Tea and Coffee at the Masjid

Photograph of Somali tea

Traditional Somali tea at a halal market in downtown Faribault.

At the masjid, and elsewhere in the Somali community in Faribault, Somali tea and coffee are both symbols of hospitality and of Somali culture. Traditional Somali tea and coffee in Faribault are milky, sweet, and full of spices and herbs.

Two high-school girls spoke about learning to make tea from their mothers:

There are different herbs to it…And just a bag of tea, and then you dump it in there. Somalian coffee, too. And at the end it just tastes good…Somalis don’t measure things…We just dump everything in it, and it just turns out perfect I guess.

Today in the morning, [my mother] was like, “Cook my tea,” and she’s like, “Don’t make it too much.” So I just made it one cup. She’s like “Why’d you do that?!” I’m like, “You told me to.”

Somali tea and coffee are integral parts of daily life in Faribault. In each of the city’s three halal markets, there are tables at the back of the store where men sit and drink coffee or tea, chatting with each other and watching sports on TV. 

The tables are rarely empty. At the masjid, a coffee carafe sat on the floor of an imam’s office. A pack of Styrofoam coffee cups lay on his desk near an empty cup from one of the halal markets. Explaining Muslim guidelines for appropriate socializing between a single man and a married woman, Bashir mentioned coffee:

If you’re married, I can come to you and ask you “how are the children doing?” I can visit you, “how are your family doing?”, even if your husband is not there, and we can talk, and drink some coffee.

Coffee and tea are not only prominent in social life within the community, but in hospitality and affection toward those outside it. During one of my visits to the masjid, someone welcomed me by pressing a hot cup of tea into my hand. A group of high-school girls told me that they hesitated to share Somali food with American acquaintances, because they “don’t think they would eat it.” But in middle school, when they had a teacher they loved and trusted, they had often made her tea. Ambro said:

We used to cook tea…especially in middle school—our ESL teacher was amazing. I loved her. We used to cook tea for her, Somalian tea, cause Somalian tea is different…we used to bring the herbs for her—you put this in, you put that in—and she really liked it.

The girls used Somali tea to express their love for their teacher and share their Somali identity with her.