Monday, December 12, 2011

Tea Culture - Iran

Tea served in open air Sa'adabad Restaurant in Tehran
Tea is served almost everywhere and in every occasion in Iran. Brewed in the kettle, it is usually darker and bitter than the one I usually have back at home. No wonder, Iranians would put a lump of rock sugar in their mouth before sipping their tea. Unfamiliar with the way tea is consumed in this country, I'd rather stir my sugar until it dissolved perfectly. In the bazaar, the chai (tea) boy runs around delivering tea, while the shop owners interact and do business with tea. The tea culture is so dominant and imposing that it's hard to reject an offer for a cup of tea.
Swirling the saffron flavored crystal rock sugar in our tea

Our experience with tea began as soon as we stepped our feet in Iran. We had an eight-hour flight to Tehran followed by another 5 hours drive to Mazandaran. In the middle of the darkness, our taxi driver stopped at one of the tea house on the highway to have a cup of tea. It was about 1 am and he must be sleepy - the tea kept him awake until we arrived to our destination. On arrival at our host's house in Babol, Mazandaran we were served tea at 3am. The greetings and welcoming was as warm as the cup of tea served!

Taking tea is a ritual unto itself and as such the drink is offered in the beginning of an occasion as well as at the end of most meals. In Eram Garden in Shiraz and Sa'adabad Palace in Tehran, we had tea in Chaikhaneh (Tea House) served on a takhts (low rise platform) covered with rugs and pillows. We have to remove our shoes, sit on the platform and the tablecloth is laid at our feet. While sipping our tea we could recline on the pillows, chat with our friends and the whole experience was very relaxing especially with green trees and flowers surrounding the takhts. 

The takht we sat in Saadabad

In Sa'adabad, the tea house has live band performing with male singer singing Iranian songs. While waiting for tea and food to be served the Iranians were singing along to the tune and some young vibrant girls started to clap their hands, move their heads and tap their feet to the music. Not long after that, the management staff approached the girls to remind them that they were not supposed to be singing or dancing in public. Though the conversation was in Persian, we understood what was going on when Soudabeh translated the whole conversation between the man and the girls. We smiled when Soudabeh started to sing in a whispering voice and she assured us, "My voice is not going to hurt them!"
Dates, Saffron flavored rock sugar and tea
The cool blue jelly served with tea 
Takht at the tea house in Eram Garden, Shiraz
Tea house in Eram, Shiraz set in a beautiful garden of pomegranate  
Tea served in the street shops in Shiraz
Happy girls clapping and enjoying themselves for a moment
Live band in Sa'adabad
Tea House in the middle of the highway to Mazandaran

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