life changing experiences? No. But would I do it again? Absolutely, particularly with the royal tea if I had a big project coming up, or the energy tea if I fancied going on a psychedelic journey through time and space. It’s been an interesting four months, I’ll definitely by trying more blends next time I visit Marrakech and recommend that you do the same. And with that, I’m off to hang up my lab coat and await my Nobel Prize nomination. Get the kettle on.