When I arrived in the Gambia, I was thinking that I had to concentrate on the reason that brought me. What was the reason that sent me to Gambia? I am in the Gambia to pursue the Barrister at Law course at the Gambia Law School. I have decided to mind my business and pursue my legal education. But as a science writer, it appears my pen wouldn’t allow me.
I notice one interesting thing walking through the principal streets and ghettos of Gambia. I notice that there is this particular tea that is a ritual they drink. I asked a frequent consumer and he told me that it is called Attaya. Attaya is more than just tea, it’s a way of life in the Gambia. Attaya is associated with a Muslim boy’s name, meaning ‘gifts or presents.’
I asked what attaya contains, and he said green tea. I was a little bit surprised because I feel the way attaya is consumed, the ingredient should be locally produced but that is not the case. Green tea is sourced from China.
In my curiosity as a medical writer, I asked where I could get one to buy. He directed me and I went to buy one. Indeed, the product I got was Black Star which contained Chinese green tea. When I got to my apartment, I quickly took my laptop and started my literature searches. So in this article, I present to you the most sought-after and highly consumed Attaya, known as African green tea in the Gambia.
Attaya: the motivation
Attaya is a ritual in the ghettos in the Gambia
I asked one man the motivation behind attaya consumption in the Gambia. He said it relieves stress. Another man said it improves their sex drives. This assertion supports one report by Ben Turay (2009-2010) that the youths drink attaya to improve sexual desire; to some people, it cures malaria and energises people, particularly students, for burning the midnight candle.
I explored further. I found that attaya consumption goes beyond the Gambia. Other countries, such as Sierra Leone and Senegal, are also known attaya consumers.
One study by Gegbe et al. (2015) examined the motivation behind attaya consumption in Sierra Leone and found that there is no strong motivational reason for consumers behind attaya consumption.
However, the study found that 21 percent of the respondents often drink attaya, 31 percent say they drink attaya every day, 25 percent do not drink attaya every day, and 21 percent of them say they do drink attaya weekly. 70 percent of the respondents have been motivated by their friends, partners, colleague workers, or family in drinking attaya while 30 percent were not motivated by any of the above in drinking attaya. 67 percent of the respondents drink attaya with friends, 10 percent with their partners, 23 percent with colleague workers, and 0.4 percent drink attaya with their family.
Attaya in Ghettos
From Manjai Kunda, Bakau, Kololi, Banjul, Brufut, Fajara, Serekunda, Basse, Bijilo, Kartong, Cape Point, Senegambia, etc., every corner I passed, attaya bases have rapidly replaced Ghettos. In the case of Sierra Leone, Ben Turay (2009-2010) reports over 1,500 ‘attaya’ bases in the country and 584 registered attaya bases in Freetown. Out of the number, 252 are in Eastern, 175 are located in the Central, while 157 are in the Western. Each base has over 30 regular members drinking the product. The report further notes that more than 1,500 people take care of families through attaya business, which has enhanced love and unity across the country.
Attaya & normal green tea
Though attaya is made from green tea, Steven Prihoda’s (2015) article explained further: “The difference between attaya and normal green tea is in how it is made. A normal green tea takes five minutes; the attaya process can take hours. While some believe attaya to be as caffeinated as coffee, if one were to compare the caffeine content of regular green tea to that of attaya, the difference would be negligible (a simple black tea would be an even better – and faster – choice); and if caffeine consumption were the desired goal, coffee would remain far more potent than attaya, green tea, or black tea. But while some people in The Gambia do use attaya as their caffeine fix, that’s not the point”.
Attaya – scientific benefits
I wasn’t surprised with the health benefits because attaya is made from green tea, which science has proven many times the health benefits.
Green tea comes from the plant Camellia Sinensis. The two main varieties of tea plants are Camellia sinensis, a small-leaf variety native to China, and Camellia sinesis assamica, a large-leaf variety that was first discovered in the Assam District of India. Hundreds of cultivars and hybrid plants have evolved from these two plant varieties over time.
Attaya – live longer
Studies have found that some compounds in green tea may help you live longer. For instance, Kuriyama et al. (2006) studied 40,530 Japanese adults over 11 years. Those who drank the most green tea — 5 or more cups per day — were significantly less likely to die during the study period. The study made these findings:
- Death of all causes: 23 percent lower in women, 12 percent lower in men.
- Death from heart disease: 31 percent lower in women, 22 percent lower in men.
- Death from stroke: 42 percent lower in women, 35 percent lower in men.
A previous study (Suzuki et al.2009) examined over 14,001 older Japanese individuals and found that those who drank the most green tea were 76 percent less likely to die during the 6-year study period. This means that there could be something special in longevity in those countries, such as Gambia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, etc., who drink more unadulterated attaya daily.
Improves brain function
Drinking attaya improves brain function. For instance, green tea does more than just keep you alert, it may also help boost brain function. The key active ingredient is caffeine, which is a known stimulant. Though green tea doesn’t contain as much as coffee, it has more to produce a response without causing the nervous effects associated with taking in too much caffeine.
A 20-year study by Bah et al. (2013) found that cancer incidence has remained relatively stable over time in the Gambia. This could be linked to their high attaya consumption. Observation studies review (Ogunleye and Michels, 2009) found that women who drank the most green tea had an approximately 20–30 percent lower risk of developing breast cancer, one of the most common cancers in women.
On prostate cancer, Kurahashi et al. (2008) study found that men drinking green tea had a lower risk of advanced prostate cancer.
An old study (Litt et al. 1997; Yuan. J.M, 2013) found that green tea drinkers are less likely to develop several types of cancer, but more high-quality research is needed to confirm these effects.
Attaya drinking could improve heart health. Other studies in Japan, using a green tea extract, found that after 12 weeks, the subjects had reductions in body fat (10 percent), blood pressure (6.5 percent), and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels (2.6 percent), suggesting a reduced risk of CVD. Finally, studies (Kuriyama, S, 2008; Shimazu et al. 2007; Miller et al. 2017) acknowledge that those who drink green tea have up to a 31 percent lower risk of dying from cardiovascular diseases.
Diabetes, weight loss, fat burning
Several human- and animal-based studies suggested that green tea and its flavonoids have antidiabetic effects (Wu, 2004; Iso, 2006; Wolfram, 2006). One study (Nagao et al. 2012) found that green tea drinkers had significant decreases in body fat percentage, body weight, waist circumference, and belly fat, compared with those in the control group.
Attaya – warnings
Gegbe et al. (2015) study found that if attaya is not boiled the right way, consumed excessively, or mixed with another product – as in the case of Sierra Leone, it can lead to many health implications. Additionally, poor hygiene at attaya bases has high risks of Cholera and Tuberculosis (TB) although attaya bases enhance love and unity across the country.
Also, in Ghana, the Ministry for National Security has warned the public about brands that are unwholesome for public consumption. So in choosing, opt for quality brands approved by the FDA.
Green tea can cause side effects due to caffeine. These can include anxiety, tremors, irritability, and sleeping problems. This is more likely if you’re sensitive to caffeine or take large doses. Green tea extracts may cause liver problems. Symptoms can include yellowing of your skin or the whites of your eyes, nausea, and stomach pain. The negative effects of green tea extract on the liver may depend on how much green tea extract you consume each day.
Green tea contains small amounts of vitamin K. This means it may decrease how well blood thinner medicines work. Since green tea acts as a mild stimulant, you shouldn’t use it with other stimulants. It may change the effects of other medicines.
Attaya: market size
According to Market Research.Com, the tea market in Gambia was equal to US$18.40million (calculated in retail prices) in 2015. Until 2025, the tea market in the Gambia is forecast to reach US$48.18million (in retail prices), thus increasing at a CAGR of 9.01 percent per annum for the period 2020-2025. This is a decrease, compared to the growth of about 11.46 percent per year registered in 2015-2019.
The average consumption per capita in value terms reached US$9.61 per capita (in retail prices) in 2015. In the next five years, it grew at a CAGR of 8.16 percent per annum. In the medium term (by 2025), the indicator is forecast to slow down its growth and increase at a CAGR of 5.92 percent per annum.
Also, Alliedmarketresearch.com found that the tea market size in West Africa was valued at US$1.6billion in 2019 and is projected to reach US$2.6billion by 2027, registering a CAGR of 8.5 percent from 2021 to 2027.
There are many benefits to drinking attaya. My only concern is how sugar is added in the Gambia. But without adding sugar, attaya consumption is linked to areas such as Okinawa, where studies have proven that medical conditions are rare due to their high green tea consumption.
Green tea is widely consumed worldwide for its health benefits. Many retrospectives and few recent studies attest to that fact. Its effect on cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases are well-documented in both human and animal studies.
Drinking three to five cups of attaya per day seems to be optimal to reap the most health benefits. Try to choose a higher quality brand of green tea because some of the lower quality brands can contain excessive amounts of fluoride (Lu et al. 2004). The attaya I bought in the Gambia was sold for only 5 dalasis – about 70 pesewas in Ghana. That being said, even if you choose a lower-quality brand, the benefits still outweigh any risk.
One unique thing about attaya is that the small jar takes about 30 minutes to drink. It is not consumed in a rush. Attaya is like a ritual drink in gatherings; hence, the social bonding and unity among the consumers are enhanced. Attaya is also brewed in a local jar on a charcoal pot to bring the natural feel of the tea. So just in case you would want to try green tea, then the Gambian version is ideal.
Prof. Nyarkotey has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations to justify his write-ups. My articles are for educational purposes and do not serve as medical advice for treatment. I aim to educate the public about evidence-based scientific naturopathic therapies.
The writer is a Professor of Naturopathic Healthcare, a Medical Journalist, and a science writer. Currently a BL candidate at the Gambia Law School, Banjul, Gambia.
email: [email protected]